Taking the good advice of the excellent soccer tactics blog Zonal Marking, I’ve been reading the book Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson. It tracks the worldwide tactical evolution of the game over the past century and a half. The sheer scope of it is impressive, but what sticks for me aren’t the arcane formations (and their Hungarian vs. Argentine iterations), but the anecdotes and the glimpses of maniacal coaches hellbent on finding some kind of perfection.
Sacchi, the mastermind behind AC Milan’s great team of the late 80s and early 90s, had a few interesting things to say about how modern mega-bucks teams have been constructed. He doesn’t like specialists, in particular the vaunted defensive midfielder Makelele (who, for the record, I almost named a cat after).
“Today’s football is about managing the characteristics of individuals… And that’s why you see the proliferation of specialists. The individual has trumped the collective. But it’s a sign of weakness. It’s reactive, not pro-active.” About Real Madrid’s Galacticos era a few years ago, which he briefly coached: “There was no project… It was about exploiting qualities. So, for example, we knew that Zidane, Raul and Figo didn’t track back, so we had to put a guy in front of the front of the back four who would defend… It doesn’t multiply the players’ qualities exponentially, which actually is the point of tactics…”
“In my football, the regista – the playmaker – is whoever had the ball. But if you have Makelele, he can’t do that. He doesn’t have the ideas to do it, although, of course, he’s great at winning the ball. It’s become all about specialists. Is football a collective and harmonious game? Or is it a question of putting x amount of talented players in and balancing them out with y amount of specialists?”