A Brief History of Tactics

Discussion in 'The Beautiful Game' started by comme, Dec 15, 2009.

  1. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    In 2013 the game of football will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the codification of its Laws. In that period football has witnessed a vast number of changes, so that the game now would be unrecognisable to its inventors. Yet until recently one of the least documented facets of the game, but arguably one of the most important, has been the evolution of tactics.

    Early Days

    When the game began tactics were basic. In fact it would be little exaggeration to suggest that there were no tactics in the earliest days of football. Emerging as it did from a mob game, often played by hundreds of participants early football was little short of chaos. Before the Laws were codified in 1863 football had been enthusiastically embraced by many of England’s premier public schools, but even there it remained little short of anarchy.

    At almost all the schools the primary part of the game was dribbling. Players would effectively take it in turns to dribble towards the opposing goal until they were stopped or scored. Deliberate passing was unheard of, though in some cases the ball might ricochet off a defender to a team-mate who would continue the charge forward.

    The reasons for this style of football were numerous. Firstly football was encouraged at these schools because of its manly nature, and to pass was considered unmanly. Secondly a number of schools either prevented any passing forward (as is the case in rugby today) or made it very difficult due to prohibitive offside laws. Thirdly at a number of the schools, the games were played in narrow cloisters (corridors which surrounded an open quadrant) and consequently there was little advantage gained from passing.

    The old boys of a number of the most famous public schools gathered in 1863 to form the Football Association and later codify the Laws of the game. The dominance of the public schools had a dramatic effect on early tactics as they largely followed those that had applied at schoolboy level. As in modern school yard football there were large numbers of attackers and very few midfielders or defenders.

    The earliest games under the official Laws saw the standard formation played with 9 forwards, and 2 defenders. The strangest point about these early games was that there was no designated goalkeeper, as the position was not laid down until 1870. By the time of the first international in 1872 between England and Scotland, the English had made little progress in terms of tactics. Their Scottish rivals however, had made two notable innovations.

    The first of these was a change of formation. The Scots had moved to an organised structure of 2 full-backs, 2 half-backs, and 6 forwards. In this system the full-backs acted as central defenders, though given that there were no other defenders, they were expected to cover the whole back-line. The half-backs (modern day midfielders) were used to link the defence and attack, while the forwards were expected only to attack. The forwards were though given fairly strict roles which they were expected to perform. The outside-forwards (outside-right and outside-left) would hug the touchline, the inside-forwards (inside-right and inside-left) would act as providers, and the centre-forwards would be expected to score the goals.

    Scotland v. England 1872



    ---------------Thomson--J Smith

    R Smith--Lechie--Rhind--McKinnon--Weir--Wotherspoon

    The second innovation was really a natural corollary of the first as deliberate passing was introduced for the first time. In the game’s earliest day brute strength had been as much an element of dribbling as skill. Many of the best player of the day relied on their physical size to outmuscle opponents. In 1872 Queens Park (the first Scottish club) faced Wanderers in the semi-final of the FA Cup, and immediately noticed that that they were significantly smaller than the English side. To overcome that problem the Scots realised they would need to use more brains than brawn. To that end the Scots exchanged quick passes to get past their larger opponents. When England met Scotland later that year, the Scots employed the same stratagem and in both cases the games ended a draw. Given that the Scots had been playing for a much shorter time it was clear that there was something in this passing game. The next time the two nations played, England had adopted Scotland’s formation, but it would be some time before they would introduce passing.
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  2. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    The Pyramid

    The next great change in football tactics was a move to the formation which would endure for over 50 years, and in some nations much longer. While the Scottish formation provided greater balance than the chaos which went before, it still saw the attack overloaded and resulted in each attacker having little space to play in.

    In the 1878 Welsh Cup final Wrexham faced Druids and for them EA Cross (previously a centre-forward) was deployed as a centre-half. By withdrawing one of the forwards into the half-back line, a team could bolster its defensive strength and provided a better balance to the team. Wrexham were vindicated for their innovation, as they defeated Druids 1-0 to claim the cup and before long other teams were following them.

    Wrexham v. Druids 1878


    -------------Murless--ETW Davies

    ---------A Davies--Cross-- E Evans (Snr)

    Edwards--J Davies--Price--Lonham-- E Evans (Jnr)

    The newly created centre-half soon became the most important player in the team. Acting as the focal point of the side, the centre-half was expected to link the defence with attack and was consequently involved in the game probably more than any other player.

