REVIEW: Inverting The Pyramid: The History Of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson


Inverting The Pyramid: The History Of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson
Published by Orion Books

With the debate about Wenger’s tactics and formations reaching fever pitch ahead of the new season, this book is definitely a good point for you to leap into the history of football’s tactics. To make the claim that you are tracing the history of football tactics is grand indeed. Jonathan Wilson through his blog on The Guardian has proven himself more than up to the task on a weekly basis. To his credit, the high standards set in his weekly column do not drop in a fascinating trawl through the game’s magnificent and monumental history.

Having started from an after dinner debate using the traditional condiments as props, Wilson follows the path of the 1-2-7 from its attacking roots through 2-3-5, WM, 4-2-4, 4-4-2, 3-5-2 to the various loops and circles of the modern day. The diversions into 4-1-4-1, 4-1-3-2 and so on are all given a historical environment, making more sense of their development that the blandness of a chalk or white board can ever convey.

Crossing continents from Europe to South America, a dry subject is given life and a consistent pace that comes from a knowledgeable and well-researched author. My own favourite spell of the football’s history – the Austrian Wunderteam and the Hungarian Aranycsapat – are covered in some depth, their roots in the British pioneers who influenced the key figures are dutifully anotated, the reasons for the premature ends well documented.

Crucially, no-one person, country, club or team is given more credit than they are due. The influence that individuals have over their time duly recorded with all deferrence. Comparing and contrasting the legacies is where Wilson excels, judgements well considered and logical in their conclusions. Catenaccio, with its much misunderstood implementation and legacy, is given the same credit as any outright attacking invention, Herrera no more prominence than Sacchi or Lobanovskiy.

From an Arsenal perspective, Herbert Chapman is given significant recognition over the dominant side of the early 1930s. Even if the creator did not survive to witness all of their glory, the manager’s influence is still felt to this day. W-M was not a universally popular formation with the authorities, a run in with those in power that echoed Chapman’s past, but the success enjoyed using it meant the tactics were replicated around the globe. Even George Graham is given credit for the European campaigns of the mid-90s although intimating that the five man midfield was a short-passing is perhaps stretching the dourness of those cup runs a tad far, irrespective of the glory that followed.

Wilson is correct in his conclusion that the tactical innovations which have had the greatest impact will never be replicated in the game due to the extensive analysis carried out at the major clubs and universities around the world unless the sport changes the number of players. The prevalence of television and video technology means no more surprises can be sprung on an unsuspecting world. A pity but it does have a benefit for the author since this work will no doubt remain the authority on the subject for many years.

Impress your friends with your tactical knowledge by clicking to Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics

Posted on August 11, 2009, in Book Review and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 71 Comments.

  1. wow! first!

  2. Good book. Thoroughly recommended.

  3. I’m about a third of the way through, and it’s a great read, well worth the purchase price.

  4. “It’s not a issue of having tall people, it’s a issue of attitude. How you face the ball and are focused on the game in every single moment.” Well said Manuel

  5. I think it is a shame that arsenal haven’t developed, or at least i cant see, any pre-designed attacking dead ball routines. It seems that clubs are getting pretty clever with identifying patterns, or weak points in defensive set-piece formation and working on ways to exploit that.

    Some clubs obviously have a set number of starting positions, or looks, when attacking at corners or free kicks, then a variety of movements from each. I haven’t noticed us evolving much beyond the ‘all run forward in a line’ idea that my old school team ran to perfection.

    For a side as small as ours, you would think that having some prepared routine to get people unmarked, or put it to a planned spot, would help a lot.

  6. Something worth taking a look at in the Official Membership Yearbook 2009/2010. It lists all sorts of stats from each game last season one of which is the average heights of the Arsenal team and opposition. It completely destroys this image of Arsenal being a team of short arses playing against giants. It shows how quick people are to believe the press and jump on the bandwagon.

