Monday, 10 June 2013

Book Review - Inverting The Pyramid

I thought I’d try something a little different for my blog so just wanted to give a short review of a book I’ve just finished reading.
Now I’m a little behind with this one as Inverting The Pyramid came out in 2009 and was critically acclaimed, winning author Jonathan Wilson the 'Best Football Book' category of the 2009 British Sports Book Awards.

I’ve got to say it took me a while to get into. The first half of the book is very in depth, and delves right back to the beginning of how football started in the 1850s and you have to get about 100 pages in before it starts to get really interesting with the development of tactics throughout the world in the modern game.

The more I read the more I was hooked though, it includes some excellent pieces around the Dutch system, Italian Catenaccio, the South American attacking midfielder and the modern day 4-5-1/4-3-3

Although Roy Hodgson claims that he’s never told his players what formation to play, all teams have a formation, no matter how fluid it is. He might not need to explicitly say “this week we’re playing 4-4-2 lads” but I’m sure he’ll base his tactics and system around a starting point.

Despite my primary focus being Performance Analysis, any analyst knows how vital it is to have a rounded view of all aspects of football as analysis is one of the fields that integrates with so many different areas. It is important to know the type of formation and tactics that are being used when analysing the game. There is no point berating the attacking midfielder for not getting back and covering the back 4 when a 4-2-3-1 is being played for example.

A couple of chapters of the book I found particularly interesting.

Jonathan talks a lot about Valeriy Lobanovskyi, the great Dynamo Kiev coach who pioneered 3 separate generations of World Class teams. His tactical astuteness and forward thinking in terms of how to get the best out of his players was second to none but what I did find interesting was the following

“Lobanovskyi arrived at Dynamo as part of a team of four. He had specific responsibility for modelling playing systems; Zelentsov was in charge of the individual preparation of players; Bazylevich, having been prised from Shakhtar, took care of the actual coaching; while Mykhaylo Oshemkov dealt with what was known as ‘informational support’ – that is, the collection of statistical data from games”

The mention of Oshemkov’s role is a pioneer of performance analysis. He goes on to detail some of the areas that were captured and bearing in mind this was in 1973 it is astounding to think that the things they were doing at Kiev 40 years ago there are STILL some teams not doing now!

Another part was around Arrigo Sacchi, the legendary AC Milan and Italy manager and how he turned a very good team into one of the best the world has ever seen. Saachi had never played professionally but had dedicated his life to coaching and was a great innovator. Something aimed at a lot of performance analysts is how can they understand the game when many have never played before. Here is a great piece from Inverting the Pyramid

“Still, the problem of credibility remained. Sacchi admitted he could barely believe he was there, but responded tartly to those who suggested somebody who had never been a professional footballer – Berlusconi, who had played amateur football to a reasonable level, was probably a better player – could never succeed as a coach ‘A jockey,’ he said, ‘doesn’t have to have been born a horse.’”

I loved that quote. Studies have shown that many top class professionals don’t make good managers and often can’t explain how they’ve done the things they’ve done as a player. Look now at some of the top clubs and the managers they have, how good were they as professionals? Jose Mourinho, Roy Hodgson, Brendan Rodgers, Nigel Adkins? Sure, it’s more fashionable and appeases the fans more if it’s an ex-player but that does not mean that you have to have been a great player to really understand football.

I like anything that I think will help give me a more rounded view of the game and this book has done exactly that, therefore I’d recommend it to anybody who has an interest in the more in-depth side of football and wants to know more about the development of the tactical side of the game.

The writing style really grabs you and as it’s a couple of years old it’s extremely good value for money on Amazon

Jonathan Wilson is a sports writer who I follow on Twitter and he always has a lot of interesting things to say, he’s definitely worth following and he has another book which came out recently called ‘The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper’ which I’ll be looking to check out in the near future.


  1. Good read, learnt something new. Just a correction - it's Arrigo Sacchi, not Saachi. That was an easy one. Just wonder if you got right all those difficult Ukranian, and East European names.

    1. Thanks Gianni, glad you enjoyed it. Name now corrected!