A fascinating read given the rather dry title. Published last year when the Premier League had it’s 25th anniversary, this substantial tome describes the evolution the game underwent once the new league was founded. The title suggests a focus tactics, and that’s certainly a significant part of the book, but there’s also detailed discussion of the managers and players who were the catalysts of change. Author Michael Cox runs the website www.zonalmarking.net and has been a regular contributor to The Guardian. He’s been smart enough to see that the human story is what makes this readable, not just tactics and statistics.
As a fan in the 90’s I’d always check the results on a Sunday and catch Match of the Day whenever I could but the emergence of the Premier League, tucked away on BSkyB meant a lot of what is described in the early sections here is less familiar to me until we reach the more recent years. Whilst not strictly chronological the book has 25 chapters each with a different theme, and spans Cantona to Conte finishing with a neat analysis of Leicester’s Premiership success.
Cox is particularly adept at relating how managers such as Wenger, Ferguson, Mourhino and Benitez changed the game without taking anything away from the players who actually made it happen on the pitch, making them seem quite human and fallible in the process. Whilst some of the stories familiar – the way Wenger changed players diet and fitness at Arsenal for example, there’s a great deal I’d never heard of before. For example, although I knew Sam Allardyce had been an innovative user of player performance data and an early adopter of ProZone, Cox explains how much wider than this Big Sam’s thinking went, having had his eyes opened to physical and mental preparation techniques as yet unseen in the UK by a brief spell playing for Tampa Bay Rowdies who shared facilities and methodologies with their NFL brethren the Buccaneers. Despite his refusal to give up route one, Bolton’s performance under his management remains remarkable even if they way they got results wasn’t pretty.
There’s no attention given to the wider impact that Sky have had on the game; the wage inflation, the lack of real competition outside the tops teams, the disregard that the Premier League and Sky have for fans who still watch their football live. This may seem to make the book a little imbalanced but to be fair to Cox, the focus was always going to be what happened on the pitch rather than off it.
Despite being a football fan for over 50 years this book has made me realise how little I noticed of some aspects of the game; reading this has provided me with a lot of insight, brought back a wealth of memories, dug up acres of interesting facts and a fair few laughs. A book that gives 110%, and will leave you over the moon. Brian.
Length of Read:Long
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
A bit of a kick about.
One thing you’ve learned
Whilst at Newcastle, neither Keegan or Terry McDermott had any coaching badges or prior coaching experience. Keegan paid McDermott’s wages out of his own pocket.