Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics
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Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  2,768 ratings  ·  166 reviews
Soccer fans love to argue about the tactics a manager puts into play, and this fascinating study traces the world history of tactics, from modern pioneers right back to the beginning, where chaos reigned. Along the way, author Jonathan Wilson, an erudite and detailed writer who never loses a sense of the grand narrative sweep, takes a look at the lives of the great players...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published June 26th 2008 by Orion
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Fever Pitch by Nick HornbyInverting the Pyramid by Jonathan  WilsonBrilliant Orange by David WinnerThe Damned Utd by David PeaceSoccernomics by Simon Kuper
Best Football (Soccer) Books
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Soccernomics by Simon KuperBrilliant Orange by David WinnerInverting the Pyramid by Jonathan  WilsonHow Soccer Explains the World by Franklin FoerThe Ball is Round by David Goldblatt
South Africa World Cup 2010
3rd out of 24 books — 11 voters


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Community Reviews

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James
One of the best, if not *the* best, soccer books I have ever read. It approaches the history of soccer through a series of tactical innovations in the game. If, like me, you grew up thinking the English 4-4-2 is soccer the way God intended it and had been played since time immemorial, this will be a real eye-opener. The title refers to the fact that, for much of the history of soccer, their has been a trend from purely attacking football (2-3-5) to more defensive, possession-oriented play (e.g....more
Abhinav
Summary: For soccer fans, following, discussing, and arguing about the tactics a manager puts into play are part of what makes the sport so appealing. This fascinating study traces the history of soccer tactics back from such modern pioneers as Rinus Michels, Valeriy Lobanovskyi, Catenaccio, and Herbert Chapman. Along the way, author Jonathan Wilson, an erudite and detailed writer who never loses a sense of the grand narrative sweep, takes a look at the lives of the great players and thinkers wh...more
Miguel
This book is admirable for its erudition and its focus on the evolution of tactics from the playing fields of nineteenth century public schools to the present. One really must admire a British specialist who digs into the entire global picture of football and comes up with a relatively comprehensible narrative out of what must have been reams of club histories and match reports that probably contain very little of the information the author seeks. It is readable, informative and occasionally fun...more
Clay
As an American sports fan of a certain age, I understand football tactics. But as a fan of Euroleague and World Cup soccer, I understand nothing of "football" tactics -- that is, until I read "Inverting the Pyramid".

Jonathan Wilson's book is a tangled but fascinating discussion of the history of what Americans call soccer and the slow developing tactical changes that have altered the way the game is played. As one who loves both history and strategy -- and who needed to upgrade my soccer knowled...more
Simon
Admittedly I was tired and travelling when I read this but I was really disappointed. There's a kernel of a great idea in every chapter (eg the evolution of a kind of 'intellectual' Austrian football in the coffee houses of Vienna) but in between those points it's largely a tedious catalogue of matches, players, coaches and results that you've never heard of and couldn't care less about.

Naturally the later chapters are a bit more interesting (the book is structured chronologically) but Wilson s...more
Mahlon
A monumental achievement when you consider the far-flung number of sources that Wilson had to weave into a seamless narrative. I was hoping to learn more about tactics to help me improve in Football Manager, the fact that I didn't get that is probably my fault. I did learn a lot about the history behind the tactics, which is just as important. This book is a smooth blend of both, Inverting the Pyramid traces the evolution of tactics from the late 19th century to the tika-taka of Barca. Profiling...more
Mikko Karvonen
Inverting the Pyramid offers a thorough and insightful look into the history of football tactics, specifically from the viewpoint of the development and using of different formations. Jonathan Wilson tackles the subject with authority, wide scope (although admittedly being Europe and South America centric), and clear and fluent writing, effectively creating a book that's enjoyable read for any football enthusiast.

There is one aspect, though, that I found lacking and forced me to drop one star fr...more
Ronnie
I won't pretend that this is an easy book to read; even a football fan like myself found it very dry and occasionally difficult to continue reading. That said, there is a great deal of fascinating tactical analysis and is clearly written by someone who not only loves the game, but has a clear, and in-depth knowledge of the subject.