    The addition of the centre-half also radically changed the roles of the other players behind the forward line. As the centre-half slotted in, the right and left-halves (wing-halves) were pushed wider from a previously central role. When out of possession the wing-halves were expected to defend against the opposing wingers, as modern defenders would do. With the wingers covered by the wing-halves, the full-backs were now only expected to defend against the two inside-forwards and the remaining centre-forward.

    As passing increasingly came to be accepted there was a gradual change in the role of the forwards. The outside-forwards became more and more providers for the centre-forward, who in British football would be expected to challenge keepers for headers and, if necessary, charge them into the goal. Wingers such as Billy Meredith of Wales, a prolific goal scorer, were increasingly the exception to the rule.

    Inside forwards also became more creative as well, and were less and less relied on for goals. Great dribblers such as Nuts Cobbald remained admired, but the new style of inside-forward was more like that famous passer GO Smith than his predecessor.

    What the game also began to see more and more was movement to aid the passing. Even under the classical Scottish passing style most players were static when the gave and received the ball. In the early 20th century that style was built on as teams played in triangles, constantly moving into a better position to receive the ball and then play it on. The first team to do it well were Sunderland whose “infernal triangle” would see the trio of Buchan, Mordue and Cuggy gradually progressing further up the pitch by passing the ball between them. Spurs in turn improved on the system, but it was overseas that it was taken to the highest level.

    The Uruguay team which dominated world football in the 1920s added even greater movement to the passing style and used their half-backs to dictate periods of possession. With half-backs like Andrade, Gestido and Fernandez they had the most capable players and used inventive inside forwards Scarone and Cea to leave the opposition constantly trying to win back the ball.

    Such was the success of the pyramid that it remained in place the world over until the 1930s. In nations such as Austria and Uruguay it remained the system of choice into the 1950s and it was only in the 1960s that printed formations were no longer often shown in that style.
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  3. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    The WM

    One of the sharpest tactical practices of the early 20th century was the creation and perfection of the offside trap. With three players needed to be between the goal and the opponent (as opposed to two in the modern game), it was very easy with the pyramid system to catch attackers offside. The first team to realise this was Notts County whose defenders Montgomery and Morley would use the trap to prevent opposing attacks. The masters of the trap though were Newcastle, with Bill McCracken and Frank Hudspeth as full-backs.

    The result of the offside trap was a decease in the number of goals, and to remedy this the International Football Association Board (IFAB) took action. In 1925 they made the change to the modern offside law under which only two players (including the goalkeeper) need to be between a player and the goal for a player to be onside. Not only did this make it harder for a team to catch players offside as it needed greater coordination of the defensive line, it also made it much more risky as a failed attempt would see an attacker clear in on goal.

    In the years after the change the number of goals rocketed. In the 1926-7 season George Camsell of Middlesbrough scored 59 goals in the league in just 37 games, the next season Dixie Dean scored 60 league goals in 39 games. Clearly the actions of the IFAB worked, but for coaches it presented a new problem: how to stop the opposition scoring.

    Herbert Chapman was the greatest manager of his day. At Huddersfield he had created a team which would win 3 league titles in a row, with a system which seemed to run counter to all footballing orthodoxies. In the past the league’s best teams had been those who enjoyed the majority of possession and made this pressure count by converting it into goals. Chapman turned this thinking on its head and became the first manager to use counter-attacking as a genuine strategy rather than a mere response.
    Chapman’s Huddersfield would defend deep and then launch quick counter attacks, before their opponents could reorganise their own defence.

    In 1925 Chapman accepted the chance to move south and manage an Arsenal team who were less than successful at the time. In exchange for leaving the best team in the country Chapman requested full control of the team and warned chairman Henry Norris that he would not win anything for 5 years. Chapman’s pedigree forced the normally overbearing Norris to agree, and there began the beginnings of Arsenal’s success.

    Chapman’s first signing at Arsenal was the great Sunderland inside-forward Charlie Buchan, a man who himself had a definite opinion on the impact of the new offside Law. What Buchan realised was that to combat the new Law it would be necessary to move the centre-half into defence and slot him between the two fullbacks. This new centre-back would provide much greater cover for the full-backs and give the team a stronger base from which to build. If Chapman was to continue his counter attacking policy it would be necessary to have a strong defence on which to base it.

    The WM system though did not see just one radical change, but two. In order to make up for the loss of creativity suffered by the withdrawal of the centre-half, it was necessary to force one of the inside-forwards deeper to link the play between defence and attack. Buchan himself was too valuable a goalscorer to allow to play in such a deep position, so at first Chapman tried Andy Neil in the role with significant success. It was in 1928 though and with the arrival of Alex James from Preston that the withdrawn inside-forward really came alive.

