Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors takes its name from the podcast featuring Gary Lineker and Danny Baker. The chapters generally alternate between the two, with Lineker’s giving a whistle-stop history of his playing career and Baker’s looking his media roles and thoughts about football. It’s an enjoyable, easy-read that has football as the link between the two.

Rating (out of 5): ****

How To Win The Premier League: On A Shoestring

The Premier League this season will be won by either Liverpool or Manchester City, with the other finishing in second. Third and fourth will be two from Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. We’re four games into the season, but are there many people (indeed anyone) who would disagree with the above predictions?

Continue reading my review of How to win the Premier League: on a shoestring

The Jersey

Some teams are able to dominate a sport, but it’s only for a brief period of time. But not in Rugby Union. Rugby Union is dominated by the All Blacks, who have a winning record against every other nation. Few get close and they have transcended the sport. But what is their secret? That’s what The Jersey looks to find out.

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Peter Bills has gained access to past and present players and coaches as he looks to establish why New Zealand are the dominant force in Rugby Union. The All Blacks is the pinnacle in New Zealand, but they have have a strong school system that feeds into the franchises. They also look to establish continuity in the coaching staff and anticipate where the game is going as opposed to reacting to where it is.

But Bills’ study contains words of warnings, especially over whether people will watch if the result is a foregone conclusion. This isn’t just an excellent Rugby or sport book, it’s an excellent book.

Rating (out of 5): *****

The Mixer

The Mixer looks at the history of the Premier League through tactics. The start of the Premier League saw teams almost exclusively play 4-4-2. This has developed as the league has welcomed overseas players and managers and pitches have improved.

The first tactical change I can remember (and that we talked about at primary school) was playing a 3-5-2 with wing backs. At the time, we were amazed that a formation other than 4-4-2 could be used and, coupled with a good Aston Villa team at the time, were convinced it was the way forward. It certainly made an impact on me and for a long time on Championship Manager/Football Manager, 3-5-2 was my default formation as I like the idea of having three centre backs and an extra man in the middle of the park. Anyway, back to the book…

Although the book is taking a look at the evolution of tactics, it does not get heavily involved in comparing the relative advantages of different tactics against other line-ups. The book also looks at the role of particular notable players and how that has allowed a formation to work (e.g. the role of Cantona in playing between the lines and the ‘Makelele’ position).

The book also has some interesting stories within in it, some of which are entertaining. Unsurprisingly, the stories involving Keegan’s time at Newcastle were particularly entertaining and had me laughing several times.

The Mixer is a football book. And it is a good football book. But more importantly, it’s a good book and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I am sure I will return to it and look forward to seeing how tactics continue to develop in the Premier League (and beyond).

Rating (out of 5): *****

The Numbers Game

The Numbers Game is subtitled Why everything you know about football is wrong. It looks to use statistics to disprove some things that we all ‘know’ about football. It also looks to draw attention to the key parts of the game that were unknown until statistics have started being used.

Statistics have been widely used in baseball to help teams improve and other sports are trying to use them to help their performances. Anderson and Sally make it clear that there is already a wide availability of statistics in football, but they are meaningless without analysis. This is an area that clubs are still struggling to get to grips with, as failing in the ‘proper way’ would draw less condemnation than by failing (if it were to happen) through the use of analysed statistics.

Anderson and Sally look to analyse some common statistics and also answer questions such as whether scoring a goal is better than preventing one, if corners should be as celebrated as they are and when substitutions should be made if a team is losing. An enjoyable and thought-provoking book throughout and there’s a couple of things that I may look to try in my Football Manager save; it’s also given me a tip for the next World Cup Final.

Rating (out of 5): *****

Inverting the pyramid: the history of football tactics

The evolution of football formations and tactics is examined in Inverting the pyramid. The book starts with the first formation of 2-3-5 and how this has progressed over the years to new formations. For much of history, most teams have played the same formation or a variation of the formation. As well as formations, tactics are also looked at as managers have looked to get the best out of the players they have at their disposal. In most cases, the initial success of a new formation and tactic has brought some early success before other teams have copied it.

Wilson argues that new tactics and formations brought success as others were not aware of them. With the amount of football available to watch and all the video analysis that there is, it becomes more difficult for revolutionary new tactics to be introduced and certainly not as a surprise to opponents. How will the game develop further? That is the unknown question.

Rating (out of 5): *****

Book review: Soccernomics

Soccernomics looks to explain events in football and dispel popular myths. Club and international football is looked at. As well as trying to explain events, it touches on how other sports use data and how football is slow in comparison to use statistics available. Whilst the book may be slow to influence professional football clubs, it has had an impact on how I play Football Manager and has helped me raise the number of goals I score from corners.

A fascinating insight into how data can be used in football to explain events that happen.

Ratings (out of 5): *****