Foot.ie review "Inverting the Pyramid"
by, 14/09/2009 at 10:03 AM (1387 Views)
Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson is a helter skelter history of the development and refinement of tactics from the origins of football right up to the modern day. Wilson has a “form” as a decent writer, with his “Behind the Curtain” book on football in Eastern Europe and his work for the Guardian. This book and no exception and this is the second time I bought it, having left it in an airport the first time I purchased it.
You know you are reading serious material with a football book that has a nine page bibliography. Stevie G’s last tome didn’t quite contain the level of research and detail as this effort by Wilson and the difference is clear. The book is aimed at the independently minded football fan, those not sucked into the glitz and glamour of a Sky Sports presentation.
The book details the development of football tactics across the globe from the Victorians right up to the modern day. This may scream “Coaching Manual” to some people but it credit to Wilson and the cast of eccentric characters that he considers that this is far from the case. This is not a dry work of analysis and although there is a smattering of diagrams used to illustrate the difference in tactics, they are an aid and not a hindrance.
The title comes from the fact that where football started out as 2-3-5 and has now refined to a 4-5-1, with many refinement and changes in between. Wilson feels that many of the major tactical refinements have been made already and that unless there are radical changes to the laws of the games, the next century will not see a similar period of reinvention.
Wilson considers the contrast of passing v dribbling, individuals v a system, reliance on defence or attack, pressing or possession football. These arguments are considered within geographical and social contexts and Wilson adds flavour with many anecdotes. Wilson also considers the seminal figures in the development of tactics such as Chapman, Michels, Herrera and many lesser heard of names. Many football fans may be familiar with the all conquering Brazil of 1970, the Total Football of the Dutch in 1974 and 1978 but Wilson probes much deeper than this.
Interestingly England is seen as a backwater in relation to tactics, although Herbert Chapman received suitable attention for his all conquering Arsenal side of the 1930s. Whereas England led the world as they spread the word of football throughout the world, the major technical and tactics development seemed to have left them behind.
I think Wilson’s triumph is to consider such a breadth of systems. The book is not weighed down by focus on a single system, team, club, individual as can often by the case when an author tends to focus on their “favourite”. Wilson’s strength is creating a narrative which details all the developments, whilst ensuring that every development is given suitable coverage.
As mentioned, the book is full of anecdotes and nuggets of information. From the false claim from Doug Ellis that he inverted the bicycle kick, to the fact the catenaccio was a Swiss development although it was popularised in Italy. The author blends anecdotes skilfully into the text to ensure that the material is far from dry and lifeless.
In fact at times there seems to be an overwhelming amount of information on offers and anyone with a working knowledge of European football in the 20th century will probably get more out of this book than the casual reader. However the virtuous circle is such that is probably only people with such a knowledge that will be attracted to Wilson’s book.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough on a number of levels. It is a marvellous insight into tactics, a social history of the game and a potted history of world football in the 20th century. However Wilson is a master at drawing all these together to create an eminently readable book, something some of the managers mentioned surely would have appreciated.
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