    By 1930 the system was fully evolved, and it marked some radical changes for each position. With the arrival of the centre-back he was now charged with marking the opposing centre-forward, the full-backs now marked the opposing wingers, while the wing-halves would mark the inside forwards. For Arsenal, both inside-forwards were now playing in deep positions as David Jack arrived to play alongside Alex James.

    Arsenal v. Huddersfield 1930






    The results were remarkable, as Arsenal won 3 titles in a row (though Chapman died suddenly mid-way through the second season) and dominated English football in the 1930s. As he had at Huddersfield, Chapman relied on counter-attack and made special use of his wingers, Joe Hulme and Cliff Bastin who were expected to score plenty of goals in contrast to the majority of wingers in the league.
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  4. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    The Danubian School of Football

    On the continent it took much longer for the significance of the changes to the off-side rule to be understood. While in England most clubs followed Chapman’s lead within a few years of his innovations, the majority of Europe remained married to the traditional pyramid formation. Ironically it was two of the continent’s greatest anglophiles who most resisted any move to the “third back” system.

    Hugo Meisl of Austria was arguably the most significant figure in helping to develop continental football in the pre-WW2 era. Acting as a referee, and administrator and a coach his love for the game showed itself in a desire to be involved in every facet of its organisation. It was as the manager of the Austrian Wunderteam though that his impact was most keenly felt.

    Football enjoyed a popularity in Austria in the 1920s which matched that of any nation outside the British Isles and under the guidance of Meisl they constructed a fantastic attacking team. Although they retained a broad allegiance to the classic 2-3-5 formation, their use of centre-forward Matthias Sindelaar in a slightly withdrawn position was extremely effective. Having destroyed Scotland 5-0 in Vienna (admittedly the Scots fielded a weakened team and were badly affected by injuries) they embarked on a string of results which shocked the rest of Europe. Such was the movement of the team (and in particular Sindelaar) that their system became known as the “Danubian whirl”. Indeed the progress of the game in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary (all quarter-finalists at the 1934 World Cup) gave this school of football its name.

    Austria v. Italy 1934





    At the heart of the rise of the Danubian school was the influence of English coach Jimmy Hogan. Having left England he coached in Switzerland, Hungary, Holland, Germany and Austria and everywhere he went he instilled in his players the importance of passing and movement. His emphasis on technique was far more welcome on the continent than it was back in England, where the emphasis remained more on stamina and physicality than it did on prowess with the ball. By incorporating Hogan’s teachings, the Danubian school were able to make up for any physical weakness with superior skill.

    The other great anglophile operating in Europe at the time was Vittorio Pozzo of Italy. Having lived in Manchester during his youth he was hugely impressed by the play of Charlie Roberts, Manchester United’s attacking centre-half. This had great influence on Pozzo’s footballing philosophy and he was never fully converted to the merits of the third back despite his great friendship with Herbert Chapman. Instead Pozzo looked for a compromise between the systems. Rather than playing with a genuine third back, Pozzo moved his centre-half deeper, but still had him play in front of the full-backs. In order to make up for the withdrawn centre-half, he moved his two inside forwards deeper so that rather than playing with a WM formation he effectively played a WW.

    The success of this system was evident at the 1934 World Cup where Italy ended as champions, with Luis Monti, the naturalised Argentine, playing as the centre-half. Although numerous complaints could be made over Italy’s victory at home in 1934, there were few faults with their 1938 victory as Pozzo’s formation triumphed over the Danubian school.

    The one place in Europe which was torn between the movement of the Wunderteam and the effectiveness of the WM was Germany. Schalke 04 were the dominant side in German football in the 1930s with a style that mimicked that of the Austrian Wunderteam. Their team was known as the “Spinning Top” on account of the constant movement of the players. As with the team managed by Meisl, the Schalke side’s greatest attribute was not what it did with the ball, but the movement of its player off it. Their greatest strength lay in finding space to receive possession, and then looking for a better placed teammate. Their coach, an Austrian named Gustav Wieser, based his team around two star players, Fritz Szepan and Ernst Kuzorra, but it was the understanding among all his players that led to such electrifying football being played.

