Inverting the Pyramid (2008) by Jonathon Wilson is a look at the evolution of football tactics. It’s an overview that starts from the original 2-3-5 and culminates with a reference to the 5-3-2 played by Germany at Euro 1996.
For any soccer fan the book is well worth a read. The analysis is high quality. The book starts by looking at the early formations and how in very early football passing forward was not supported and how dribbling directly through was seen as the way to play football. The book then follows how football spread all over the world and how European tactics began to outdo the tactics in England.
Wilson then traces the tactics and spread of football in South America looking at Argentina and the Argentine way of playing that would rely on a key central midfielder to link up the defence and attack. Brazilian tactics and their emphasis on attacking creativity is also reviewed.Italian catenaccio is given a thorough examination. Wilson shows how it started with weaker teams using it to stop stronger attacking teams play and then became a strong basis to play from. Wilson points out how many Italians saw it as a way of handling Italian weakness after being fairly poor and having lost a war.
The book then goes on to look at Dutch football and the 4-3-3 that characterized the rise of ‘total football’ in Holland. An interesting note in the book is on how the pressing game that evolved in Holland was also aided by drugs. Wilson believes that much of the pressing game evolved in Eastern Europe but he doesn’t look at whether or not performance enhancing drugs were used there too.
Wilson looks extensively at England and questions why English tactics and the way England plays soccer is different from soccer in the rest of the world. He doesn’t look much beyond the field to the way that soccer fits in to different countries in different ways. Indeed, the book does not compare how important tactics are to how important the skill of individual players is.
The book is well worth reading, the consideration of tactics and the role of space and positioning is well outlined. It helps increase the appreciation of football in general. Wilson is informed and opinionated and writes well.