Book Review: Inverting the Pyramid
Wilson’s selected topic for analysis this time out is the history of football tactics. Over 350 pages, he charts the development of the various systems that have shaped the game, and although the subject is exhaustively researched, one gets the feeling that Wilson drew as much on his memory of watching matches live and on television over the past thirty years. That’s what makes the book special: there is a real enthusiasm that shines through. My own memories of classic sides were brought back in torrents : the Brazil of 1982, Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan, the Menotti-Bilardo power struggle for the soul of Argentine football; and further back; the Mighty Magyars, Austrian Wunderteam and Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal and Huddersfield — none of which I had the pleasure to experience at the time, but all of which have their place in footballing folklore. Eric Batty’s legendary tactical analyses in World Soccer in the 1980s are also strongly evoked.
It is interesting to note that the majority of the tactical innovations of the past have occurred on the grand stage of World Cups and European Championships, although in recent times, the Champions League has tended to provide their spawning ground. The final chapters of Wilson’s book are especially fascinating as Wilson gazes into his crystal ball — will 4-6-0 become the new orthodoxy?: teams without strikers as we know them?
So what are the implications for the Championship? Unsurprisingly, few breakthroughs have originated in the second tier. Graham Taylor’s Watford started lower and saw the second division as a mere staging post on the way to higher glory. Certainly, the current craze for 4-5-1 has percolated down in a big way, with some of the more effective sides of the past eighteen months adopting a lone striker and a packed midfield — Swansea under Roberto Martinez and Gary Johnson’s Bristol City spring to mind.
It would be quite wrong to draw the conclusion that the Charles Hughes-inspired long ball is the only method that works at this level. Recent title winners West Bromwich Albion, Fulham and Reading have all been easy on the eye and if the Championship can be defined by one tactical constant, it is that wingers continue to flourish. The combination of prosaic midfield water carriers with speedy wide men was developed by the Danish World cup quarter finalists in 1998: a perhaps effective line up for sides lacking the resources and talent of their rivals. Last year, Michael Kightly and Matt Jarvis drove Wolves to promotion from the flanks as Karl Henry mopped up in the middle of the park — will this year’s title winners have opted for the same tactic come May?