    Given their success domestically one might have expected the German national coach Otto Nerz to have modelled his own team on Schalke’s successful style. Instead he was a great advocate of the WM. Nerz saw the Spinning Top as a pretty style, that ultimately went nowhere. Chapman had shown in England that it was not necessary to have a lot of possession, but it was what you did with the ball when you had it that really counted. Not only did Nerz adopt the WM for the 1934 World Cup in Italy, he took the inconceivable step of playing Schalke’s greatest attacking star, Szepan, as the stopper centre-back! In fairness to Nerz the system proved highly successful for Germany, as they reached the semi-finals where they lost to Czechoslovakia, and then beat the Austrian Wunderteam 3-2 in the third-place.
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  5. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    The Verrou

    With the rest of Europe making clear tactical progress, it fell to the Swiss to find a way to combat the WM and the Danubian school. The Swiss players were not generally as gifted as their European counterparts, or as physically fit as the British, and so they needed tactics to overcome the superiority of their opponents. The system the Swiss designed was aimed to get the very best out of more limited players.

    The man that came up with the plan, Karl Rappan, was not actually Swiss himself but Austrian. He had enjoyed success as a player with Rapid Vienna, and had been capped for the Austrian national team but he moved to Servette in Switzerland to take up the position of player-coach. While there he created a system which built on both the pyramid and the WM, which became known as the Verrou (or the bolt in English).

    The bolt retained the use of an attacking centre-half which had been the cornerstone of the pyramid and also lined up the two full-backs one behind the other as had often taken place under the classical 2-3-5 formation. The greatest innovation though was to withdraw the two wing-halves into a deeper role, responsible for marking the opposing wingers. Although wing-halves had been charged with this role under the 2-3-5, less emphasis was placed on their attacking duties under the Verrou. By lining up the full-backs one behind the other, it allowed one to go to the ball and challenge, while the other acted as a spare man, sweeping up behind him.

    This was in effect the first use of the verrouller or libero in football, a position that would continue to evolve in the coming years. Rappan enjoyed a great deal of success with the system as he won two league titles with Servette, and five more with Grasshoppers. It was in international football that it would have it’s greatest impact. Using the Verrou the Swiss defeated England in a friendly and knocked Germany out of the 1938 World Cup, showing quite how difficult a system it could be to face.

    The great difficulty of the system, particularly when played by a more ambitious side than Switzerland, came in the distance between the defence and attack. Although under the Verrou the inside-forwards were expected to drop deep (arguably even deeper than Alex James did for Arsenal), there was a tendency for large gaps to open up between the defence and attack, due to the withdrawn position of the wing-halves and the out-right attacking placement of the wingers. The key therefore was in finding a centre-half with the quality to command the entire midfield, acting as a true link for the entire team. Fortunately for Rappan he had Verneti, one of the world’s finest centre-halves at the time.

    Swiss Verrou







    The Swiss may have invented the Verrou, but it was Uruguay who won football’s greatest prize with it at the 1950 World Cup. Hosts Brazil had crushed all opposition in the build up to their deciding World Cup match against the Uruguayans, with one notable exception: Switzerland. Brazil had won their other 4 games by a total margin of 17 goals, but the plucky Swiss held them to a 2-2 draw. Knowing this Juan Lopez Fontana, the Uruguayan coach, chose to mimic the Swiss system for the vital clash. Pulling Gonzalez into the sweeper position with Tejera just in front drew the half-backs, Schubert Gambetta and Victor Andrade, back into defensive slots and left Obdulio Varela, the black chief, as the classic attacking centre-half. If Verneti had been a fine centre-half, Varela was a sensational one, and against all odds Uruguay defeated Brazil to capture the World Cup in the Maracana and cause the most painful defeat in Brazilian football history.
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  6. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    The Magical Magyars

    When England played Hungary at Wembley on 25 November 1953 football changed forever. Hyperbolic as that sounds it really is true. Until that date England had never before been beaten by Continental opposition on home turf. Yes, there had been defeats on foreign soil, starting with Spain in 1929, but they had always been avenged and at home England remained seemingly unbeatable. At the time Hungary were the Olympic champions and had not lost a game themselves in 3 years. That day they shattered forever the image of England, the game’s motherland, as an unstoppable force.

    At the heart of Hungary’s victory was unquestionably the quality of players, but of significant influence were the tactics employed by their coach Gustav Sebes. The tactics themselves were not new, but they were more than enough to bamboozle an England team high on energy and brute force but lacking in tactical awareness and innovation.

    Hungary’s tactical revolution was begun not with the national team but at club level. Marton Bukovi, the manager of MTK, responded to the loss of his own powerhouse centre-forward, Norbert Hofling, by making a key tactical change. Lacking a player of the traditional type he instead moved wing-half Peter Palotas into the centre-forward role. Palotas was not a typical centre-forward, nor did he play like one. Palotas took Sindelaar’s withdrawn centre-forward role, and went even further. He now operated almost as an extra midfielder and provided another link between the defence and attack.

