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Zonal Marking By Michael Cox

Release date: 10th June, 2019
Publisher: Harper Collins

List Price: £16.99
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Michael Cox has followed up his excellent book, The Mixer, which examined the development of English football’s tactics over the 25-year period following the formation of the Premier League, with an equally engrossing look at European football’s tactical development over roughly the same period in his new book, Zonal Marking.

Many of the tactical developments Cox highlights in The Mixer clearly had their roots on the continent. In Zonal Marking, his impressive analysis of European methods suggests that a variety of nations have enjoyed tactical hegemony, albeit for comparatively short periods.

For example, the tactical astuteness shown by the Ajax side of the early 1990s was superseded by the Italians between 1996-2000. This evolution continued in the guise of Jose Mourinho, whose tactics could range from the Machiavellian to the outrageous. Mourinho’s name straddles each of Cox’s books, but it was at Porto that he first showed how aware he was, from a footballing strategy perspective, as Portuguese football enjoyed brief European dominance.

The often laborious tika-taka style of Barcelona was, for many, the personification of anti-football, yet the methods and players developed at Camp Nou proved remarkably effective: between 2006-15, Barcelona claimed four Champions League titles.

Indeed, since 1993, Spanish dominance of the continent’s most prestigious competition has been undeniable: Real Madrid or Barcelona have won the Champions League no fewer than 11 times in the last quarter century. Nevertheless, Madrid’s principle tactic has been to spend whatever it takes to recruit the very best players and worry about Financial Fair Play afterwards; it’s a completely different approach to that of their arch-rivals, which suggests that tactics are rarely developed at a national level.

English football has undoubtedly benefited from the development of continental tactics, often modifying them to suit domestic conditions (consider Liverpool’s gegenpressing under Jurgen Klopp). Yet the longer-term influence of imported players has had a massive influence. On the first day of the first Premier League season, in August 1992, top-flight teams fielded a total of 11 foreign players; not one club had a foreign manager. Twenty five years later, English players are almost as rare as English managers and still the national side has yet to win a meaningful trophy in 53 years...

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