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Inverting the Pyramid A history of football tactics by Jonathan Wilson

Release date: 28th May, 2009
Publisher: Orion

List Price: £8.99
Our Price: £6.29
You Save: £2.7 (30%)
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The old joke about the football manager who believed tactics were a brand of mints might be apocryphal, but most football followers appreciate the skill involved in developing a method of play to suit eleven individuals.

Arsenal displayed Arsene Wenger's tactical prowess at Parkhead in their Champions League duel against Celtic last week - their movement was outstanding, their ability to find space remarkable. Pass and move: the bedrock of Liverpool's unprecedented success, has been revitalised by Wenger. Sir Alex Ferguson is another who understands how best to employ skilled players and perhaps just as importantly, how to redeploy them should the need arise.

While high-profile managers justifiably take the plaudits, men such as Roy Hodgson and Harry Redknapp are equally astute as their respective records prove.

Hodgson comes in for praise in this fascinating study of football's tactical evolution, though Wenger is conspicuous by his absence. The topic might sound a little dry, but it offers readers a magical, beautifully-written route through the game's tactical history.

It helps that Jonathan Wilson knows his stuff inside out. His book provides readers with a chronological and geographical understanding of football's history, stopping at appropriate stages to register the evolution of a particular team formation or tactic.

This enables him to link tactics with national traits. For example, the bustling English, inventors of the beautiful game, preferred to rely upon strength and endeavour rather than skill to overcome opponents (some would say we still do), whereas the Brazilians nurture the ball, stroke it around and look on in bemusement when opponents simply lump it towards their goal. Cynicism is a thread which, according to Wilson, apparently runs deep through Argentine football as it does (though to a lesser extent) in the Italian game.

Psychologists could have a field day here, defining national characteristics by how a nation plays its football. No doubt someone will consider this worthy of PhD research.

Thankfully, Wilson's narrative does not get bogged down in national caricature and he uses his worldwide football knowledge to introduce readers to styles of play such as catenaccio and to explain the origin of the libero and its Anglo-Saxon version, the sweeper.

He is on particularly solid ground when analysing the Croatia v England qualifying match in the last European Championships. Unlike "Schteve" McLaren, Wilson pinpoints how easily England were undone, providing a disappointingly accurate assessment of the manager's shortcomings.

In between tracing tactical history, Wilson frequently inserts extended pieces dealing with the lives of great players and the thinkers who shaped football.

Men such as Jimmy Hogan, the former Aston Villa manager responsible for creating the tactics that enabled the great Hungarian side to beat England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953 fall squarely into this category (Hogan's biography, Prophet or Traitor is another excellent read) and was something of an inspiration for Wilson to write this book.

If you still think tactics are mints, go and buy Hello. If you appreciate that they're at the heart of a successful football side, read this book.

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