    Such was Palotas’s success for MTK that Sebes naturally took on the innovation to the national team. At first Palotas himself was the man chosen for the role, and indeed played as centre-forward in the 1952 victory, but by the time that Hungary met England, his clubmate Nandor Hidegkuti was the man in possession.

    England’s defence and in particular, their centre-back Harry Johnston, were absolutely baffled by the Hungarian innovation. The English were used to facing teams whose numbers reflected their position on the pitch. Yet Hidegkuti wore number 9, the traditional number of a centre-forward, and played essentially as an attacking midfielder. Johnston was thus unsure whether to stick in his position in central defence and mark nobody or follow Hidegkuti into midfield and leave a gap in the middle. He regularly found himself in no man’s land, neither protecting the defence nor close enough to limit Hidegkuti’s play and the Hungarians ran riot. Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis both enjoyed the space that Hidegkuti’s movement created and England were humbled on their own ground. Although the score ended 6-3 it could have been many more, and when England played a return game in Budapest the following year they were thrashed 7-1.

    Hungary’s innovations though were not limited to the centre-forwards. As Hidegkuti dropped deep to join the midfield, so Hungary now had an extra man in the middle. Jozsef Bozsik was the chief playmaker of the Hungarian side and along side him sat Jozsef Zakarias as the left-half. With Hidegkuti added to the midfield Hungary came close to playing a new formation, the 3-3-4, but Zakarias would often drop deeper still and act as a shield to the defence. This was the start of a movement towards a flat back four defence.

    Hungary v. England 1953

    ----------------- Grosics

    Buzansky --------Lorant --------- Lantos

    ------------------------ Zakarias

    ------------ Bozsik

    ------------------ Hidegkuti

    Budai------- Kocsis ------- Puskas ------- Czibor
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  7. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    Brazil and the Flat Back Four

    At around the time that Hungary were making their move towards playing with a withdrawn centre-forward Brazil were also in the process of tweaking their formation. The small team of Vila Nova had also adopted a similar system in the early 1950s, and Flamengo won three Carioca championships between 1953 and 1955.

    For the national team though, and the rest of the world, the first time they saw the new Brazil was in 1954. In the World Cup of that year Didi, Brazil’s inside right, began to drop deep to join in the midfield, but his influence was overshadowed by the changes of Hungary who swept Brazil aside in the infamous Battle of Berne.

    The first time that Brazil unveiled their back four on the international stage was at the World Cup of 1958. Although they still were not playing what would in modern parlance be termed a flat back four, it was clear that Bellini had been moved from playing a midfield role and covering for the defence, to joining the back four but with license to get forward. This gave the backline, already formidable with the likes of Nilton Santos, Di Sordi and goalkeeper Gilmar, an extra solidity.

    In midfield Didi had now dropped fully back into the centre to dictate play and Dino Sani acted as a minder to protect him. It is often suggested that Brazil switched at the 1958 to a 4-2-4, but in reality it was still a hybrid system. The team was fundamentally unbalanced due to the difference of the two wingers in the team, Mario Zagallo and Garrincha. Garrincha was a traditional outside right, an attacker with no defensive responsibilities who could beat any defender with his supreme dribbling. Zagallo on the other hand was known as “The Ant” on account of his industry, and would regularly drop deep in order to track back and help out his midfield teammates.

    As a result Brazil’s formation at the 1958 and 1962 World Cup’s can’t really be called a 4-2-4, a 3-3-4 or even a 4-3-3. It remained a mixture of styles, but was unquestionably effective. Brazil stormed to victory in 1958, and retained their crown in 1962. While their outstanding players were certainly important, tactics again gave them an advantage over their competitors.

    Brazil v. Sweden 1958


    Djalma Santos -------- Orlando-----Nilton Santos




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  8. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003

    After Karl Rappan and his Verrou the system that came to be known as Catenaccio was the next logical step. If his boasts are to be believed the man that formulated the system was Gipo Viana, the manager of Salernitana in the late 1940s. What the system involved was the moving of one of the wing-halves to drop into the back line, with then the stopper centre-back moving deeper still and acting as the sweeper or libero (free man).

    The actual variance of this system from the Verrou was minimal in terms of formation, but was more of a change in terms of attitude. The system that Salernitana used was far more defensive that that of Rappan and its primary purpose was to avoid defeat. Salernitana used it to good effect as they won promotion to Serie A in 1947 with the league’s best defensive record, but the next season they were poor and failed to win a single away game as they were relegated.

