Jonathan Wilson: Inverting the Pyramid. The History of football tactics. London, 2009: Orion. 384p.
If anybody of my valued readers is interested in the history of football tactics, look no further, this is the book that explains it all. Superbly written, Wilson describes the development of football tactics from the W-M system and its success to more sophisticated approaches and formations such as the popular 4-2-3-1. Without a doubt football tactics developed in England and the author duly states so. But it were British coaches like Jimmy Hogan who traveled to the continent and played and coached teams there and thus started what was to dominate central European football from the 30s to the 50s: the Danubian school of football of Hungary and Austria.
Despite modern football originating in England, it took some years and a hammering by Hungary in 1953 to lead to the acknowledgment in England that continental Football is at least as good as British, if not better. Wilson describes that wonderfully and it is the question of why England appear to have stagnated while other countries adapted to new inventions and formations more easily and readily. The continental counterpart of Hogan was certainly Bela Guttmann, a Hungarian who coached in Hungay, Austria, Portugal and Uruguay and thus influenced the development of football in those places.
One thing, that i find interesting is that the author does not mention Germany at all as a contributor to the history and development of football tactics. Surely Beckenbauer was the incarnation of the sweeper in the seventies and the West German side won the tournaments deservedly in 1972 and 1974 with him in that position. The latter game is interesting as Wilson takes delight in total football as played by the Dutch and its superiority. However, the German team of 1974 must have been a notch better than the Dutch and their total football, otherwise they would not have beaten them in the final and otherwise played some decent football. Equally, the team of 1954 deserves some credit, which Wilson denies them and instead hails the Magic Magyars. They were a great team and certainly a win in Berne would have elated them to the status of gods in Hungary and the whole Eastern bloc, instead it was the Soviet Union taking this accolade by winning in 1960 the first European Championship. However, Germany won against a team supposedly superior to them by simply playing their game and not to succumb to the reputation of the Hungary team. Instead Wilson goes on about them being the golden team, winning Olympic gold in 1952. Again, the German team must have been a bit better at their game otherwise they wouldn’t have won.
All in all a good read for all football fans interested in tactics and a prove to those that it is not names who win games but excellent tactics with players on the one side sticking to the tactical orders given by coaches and on the other hand enjoying and expressing themselves on the pitch.
Jonathan Wilson is a journalist writing about football tactics for The Guardian and the Financial Times and other football magazines. He is the author of Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European football and Sunderland: A club transformed. His latest book is an Anatomy of England. A history in Ten Matches.