  7. i would love to see the likes of cesc and nasri to track back and i was really hoping to see rosicky back he is experienced and knows how to pressure and track back also arshavin as well so i hope they teach the likes of theo nasry cesc and co

  8. Does anyone know what the everton line-up will look like on saturday?

  9. Blue shirts, white shorts, arsenehollis

  10. Great review, it’s on the ‘ To Buy ‘ list . . . . ! Thanks !

  11. It is a terrific read and interesting that Wenger is only mentioned twice, both times in passing. Our short passing game comes from the same tradition of Scottish football confusing the hell out of the English by not just running in the same direction towards goal, like they were playing rugby without their hands. And the book continues to show that out-smarting and out-passing (usually they coincide) yr opposition is the way to success. The best teams in Inverting The Pyramid always seem to have great technical skill to reach the top, while the likes of Taylor’s Watford get shown up in the end. Stick to yr principles, stay smart and tweak depending on opposition and you’ll eventually come out on top. It’s a lesson we shouldn’t take for granted.

    Many of the managers in the book are true greats, and just as many took many years to even come close to success! Look at Chapman, he took 5 years for his first trophy. Patience is an essential virtue in tactical consistancy and making it work for success. Next time you think that getting rid of 3 time Premiership winning Wenger for what he’s done on a shoe-string budget, think of the division 2 obscurity we’d be in if we didn’t place our trust and patience in Chapman to take us to the top.

  12. I missed this…anyone.

    From the Telegraph:

    “Almunia could, however, be a little disconcerted by reports this morning suggesting Arsenal are looking to make a bid for Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul.

    Wenger is understood to have been monitoring the 21-year-old Dutchman for a number of years, and with Newcastle in need of reducing their wage bill, the Frenchman could land a deal for as little as £3 million.”

  13. I also so a rumor piece claiming that C Ronaldo has swine flu!! Lol…I don’t why that’s so funny, but I’m dying…

  14. Arsenehollis,

    RVP’s short corners into Nasri or Cesc, who cushions it back to him and let’s him swing it in from an angle could be effective, I don’t think we’ve scored from it yet, but it’s only a matter of time. He gets so much ping on them.

    I like how often Barca play the short one just to retain possession and work it in on the deck. I think we should use this far more often. After seeing Arsenal’s corners come to nothing so often, simply handing possession and momentum away. I say keep the ball first and foremost, keep it on the deck and work it in, using our strengths…

  15. axis – That’s terrible news. Can you imagine having such bad luck after having endured several years of economic slavery he finally breaks free only to go down with Swine Flu.

  16. heheheheee…

  17. Matthew Upson is available for 15mil…

  18. wtf huntellar signed for milan when did that happen?

  19. Frank – standards are slipping, the socks?

  20. California Gooner

    LimparAssist, I think the short corner mostly serves as a short pause to unpack the defense and allow attacking players a bit more space. I would like to see if it is actually more effective. We seem to score a lot of goals from set-pieces if only because teams are packing their defense making it hard to score from open play. However, we could use a more effective free-kick taker. (Marcus Senna, anyone?). RVP always kills the ball, but hits them to flat to get over a wall.

    On a different note, I think I will have to pick up a copy of the book to get ready for our in season discussions. Being based in the U.S. I don’t get to go to the stadium as much as I should, instead watching games on TV. On saturday I had the chance to watch Barca play Chivas (from Guadalajara, Mexico for those who don’t know), preceded by a MLS game. First the contrast served to underline just how comparatively poor the MLS skill level is. But who, besides Arsenal, isn’t poor when contrasted with Barca on football skills? Second, I was reminded how a half-decent seat in the stadium allows one to see the whole pitch and hence see much more clearly how a team uses space and how they keep (or don’t keep) their shape. Often this is harder to see on TV, which excels instead on close ups and replays.

  21. California Gooner

    On a different note, Amazon lists the US price for
    Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Super-Club Alex Flynn’s book at US$119!!! Do any U.S. gooners know how to get a copy of the book for a reasonable price?

  22. No socks, arsenehollis. This year they will be wearing those horrible short things that people wear with sports shoes. Makes it look as though they are wearing no socks but stops the sickening smell of footrot and athletes foot. David Moyes reckons that this season they will be so fast as a result of the new muscular freedom that this introduces, that no shin or ankle guards are required. Another cost saving exercise.