    Nereo Rocco, the great Milan manager, was the first though to popularise the system, when he worked at hometown club Triestina. Remarkably for a side of such limited means, Triestina managed to finish second in Serie A and were unbeaten at home all season. Given the resources he had to work with Rocco had achieved a miracle, and while he unquestionably possessed excellent motivational skills, no small part of their achievement was attributable to the defensive solidity provided to them by the Catenaccio system.

    When Rocco eventually did take charge of Milan, he deployed a form of Catenaccio there and again found significant success. Their style of play though was far less defensive than he had used at Triestina or Viana had at Salernitana. Indeed Milan won the Scudetto in the 1961-2 season as top goal scorers in Serie A with eighty three goals. Rocco was though always suspicious of the less workmanlike players. Jimmy Greaves was quickly packed off back to England despite his prolific record at Milan, and there were times that even the Golden Boy, Gianni Rivera, was out of favour. Milan though stormed to victory in the European Cup in 1963 and established just how powerful the formation could be.

    No team are more associated with Catenaccio though than Inter. Under Helenio Herrera, the Nerazzuri defined Catenaccio and were largely responsible for the negative image that it retains to today. Rather than playing with one sweeper behind three defenders and then having a centre-half or centre midfielder act as playmaker, Herrera opted for the added security of using an anchor in midfield to give a further line on protection. Gianfranco Bedin was the man charged with the role and he would sit deep and screen the defence of attackers, leaving Luis Suarez in front of him as the midfield playmaker.

    In the defence, Armando Picchi acted as Libero, but he was a far cry from the traditional idea of a cultured sweeper bringing the ball out of defence. Picchi was effectively a stopper who played as the free man, and was very much a safety first defender. In front of Picchi played Aristide Guarneri as the centre-back and to his right was Tarcisio Burgnich, playing somewhere between centre-back and a right-fullback.

    On the left of the back line was Giacinto Facchetti, who offered much of the attacking verve of the team. Arguably the first wing-back in the game Facchetti was happy to bomb up and down the left touchline and offered support to the attack. This allowed Mario Corso, the nominal left-winger, to drop inside and assist Suarez in his playmaking role. The team was naturally unbalanced due to Jair’s willingness to drop deep on the right side of midfield which allowed Bugnich to shuffle inside, but it was certainly effective. Inter won Serie A in 1963, 1965 and 1966, and won the European Cup in 1964 and 1965. In addition they were beaten finalists in 1967 to Celtic.

    Herrera always maintained that his was not a defensive side, and that it was only low quality imitators who gave Catenaccio a bad name. However, the negativity of Inter’s team in a number of their clashes, most notably the European Cup final of 1967, left fee neutrals as great admirers of the system. Bill Shankly hailed Jock Stein as “immortal” for defeating Herrera in that game and proving to the world that more positive play could gain success.

    Internazionale v. Benfica 1965








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  9. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    The Wingless Wonders

    After the defeat by Hungary in 1953 English football remained in the doldrums for much of the fifties. They weren’t helped of course by the Munich air disaster, which killed such greats as Edwards, Byrne and Taylor, but nonetheless the period remained a barren one. Alf Ramsey had played in the crushing defeat by the Magyars, indeed he scored England’s third goal, and from that experience he would go on to build a team to restore football’s inventors to the pinnacle of the sport.

    Ramsey began his managerial career at Ipswich in 1955, a team at the time in the Division Three South, but by 1962 they were champions of England. The secret to Ramsey’s success was based around two key tactical changes. The first was that he focused on playing a direct game, with little time for intricate passing. Although this was a far cry from Arthur Rowe’s famous “push and run” Spurs team of which Ramsey had been a member, he recognised that less passes meant less opportunity for something to go wrong, and that when working at a lower level it was important to keep the game simple.

    Ramsey’s second great change was perhaps a precursor to Mario Zagallo’s with Brazil, as he asked Jimmy Leadbetter to play in a withdrawn left-midfield position. Leadbetter had previously played as an inside-forward and was less than blessed with pace, but he had excellent delivery and by starting in a deep role he could draw the opposing right-back out of position. Once he had done this Ipswich’s centre-forward, Ted Phillips was allowed masses of space to move into, and he exploited this to full effect.