As a Scotland fan, Craig Levein's recent foray into an - ultimately disparaged - 4-6-0 formation left me rather deflated but it's clear that the final chapter of this...more
Spiros
Jul 24, 2010 Spiros rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone suffering World Cup withdrawal symptoms
Shelves: new
The last time I played soccer competitively (using the word loosely) was for my junior high school team, in 8th grade. Being very slow, and relatively tall, I played left fullback, across from our best player, Ralf Venne, the right fullback. When I was fortunate enough to dispossess an opponent I would quickly pass the ball forward to the outside half, the slightly-less-hapless-than-I Kevin Ellsberry, or the left middle half back (I can't remeber if that was Brian Kehoe or John Corr); I knew, gi...more
Dan
Firstly, you must love football. Secondly, you must love the finer points to football. Lastly, you must love history. This book details the progression of tactics in football from its infancy to its lucrative modern iteration. What this book really describes is how the game itself has changed amongst all the peripheral evolutions (such as money, athletes, league and cup structures). The game is still played with a ball and two goals, 22 players on the field, but beyond that and its most basic ru...more
Robert
Wow I think that page count is wrong. It must be over 600... Seemed like..
This could be the most obscure thing I've finished reading. The history is pretty interesting for about half the book. Then the stream of names and numbers is just too much for me. Perhaps this history is so difficult because Football is the most global of sports. There are just too many people and places to try and put together. I suspect a book of this length could be written on any one of the countries or major clubs d...more
Gillen Brown
I read this book to increase my knowledge of soccer, as I have been following the sport for a few years now and wanted to get a better grasp of the history and tactics of the sport. I thought this would be a good book to start with, but it left me disappointed.

The hardest part of the book for me was the constant introduction of new names. I found it hard to follow the important individuals, and know which names are important. When important names are referenced later in the book, I often had to...more
Miranda
As hard as I try, I can't think deeply or critically about football tactics. However, this book is more than just tactical analysis (which I was afraid it would be) but the history and philosophy that drives different managers to make the choices they do. A must-read for any football fan or history buff who loves memorable anecdotes and the story behind a sport.
Saajid
I have to begin by saying that I'm not one of those (often FM-addicted) football fans obsessed with tactics and statistics. However, I am very interested in football history and this book does a great job of telling it right from its beginning to the time of writing through the changes in formations and footballing ideologies, and it's truly fascinating.
Ipswichblade
After a few recent fairly poor books on football, this has been a delight to read. A really well researched book on tactics and why and how they were introduced. It also focuses on the managers and coaches who invented and used the tactics. It doesn't get bogged down in too much technical info which makes for a great read
Sudhamshu Hebbar
Is Football just about 11 players running randomly behind the ball? Is there a method to it? What role does a manager have to play in a set up? Could there possibly be systems in which players are trained? If there is something called tactics, how did it really develop in all these years? This book answers those questions by starting right at the beginning. The beginning of football itself.
Reading the book is like taking a journey from football's inception, trying to visualise how the game was...more
Scott Kotarides
I love the game of Football. I am a nerd when it comes to tactics but this is arguably the very best book I have ever read regarding the history of soccer and tactics. It explains all of the great evolutions of tactics from the Pyramid days of soccer to today's 4-3-3 possession style of play. It talks about innovations and the funny thing is once you read this book you will realize that most coaches draw inspiration from past tactics and that these tactics are ever changing and recycled. Right i...more
Mel Siew
A pretty good history of football tactics. It did bring to life the historical differences in various countries approaches to how they play football, and it was interesting to read how over the course of the 20th century how the number of attacking players has gradually reduced and how tactical innovation at various times disrupted the existing order, only to be overthrown by further innovation.

A few too many names to digest at times, but unavoidable in a history really. Like other reviewers I...more
Josh Mlot
Jonathan Wilson's "Inverting The Pyramid" is precisely what it says it is — a history of soccer tactics. But while there is plenty of more technical information about formations, who ran what and why, the book is more than just that. It's really about the evolution of soccer and its various styles. We learn who influenced what and why. What Wilson has found is the perfect balance between the personalities, teams and tactical breakdown that makes this book extremely readable, entertaining and a m...more
Rory Foster
I think that it would have helped my understanding and enjoyment, if I were more familiar with the dozens of players he discusses in the examples. This was the biggest weakness for me: because the various systems are inevitably discussed in terms of their individual contributors (around or because of which many of the systems were built), lack of knowledge about these players makes it difficult to fully grasp the challenges and innovations. Will surely read it again - lots to think about and an...more
Ale
With the World Cup looming closer and closer, and on the recommendation of a coworker who is also a football fan (we both bought the Panini sticker albums, for reference), I decided it was time for me to learn a little bit more about the beautiful game. Coming in with stories of the indomitable Yugoslavs and Dutch Total Football, I initially thought I didn't need this. Oh, how wrong I was.