  23. Alex Flynn is a Spud and an accountant.

  24. Does anybody have an idea what happened with the Matuidi rumor? There’s no way we could of been priced out of a move for him. Things are bad but they’re not that bad. The board need to loosen the strings a bit.

  25. Marko

    I think that decision is in Arsene’s hands. He’s said himself he has the money to improve the squad if he needs it. I’m sure between him and Grimandi, they’ve watched Matuidi play in a few more games than all of us.

    If he doesn’t buy him, the probable reason is that for a 3-5 million transfer fee he thinks Matuidi won’t be such a great improvement on Denilson or Song.

  26. Marko

    I think that decision is in Arsene’s hands. He’s said himself he has the money to improve the squad if he needs it. I’m sure between him and Grimandi, they’ve watched Matuidi play in a few more games than all of us.

    If he doesn’t buy him, the probable reason is that for a 4-6 million transfer fee he thinks Matuidi won’t be such a great improvement on Denilson or Song.

  27. Maybe. I think that the only reason he hasn’t signed the players that he wants yet is because either negotiations having gone well or because the board aren’t willing to give him enough money on certain targets. I still think that at least 2 players will be coming in because Wenger won’t want to take any chances.

  28. California Gooner

    PG, thanks for the link. I realized that I can actually get the book from Amazon UK for 9.99, another 6.99 going for shipping. Anyhow, expensive but not out of my range considering how much time I spend thinking about Arsenal.

  29. Marko

    I think you’re right, but maybe it will be just the one. I would love to see two just to strengthen an already packed squad.

  30. Any one has a link to England U21 game that doesn’t require software?

  31. What happened to all the Eboue will be sold rumors? Even right thinking bloggers on this site repeated this malevolent lie from the press and the blogs with such relish. Did anyone read the memo; Eboue will be staying all of the season?

    The same ani-goons and doomers who foolishly demand more spending on super-super players to sit on the bench during a world-cup year are allowed to spew rubbish on this and other blogs. They are given a free pass to attack squad players like Eboue and Sylvestre, who are willing to anything the manager and the team needs during the loss of a 1st choice player. These are the players whose experience and attitude will make all the difference between success and failure in this year’s campaign.

  32. Did we buy anyone today? No? Oh well nevermind, I’m sure we’ll look good those games when we do have a fully fit 1st team.

    4th aint so bad I suppose. Well not unless your down as being one of the richest clubs in Europe that is. What a shame this all is!

    Still think we’ll sell out one day, just as we’ll sell Fabregas one day. Not this year, maybe not even next but it will happen. Both decisions become more likely with every passing non active transfer window, for similar reasons. What a shame!

  33. This? Unknown to many? (Mail on line:

    Arsenal resume quest to sign centre-back Neven Subotic

    Arsenal are back on the trail of Borussia Dortmund defender Neven Subotic.

    Chief executive Ivan Gazidis was in Germany on Monday ready to make a £12m offer for the 20-year-old Serb.

    Everton have also shown interest in the 6ft 4in centre back.

  34. Ever since the rise of Nemanja Vidic, every Eastern-European centre-back has become a “Serb”. Subotic is half Bosnian, half American. But nonetheless a good buy, especially to replace Toure, since he can also cover RB

  35. Shotta, you are correct, unfortunately the Eboue to be sold rumours seem to have gone away. Thats why I reckon we should try sunderland, they seem to have money to burn so its definitely worth a shot

  36. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    Next season, we’d like to have Cesc back and also Arshavin from u guys. Maybe with a Wilshere thrown in on the side.

  37. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    Imagine this team….


    Sagna Puyol Pique Clichy

    Fabregas Xabi Iniesta

    Arshavin Ibrahimovic Messi

  38. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    Wilshere will be a future Barca star. He’ll be honoured to play for us. An honour for us to have him in our great city.

  39. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    2 more seasons, we’d like Vela and probably Djourou if u don’t mind.

