This is to me the smartest, most entertaining piece ever written on the beautiful game of football. It tells the evolution of formations and tactics deployed in the Premier League, by English clubs and few European clubs in the European championships, and their effects on the national teams.
The author, Michael Cox, brilliantly narrates them all into several themes that define their respective eras, from the classic long ball tactics, to the early number 10 role in the formative days of the Premier League, the evolution of the Makalele role, the usage of false 9, the tiki taka passing game, all the way to the current pressing game.
In between the eras, we’ll learn about the anatomy of Blackburn’s winning team, Liverpool’s several near champions, the treble winning Man Utd 1998/1999, the Arsenal invincibles, what the riches of Chelsea and Man City brought to the Premier League, the modern developments in football that fits Pep Guardiola’s character perfectly, among many other analyses, from top to mid to bottom table clubs.
The book also analyses the brilliant tactics used by the managers, and shows exactly why they were masters at their craft. For example, why Alex Ferguson used Johnsen (instead of Scholes) alongside Keane vs Juventus at Champions League semi-final, how Sam Allardice’s Bolton Wanderers implements the classic long ball tactics, how Stoke City brilliantly utilise their long throws, how Brendan Rogers’ Swansea adapted to the passing game, the many roles of Fabregas at different teams, the military-like discipline of Rafael Benitez’s tactics, and the curious tactics built around Ruud Gullit in Chelsea.
Of course, we’ll also read about all the mishaps along the way, like how Diego Forlan never quite fit in at Man Utd but brilliant in La Liga, how that title losing Gerrard slip vs Chelsea was a culmination of several things going on few matches prior, how chaotic was Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United, the curious case of Georgi Kinkladze’s rise and fall at Man City, how underrated Matt Le Tissier was and whether he would be phenomenal in today’s passing game, how Leeds United spectacularly fall from their European heights, and the background stories of why the mighty England midfield quartet of Beckham-Gerrard-Lampard-Scholes never quite clicked.
The book also serves as a fond nostalgia, with the likes of Vieira vs Keane fights, the Michael Owen early Liverpool days, the Paolo Di Canio antics, THAT Aguero goal at Man City v QPR title-winning match, the tactics that allow David Ginola dance around several defenders, everybody’s favourite underdog Leicester City in their incredible 5000/1-odd title winning season, and many, many more.
It remains gripping from the very first word till the end, with the nice delicate touch of the very last word on the postscript chapter explains the brilliant meaning of the book’s title. Absolutely enjoyable to read!