Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics – Jonathan Wilson

510zkI4wWDLFrom the heated pub debate to moving the salt and pepper across the dining table, discussions about football are part of modern life.  Here Jonathan Wilson shows how tactics spread around the world:  how the South Americans shrugged off colonial order to add their own finesse to the people’s game;  how the Europeans harnessed individual technique into a team structure.  Gradually a marauding five up front became inverted, to the point where one up front is not uncommon.  Inverting the Pyramid is not only a fascinating account of changing football tactics, but also a gripping read for anyone interested in the sport.

My inner geek was thoroughly satisfied by this book, I often find myself straddling the fine line of observance, between the abstract and reality when it comes to the shape of football teams.  I sometimes think I look a little too deeply into a lot of things but this book encourages the studying of the minutiae of player position in relation to each other.

Part of football’s enduring fascination is that it is a holistic game, that the slightest change in one part of the pitch can have unexpected and radical  effects elsewhere.

As well as being a who’s who of some of the most famous and innovative coaches and players of the sport of foots, it is also a fascinating and stimulating look at the diffusion of ideas and subsequent changing of the game throughout different cultures.  In this global world it is interesting to show how ideas seeped through into the fabric of nations, when only the best stuck, unlike the viral videos and such of today.

Football is art, a much used political device and also a decent look at how cultures approach life, imprinting in onto the way they play the game.  You can learn a lot from a country by its play, whether it is the aesthetically pleasing…or Greece.  The structure of the book moves forward from the beginnings of the sport, making it easy to pick your prefered subject matter.  There are digressions but this structure allows you to navigate to areas and names of interest. Is this one more for the fan?  Admittedly it is…but that’s not to say that there isn’t something for everybody,

Throughout the book we see class divisions are prominent, especially in the early days giving the reader a social grounding that acts as a good history lesson.  The Evolution of the sport is sometimes a Revolution when it comes to the major tactical revolutions and it is hard not to be impressed with the scholarly research Wilson has put it.

It can be a little dry at times for the same reason but being such a thorough work this is understandable and forgivable as the very depth of countries and teams shown is impressive for only 356 pages.   A newer version of Inverting the Pyramid than the one I read came out earlier this year and has been updated with FC Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka style amongst other things and is a good companion book to The Outsider, the book I previously reviewed by the same author.  If any of you are interested in even more, the author also has an incisive column in World Soccer magazine which is always well worth a read.

This book is a far cry from the dumbed down analysis seen on most TV programmes, the British in particular mirror their lack of innovation in sport with shallow scrutiny when compared to other nations.   There are more than likely a few people who should have been added to the contents of the book and some countries that deserved a little more focus, having said that the very nature of football is founded on arguments from all us armchair experts who know better and that’s the way it should be.

8 Replies to “Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics – Jonathan Wilson”

  1. While I await the match URG-COL and BRA-CHI I will keep your words in mind….”You can learn a lot from a country by its play, whether it is the aesthetically pleasing…”
    Tomorrow we’ll see if the Dutch can maintain their focus agains Mexico. Great review!


    1. It’s a shame Mexico are up against you guys as I would have liked to see them get their long coveted fifth match but anything can happen in this World Cup, with half the big teams out already. When I watch matches, I am as focused on the action as I am on the players off the ball…


    1. It has the usual team diagrams and there are a few arrows pointing around but it is real easy to grasp…I fancy getting the updated version as well, I am a completest if nothing else.


  2. “Aesthetically pleasing…or Greece.” Too funny! I’m going to stop rooting for teams as I feel like I’m jinxing their chances…Chile, Mexico. Go Belgium!


    1. Boring Belgium! I do hope the US go through and I think that is the first time I have ever said that at a World Cup…Chile was a blow…they deserved to go through, although practise on penalties will make them formidable.


      1. Yes, fingers crossed. Odds are against us. Have you noticed that so far only the group leaders have gone through? Maybe only the strong do survive.


        1. I hadn’t noticed that…Belgium only seem to come alive in the last fifteen minutes so get a couple in before that and you should be sorted!


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