  40. Neven Subotic was born in Bosnia Hercegovina, although his parents are Serbian.

  41. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    Barca arrogance? You mean you can go to Arsene’s safe and collect the contract documents of Cesc, Arshavin and Wilshere?

    You will have to forgive Barca’s annual revenue to get those three.

    Cesc 100 million
    Areshavin 50 million
    Wilshere 80 million

    or Cesc/Arshavin/Wilshere 100 million plus Messi

  42. Never mind we will still have Robin Van Persie – world class player and Eduardo – world class player and Tomas and Theo and Nic and Denilson and Alex Song and Thomas and Bacary etc etc etc…and we will still beat Barca, even if the ref and UEFA and FIFA are on Barca’s side….and we will have Barca’s money.

  43. Frank, yeah maybe, or we could get spanked

  44. Truly AFC you value Messi at a 130m!

  45. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    I respect arsenal. Face it, we love ur players. They are the best.

  46. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    Barca and Arsenal can work together u know? U nurture ur best young players in the world, then we will purchase them at good and fair prices when they mature.Works very well. We get good world class talent and u will get money to finance ur stadium and what not.

  47. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    Imagine this team….


    Sagna Puyol Pique Clichy

    Fabregas Xabi Iniesta

    Arshavin Ibrahimovic Messi

    wow !!

  48. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    I like Robin also. He is truly a great player

  49. If Subotic really can cover as RB then he’d be right up Wenger’s alley and make for a quality signing. Right back cover and centre half cover for 12 million? Yes please.

    If he’s all out centre half I’m not so keen – as Djourou would surely get bumped down the order. Maybe that’s just a knee-jerk reaction but (ahem)…

    Breaking into the serbian national team so young is impressive. Maybe Hangeland was a smokescreen all along? After all, as I’ve said before, Hangeland is debilitatively one-footed, untested in a high-line, kind of slow and worryingly contented to stay at Fulham when he should by all rights be ‘doing a chamakh’ to get himself playing in red.

    Also, stumbled, quite by accident, onto ANR this morning. Caught a glimpse of something depressing. Something dark…

    Strangest quote – “Supporting Arsenal is the hardest thing in my life – it’s so upsetting.”

    Then why not just, F*CK OFF!

  50. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    The thing is with robin, he is fragile. A bit like eto’o. We’d like him if he can accept a bit less in his salary demands.

  51. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    Alex Song if he matures, will definitely interest us. Denilson, maybe. But he should get the goals first.

  52. Terry T

    Creating a great football team isn’t about transfers mate, get a life


    My opinion supporters coming onto another teams blogg is very low, i think it shows a lot of envy and jealousy. What is your agenda?

    You upset we got Cesc? haha

  53. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    Imagine this team….


    Sagna Puyol Pique Clichy

    Fabregas Xabi Iniesta

    Arshavin Ibrahimovic Messi

    Salivating yet?

  54. Barca if you expect somebody to say wow what a great team that would be your a fool. Yeah we could work together you could buy our players we think we’ve had the best of, occasionally you’ll get a few good seasons but mostly it’ll be players like Hleb, thanks for all the money.

    When we are flying again we’ll have a look through your squad see if anybody’s left that Real, Chelsea, Manc or Manure havn’t bought and buy somebody for a reasonable price, cos thats f*ing teamwork.

  55. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    I am very jealous that u got cesc. Also sagna, clichy and wilshere and rvp and song if he matures. They definitely have Barca DNA in their blood. It would be an honour to have them all at the nou camp.

  56. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    els u have got a point and i respect that. Is it a crime to be envious of ur team?

  57. He’s a wind up. Leave him alone

  58. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    U are wrong. Man U or the others could never have the pulling power to get our players. Look at the Nou Camp and our history and look at the eastland stadium and ManC. No contest. But Arsenal have the history. Unfortunately not the finances with due respects.

  59. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    Senor Laporta loves u. Unfortunately so does that fool Perez.

