The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines (2017) by Michael Cox is a book that look at the history of the Premier League and how tactics have evolved there. Michael Cox, according to Amazon and Goodreads, was an English biographer and prolific author who wrote many books and died in 2009. This means that the Mixer is possibly one of the best posthumous works on football. Alternatively the book may have been written by Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox who also appears on Football Weekly, the popular Guardian podcast that features some football in between debates on the worst Indiana Jones film.
The book goes through the whole of the Premier League, starting in 1992 with the changes to the back pass rule to goalkeepers. Cox states that at the time English football was not in great shape. This does miss the fact that in Italia 90 England had their second best World Cup performance and if they had trained for penalties properly they could potentially have been world champions. However, Cox is definitely correct in saying that English football wasn’t tactically particularly sophisticated.
Cox points out that in 1992 there were only 13 players who were not from Britain or Ireland in the league. 25 years later there were about that many foreign managers. Cox sites Cantona as one of the first big changers of English Football. Rather than just running around enthusiastically Cantona played very skillfully and intelligently between the backline and the midfield of the opposition, drawing defenders, creating space and passing to others who were exploiting that space. Following Cantona Blackburn won the League with SAS – Sutton and Shearer and pace and simplicity.
More foreigners came into the league in the 1990s and changed how teams were playing. Berkamp and Zola are particularly notable. Arsene Wenger then appeared and changed Premier League coaching by dramatically improving the health and fitness of his players and promptly won the League heralding more changes in the Premier League. Also the Bosman ruling changed the number of foreign players that could be fielded in all the European Leagues. In 1999 for the first a Chelsea team was fielded that featured no English players in the starting line up. Ten years later a game would be played with no Englishmen at all in either team.
Following Wenger came progress in Europe and more foreign managers, but also Sam Allardyce playing direct football. Playing only a single striker but with other attacking players became more common. Arsenal’s Invincibles showed just how well football could be played.
More foreign coaches included Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez who brought their successful footballing philosophies to England. The midfielders Makélélé altered tactics with the way he played.
Following a slight defensive turn Rooney and Ronaldo changed how attacking football was played, reducing the role of just pure strikers. But in other parts of the League crafty use of long throws and set pieces by Stoke again altered what teams would have to face. Inverted wingers, like Robben and Ribery also changed the role of wingers in football.
Possession football, emulating Barcelona came to England, as did the new role of ‘false nine’. Post possession counter attacking football, as played skillfully in an incredible season by Leicester appeared. Back threes re-appeared and were successful in the most recent Premier League season with Chelsea under Antonio Conte. But still the English push for ‘second balls’ remained in the Premier League.
Cox also points out that while the best teams in Europe are mostly in Spain that the best managers in the world now call England home and points out that the top seven managers in the Premier League in 2017 came from seven different countries.
Possibly this book is the start of a great series of posthumous sporting books and we can look forward to Kurt Vonnegut on the epic Warriors Cavaliers NBA finals. Alternatively this may be Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox writing a fantastic history of the Premier League. The book is very well written and it’s fascinating for anyone who is interested in football and the Premier League. The analysis of changing tactics and the personalities involved in English Football is really top notch. It’s one of the best football books I’ve ever read.