Covering the period between the formal establishment of football and Mourinho's first stay at Chelsea, Wilso...more
Alejandro Shirvani
This is pretty much the "go to" source for the intellectual football fan who likes to be well versed in the history of the game and understand the basics of footballing tactics. The book takes you through the history of the game and the tactical trends and evolutions, centred around the great sides of particular eras that have innovated with new tactics and taken the game forward until the next trend emerges to counter it.

I took one star off rather than giving this maximum rating because in part...more
Rob
A longer version of the following review can be found at the Championship football blog: Inverting the Pyramid

Back in 2006, I wrote a slightly pernickety review of Jonathan Wilson’s Behind the Curtain, a superb overview of the history and current state of East European football. His latest offering, published in paperback earlier this year, could be contender for the best book about soccer ever written. It’s a monumental achievement; a book that leaves you thirsting for more information with eve...more
Nick Butler
Beyond essential for any football fan.

Inverting the Pyramid markets itself as the history of football tactics, and on the surface that's just what it is (and it does a fabulous job of recounting that history). Yet there is a line in the opening few pages that explains why it reaches beyond that with such ease; while Wilson recounts a conversation that takes place at a dinner party, he explains how, when one man (a Brit, naturally) declares boldly that tactics are largely irrelevant as long as yo...more
Justin
This book was hugely informative, and I'm happy I read it. As a relative newcomer to the sport (been following only since 2003) I was quite weak on my historical knowledge of the game and this helped fill in a lot of blanks. The early part of the book was particularly strong, describing the beginnings of the sport and original tactics. I also enjoyed Wilson's in depth study of Soviet, South American and Central European football tactics and cultures which I knew next to nothing about. The overal...more
Mark
A great discussion of the evolution of soccer tactics over the past 100+ years, perhaps unique in current soccer literature. For my taste, the exposition on the background and club histories of the influential personalities and famous club sides was a bit lengthy. The author, being English, certainly discusses what he terms 'the English pragmatism' in football and discusses notable English teams and managers in detail. This is in addition to, not to the detriment of, discussions of south america...more
William
Describing football is difficult in the same way reviewing improvisatory music is difficult-the experience of watching the performance, the collective effort to bridle individual will and work order from chaos, is so distinctly sensory and subjective that language almost inevitably fails to convey what was essential, leaving the reader only a skeletal impression of the full-fleshed reality on the stage. Even the best match reports are poor relations of the real thing, and constructing a cogent h...more
marcus miller
If you aren't interested in soccer you probably won't pick this book up in the first place. If such a person would read the book I doubt they would find it enjoyable. On the other hand, if you enjoy soccer this is a great book where Wilson gives an entertaining history of the sport by exploring the way the strategies and tactics have changed over the last one hundred plus years.

When soccer started teams played with five or six forwards and with not much emphasis on defense. Wilson traces the ch...more
Mat
A very thorough history of football tactics, going all the way back to the turn of the century. The great football tactical advances and trends are identified with some impressive historical references. Clearly this book is for football fanatics only, and the clever ones at that!

That being said it really was fascinating to read about the evolution from 2-3-5 to the W-M, about the cultural differences and contributions of english, eastern european and south american football, the evolution of th...more
Chris
Soccer is intelligible, I gather from Wilson, by analysis of tactics. Baseball fans have filtered serious thought about the game through statistics, whether traditional or sabermetric-- by numerical records of individual player performance. The fundamental tension of baseball, in the batter-pitcher encounter, can be enjoyed in real time as a contest of wills, then quantified as a conditioned response to chance. In the team sport of soccer, by contrast, individual statistics mean less (though man...more
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Jonathan Wilson is a British sports journalist and author who writes for a number of publications including the Guardian, the Independent and Sports Illustrated. He also appears on the Guardian football podcast, Football Weekly.
More about Jonathan Wilson...
Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper. by Jonathan Wilson The Anatomy Of England: A History In Ten Matches The Blizzard: Issue 4

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