  60. Barca_Gunn_Salute

    Its a bit of a shame to all other Barca fans that you have come here telling us which players Barca would take (if you could afford them). With such a great team you wouldn’t think a Barca fan would care?

    We will give you another Hleb soon enough dont worry 😉

  61. Barca

    Arsenal is all about pure football… Wenger don’t care about other teams superstars, he looks purely at talent. Something alot of other teams and managers can’t seem to get to grips with.

    The fact that you have come on here talking about our players in any form is very flattering, and obviusly you don’t get much satisfaction from your own crop.

    Just keep dreaming if you ever think Wenger will release any one of Wilshire, Cesc, RvP, Sagna… etc before we get the best years out of them.

    Cesc maybe an exception, but as much as he would like to return to you lot your doing a great job in keeping him here at Arsenal a bit longer.

    You must have read a few quotes from Cesc saying how ashamed he is of your clubs behaviour??? Losers

  62. Anyway fellahs whats the discussion today eh?

    Anybody read all the ‘Pundits’ at sky sports predictions for the season?

    They practically all have us down for 5th.

  63. els

    Their predictions are predictable, lol. If they ever care to look on paper instead of purely at the transfer window they might get somewhere.

    Man City will do well to get above Everton and Villa for 6th spot. When the season gets underway, and we are about 10 games in, we will hear all the pundits with their excuses once again.

  64. Chris, we cant really call them losers though can we

  65. I have strenuosly avoided reading that ANR site, having got the jist of it from people´s disgust. However for only the 4th time i bothered to read it today – a pure disgrace.

    That semi-functioning toe-rag who wrote that letter (what odds it is a ringer?) just lied pure and simple. You get more sense on jerry springer and less emotional tosh from oprah. This is football, no one cares about your personal torment, pull yourself together.

    In the last 4 years we have had 2 good runs in europe and were robbed blind in the QF another time by two incompetant refs. These were exciting, invigorating games, the sort you look forward to as a fan. The final, though lost, ranks as one of my proudest moments as an arsenal fan for the teams display that night.

    To say our football has been dire since winning the fa cup is dispicable. Of course it cant be proved or disproved, a subjective measure, but one that no sane person would agree with.

    I dont understand these fools who get no joy from watching the arsenal – i am thankful every day that i was born an arsenal fan, it brings me great happiness.

    I dont understand how they see no beauty in anything other than trophies; that is all there ravings amount to, a shallow misconception for simpletons.

    Even in spite of this, the version of history they try to pass off as opinion is a fraud, just like them.

    I never read le grove, i will never read that dire ANR site again. If there was any justice the club would just recind his membership and give it to someone who would enjoy it and next time his son and mates are chatting arsenal at his dj night someone with soul would headbutt the little shit.

  66. Seriously though people, i know we are Arsenal fans and a bit biassed, but a team which contains:

    Arshavin.. Cesc.. RvP.. Eduardo.. Rosicky.. Walcott.. Sagna.. Clichy.. Nasri.. etc etc…

    I think we are worth a shout if you look at us in any light, problem is the average person is very very short minded. I can remember the season before last people were hailing us as going to be the greatest crop of players to exist in football. This was after our Carling Cup kids making the headlines, and our seniors challenging for honours.

    We were just in a transition, them kids have arrived and have a few years experience while Wenger has got shot of the dead wood. In that time we were still challenging, easily made champs league spots, got to a few semis while everyone else has spent probably 10 times more than us.

    We are a business model and a footballing model to all other teams around the world and play great football. This season i hope we shut alot of people up and make alot of people eat their own words.

    Most importantly i hope our team proves to themselves and our fans that the patience has been worth it.

  67. arsenehollis

    there are many more proud gooners about mate, and this season there will be plenty more admirers. All them tosspots we have to put up with on the telly will all change their tone.

    The season has arrived!! come on you gunners!!

  68. Poor old Alex Hleb. Back to Stuggart. That “ice cream” now taste like vinegar. That is what happens to players who think the grass is greener at so-called big clubs. Sorry doesn’t always make it right.

  69. now thats what i call offensive football :9 better than brasil 424

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