    In an era in which television coverage of domestic football was minimal, and scouting was still not at the level of today, Ipswich were able to surprise many of their opponents with these tactics. Having won promotion to the first division in 1961, they were champions the following season, but in the 1963-3 season their tactics were found out and they could only finish 17th in the league. Fortunately for Ramsey he had already left, having been appointed the England manager in autumn 1962, in recognition of his success.

    With England Ramsey demanded a level of authority that the role had not previously commanded. Walter Winterbottom, the previous England, manager had been forced to allow a committee to select the players, and he was content to manage them. Ramsey felt that in order to succeed he had to pick the players as well as the system. This he was granted, but he enjoyed limited success in his early days.

    In a preseason tournament in South America, England beat the USA, drew with Portugal, but lost to both Brazil and Argentina. This sparked a realisation in Ramsey that England would not win the World Cup playing a 4-2-4 formation. Instead he decided that it was necessary to have one player sitting in a holding role, and that to do so in a 4-2-4 put too much pressure on the other midfielder, as the sole playmaker in the team. As a result he initially started to play a lopsided formation with a defensive midfielder, an attacking midfielder, an out and out winger and one midfielder tucked in from the flank to give extra solidity to the team.

    After a series of experiments, it was not until the 1966 World Cup campaign was underway that the wingless wonders were born. The new system dispensed with the out and out winger and used another midfielder tucked in from the flank to give in effect a midfield diamond. England used Nobby Stiles as the anchor, Bobby Charlton at the head of the diamond, with Martin Peters on the left and Alan Ball on the right. It had taken England over a decade to recover from their defeat to Hungary, but at home they returned to their position among the game’s elite as they defeated Argentina, Portugal and West Germany to be crowned World Champions.

    England v. West Germany 1966






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  10. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    Brazil and the 5 x 10s

    Having won the World Cup in 1958 and 1962, Brazil had been looking to complete a hat-trick in England. Instead, their ageing side was unceremoniously dumped out in the group stage, courtesy of some terrible tackling which went unpunished. They would look to make amends four years later in Mexico.

    Going into the tournament Brazil were far from favourites. Poor results and the threat of dropping the untouchable Pele had put an end to the tenure as manager of Joao Saldanha, and into his place came the inexperienced Mario Zagallo. Zagallo had of course played a major part as a player in the development of the 4-3-3, and as a manager he would also be a part of a key tactical moment.

    Like Ramsey, Zagallo recognised the need for an anchor in midfield, and also like Ramsey he knew the burden of acting as the sole playmaker was too great for one man. However, Brazil had rather a greater abundance of riches among the playmakers than England. First among them of course was Pele, an inside-left but also the player that defined the role of number ten. Zagallo also had Gerson, a fabulous passer, though less than mobile, who he wished to use as a deep lying playmaker. In addition there was Tostao, a young forward from Cruzeiro, who was also more used to creating goals than scoring them. The key was the players to play around these.

    On the left of midfield, Zagallo selected Rivellino, essentially a central playmaker himself, but possessing one of the sweetest left foots in the history of the game. Then on the right they used Jairzinho, himself a creator at club level and possessing blistering pace that would give fullbacks nightmares. The front five players were all essentially creators, and as such became known as the five 10s, in reference to the traditional number for an inside left.

    Remarkably the system worked, with each of the players continually moving and occupying the space another had left. Rivellino would frequently drift inside to assist Gerson, who would himself occasionally move to the left. Both Pele and Tostao would come deep in search of the ball, while Jairzinho acted on many occasions as the team’s striker, despite being nominally asked to occupy the right wing. Brazil’s opponents in the 1970 final, Italy, had two sublime playmakers of their own in Rivera and Sandro Mazzola, but took the opposite approach. Each player was given half a game, and it was felt the two could never feature together. How different managers had different approaches.

    Brazil v. Italy 1970


    Carlos Alberto--Brito--Piazza--Everaldo





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  11. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    Total Football

    At a club level Dutch teams had never challenged the best of Europe. When Rinus Michels succeeded Vic Buckingham as the manager of Ajax, few would have given the Amsterdam club of rising quickly to the forefront of the international game. At the time they were fighting relegation, after saving them from the drop Michels won the league the next year. The following season Ajax humiliated Liverpool 5-1 at home, and made it through to the quarter finals of the European Cup.

    Michels first key signing at Ajax was Velibor Vasovic, a sweeper, who he brought in from Partizan Belgrade. In the early years one of the keys to the system played by Ajax was the use of the offside trap coupled with the introduction of the pressing game. The two worked in tandem and made the side extremely effective.

