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Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  8,594 ratings  ·  467 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, 374 pages
Published September 2nd 2008 by Orion
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Marko I bought mine from, but you can find a cheap one from e.g. where a paperback version seems to cost under 12 euros (post…moreI bought mine from, but you can find a cheap one from e.g. where a paperback version seems to cost under 12 euros (postage included).(less)

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Jul 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sports
Manchester United captain Rio Ferdinand, evaluating on his team’s sound defeat at the hands of FC Barcelona in the 2010 Champions League Final, exclaimed that Barça had played without a forward, thus making life difficult for the Manchester defense.
Indeed, on that glorious evening, Barça played without a recognizable point-man, and yet managed to score 3 goals. Not only that, we had two wing defenders (Alves and Abidal) who spent more time in midfield than in defense; a center back who frequentl
Apr 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Russell George
Apr 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Most people understand the false number nine, the winger who needs to tuck in when they don’t have possession, or midfielders who sit in front of the back four (or three). And though meeting someone who actively wants to talk tactics can be a nightmare, in about 100 years’ time the English football team will find someone who can pass these insights onto players who understand that the team is ultimately stronger than the individual. What they probably shouldn’t do, though, is give them a copy of ...more
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
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
Nov 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013
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
Otis Chandler
Jan 11, 2019 marked it as to-read
Will Barnes recommends
Dec 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: football, non-fiction
A fascinating look at the evolution of a sport via its visionary tacticians written by a talented sports journalist in a clear and informative manner. I can't understand why the conversation surrounding football and the education of everyone who wants to play it from a young age isn't dominated by an understanding of so vital a part of the gameplay. My appreciation of my actions on field and my love of watching the sport have been greatly enhanced by reading this, what more could you want? ...more
Jan 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mohamed El-Dhshan
Nov 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this book, as a football fan i know that football isn't about tactics only and there's other aspects of the game but still the tactics more important in the long-term.
i think this is the best book about the evolution of football tactics, if you're interested to know how we have our modern football model now, I recommend this book to you.
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
First of all, I highly recommend the hilarious show Ted Lasso on Apple TV. In it, Ted, an American football coach hired as a British football coach, and therefore totally out of his depth, reads this book with his assistant coach as a last ditch effort to understand what British football is. But soccer at the level of deep tactical understanding that this book provides kinda relies on a reading audience that has a strong soccer background. However, for readers with that, this book amazingly lays ...more
Clay Kallam
Oct 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sports
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
Mikko Karvonen
Oct 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Amr Fahmy
Oct 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very interesting but still lacked many examples that needed to be highlighted.. one of them, which is fundamental to me, is the dilemma of a classic winger or an inside forward. I still liked seeing my country Egypt highlighted in the success of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations as a model of going back to a three-man-back line.. however the name of Hassan Shehata, the coach then, was not even mentioned. The pivotal role of Aboutrika wasn't highlighted either. Still the same for teams that could sp ...more
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this book for a while but once I finally got to it I was a bit disappointed. That isn't to say that this isn't a good book or that I would not recommend it to someone, but I personally had a tough time getting through it. I am a big fan of the sport of soccer and have been for my entire life but I found most of this book to be tedious and a dry read. Once the book progressed to the 70's through present I found it more fluid, but that may of course be because the subject matter f ...more
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Alvin Lo
May 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
When the title is ambiguous, and the sub-title reads "history of women fashion", u expect the book to be more about fashion. Turns out, in this case, it's abt women. It's a book about the history of football, not so much about its tactics.

Expect to read about the change in tactics, preferrably with reasons, but utterly disappointed. Keep telling you about the players playing in xxx match, the scoreline, etc.

Wonder why all the positive reviews & recommendation by "experts"
Jul 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I miss the World Cup already :(
Mad Hab
Mar 03, 2019 rated it liked it
It is a good book. But it is like an encyclopedia. Like you are reading a spreadsheet file. Tons of names, new names every other page. Makes a little boring and hard to read.
Swagato Chatterjee
Jul 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A vastly informative account on the evolution of football across the world, the book takes you back to late 19th century and then meanders back to present times through the perspectives of different pioneers in football occasionally halting along the way to describe watershed matches and tournaments that have left a lasting impact on the game. It acknowledges the influence of luminaries like Herbert Chapman, Hugo Meisl, Rinus Michels and Valeriy Lobanovskyi among a host of others for the way the ...more
Amin Hazem
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A pretty enjoyable read.
I've wanted to read this book for years, the topic seemed very interesting to me but mainly because I always liked the name tbh.
There're a lot of entertaining stories about how it all started, events behind each development to the game. Besides, it includes some fascinating insight and analysis along the years resulting in what we watch nowadays.
The book -as expected- is very informative, too informative perhaps that I had to stop reading it midway for weeks, having to pa
Danny Mason
This was at its best when it was using the tactical development of the game as a way to tell or retell great stories from football's history. It also does a good job of tying these developments in to wider philosophical, political and societal developments. There were times when it got too into the minutiae and felt like a long list of names and dates that I had no chance of engaging with, but considering the subject matter it's impressive that more of the book wasn't like that and for the most ...more
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: soccer
Five stars because it's a stunning achievement and a pleasure to read, but with a few caveats:

Note that it's a history of tactics, and not a history of soccer (though there's some of that, including some details on key figures) or an explanation of tactics (though there's some of that, too). It's hard to imagine such a topic being tackled better, although I don't know enough to know, and I wonder what his narrative -- coherent as it is -- must leave out (as any such book would).

I could use some
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
A good overview and history of soccer tactics. Not the easiest book to breeze through, especially the first the half of it, but it does present a decent payoff. I need to check out the updated version now to see what has been added.
Jul 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Michael Grace
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
American exceptionalism, or at least the residual effects thereof, prevented me from understanding soccer for the better part of the first three decades of my life. The architectural substance of a well-played team can be a thing of true human beauty, something beyond what the tension/drama of baseball or intense immediacy of basketball can bring. Inverting The Pyramid is a transcendent soccer book. It is one of the most thorough and most unique histories of any game, and fittingly so. Though th ...more
Ramnath Vaidyanathan
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Quite simply, the finest book written on football. Don't let the title fool you - this isn't just a treatise on tactics. Jonathan Wilson uses tactics as a parameter to depict the evolution of the beautiful game, from the ultra attacking 2-3-5 in its infancy, to the basic flat four defensive lineups we are so used to today. There are two things that really struck me about the book - one, the number of countries and clubs that have had a major influence on how the game evolved extend far beyond th ...more
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
As good as advertised, though I enjoyed this best when reading chunks of a chapter here and there on trains or in a car. The many different editions throughout the evolution of tactics and style were well-taken with a bit of separation (in the form of a break) between them.

I definitely learned a few things and had others reinforced. The breadth and depth of research (check out the bibliography!) and analysis (sometimes a little abstract for even me, without the aid of an advanced visual, I guess
Kundan Jha
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A must read for a football viewer to develop a vision for the finer points of the game. Whatever league you would be watching, getting to know how football developed in that nation and how fledglin clubs developed ushered an era of galacticos, is something that sets the book apart. The takeaway for me in this book is the belief that it's the team's manager/coach who is the scriptwriter and director and the players are the playmakers who interpret his script on the field. ...more
Dec 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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. ...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.

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