    Ajax played a high defensive line in order to squeeze the space in which their opponents had to work. The great problem with this is that if an opponent with the ball has time and space he can easily play a pass over the top which catches the defensive line out. In order for the offside trap to be effective it has to be combined with pressure on the player in possession in order to prevent him playing an easy pass. Using this style of football Ajax won numerous Dutch titles and 3 European Cups, but at this stage nobody mentioned the phrase Total Football.

    It was only after Holland’s 1974 World Cup campaign (also under Michels), that the media began to identify a phenomenon known as Total Football. In essence total football was taking the freedom and movement of the Danubian School, the Magical Magyars and Brazil’s 1970 side and going even further. Under total football it was expected that every player would be comfortable in any other position.

    In practice this meant that if the left back went forward, then the left winger would drop slightly deeper in order to fill the space that had been left. Both Ajax and Holland, played a notional 4-3-3, but in reality it was often difficult to tell who was playing where. Johan Cruyff was supposedly the centre-forward, but he was a player who could be found almost anywhere on the pitch. Like Alfredo di Stefano before him, Cruyff would come as far back as his own penalty area in order to pick up the ball and exert his own influence on the game.

    The idea of Total Football made it extremely hard for opponents to track the movement of players, but it also put enormous strain on the Dutch. Michels himself said that you could only attempt such a system if you had at least 7 world class players. With any less the system would simply break down. Both Ajax and Holland were fortunate that they had talent in abundance and even superb club players could struggle to make the starting line up.

    Holland reached the final of the 1974 World Cup in fantastic form, but they met there the hosts West Germany. This was a team who played their own brand of total football, albeit a less free flowing one that Holland’s. The Germans had a mix of specialists and all-rounders. The defence for instance had two great artists in Beckenbauer and Breitner, and two artisans in Vogts and Schwarzenbeck. Up front, instead of Cruyff the Germans had a goal machine in Gerd Muller, and while the results were less spectacular they were equally effective.

    Holland v. West Germany 1974



    ---Van Hanegem--Nesskens--Jansen

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  12. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    The Death of the Sweeper

    From the era of Catenaccio onwards, Italian football had been founded on the Libero. Manmarking and the use of a sweeper had been the hallmarks of Italian sides for over 2 decades. The 1970 finalists had used Cera there, while the 1982 World Cup winners had the legendary Gaetano Scirea as their Libero. In the late 1980s and early 1990s though that changed.

    As with so many of the tactical innovators, Arrigo Sacchi did not inherit a Milan side in good health. The two time European Champions had fallen on hard times in the 1980s until media mogul Silvio Berlusconi arrived to rescue the club. His appointment of Sacchi, a man who had never played professional football, was not the most promising, but it turned out to be an inspired decision.

    The easy option for Sacchi when arriving at Milan would have been to follow the traditional path and play with a sweeper, especially given that in Franco Baresi he already had one of the best in the world. Instead, he chose to play with a flat back 4 as was commonly used in England. Baresi was comfortable on the ball, and was still able to bring the ball out of defence from a role within the back 4. Having signed Marco Van Basten from Ajax and Ruud Gullit from PSV Eindhoven t great expense, Milan were well set up front. However, the addition of fellow Dutchman, Frank Rijkaard, gave the side greater solidity and allowed them to introduce the pressing game used by Ajax, and which had been utilised to great effect by Liverpool. In central midfield Rijkaard was joined by Carlo Ancelotti, and both had the energy to press the opposition and force them into errors.

    AC Milan v. Real Madrid 1989





    ------------------Van Basten

    If Sacchi’s team showed the rest of Italy the use of the flat back 4 and had undermined the pre-eminence of the sweeper, a rule change helped to kill it dead. Just as the change to the offside law in the 1920s had forced the introduction of the third back and arguably made the game more defensive, the back-pass rule of 1992, intended to stop teams killing time and stifling play, had a similar unintended consequence. In the past sweepers had been able to bring the ball out of defence, safe in the knowledge that if under pressure they could just pass the ball back to their keeper. By prohibiting keepers from picking the ball up from back-passes, few defenders were now so bold as to attack from the back, as they knew that any mistake would provide their opponents with a goalscoring opportunity.

    The result of the rule was that keepers were now reluctant to start attacks from the back and more inclined to hoof the ball out from hand, thus bypassing the defence. While some old-school sweepers persevered, such as Danny Blind and Matthias Sammer, the increasing trend in the 90s and beyond was for a flat back four with two stoppers in central defence. Notable exceptions to the spread of the flat back four were Italy’s 2000 European Championship finalists who played a back three, with wing-backs outside them, and Brazil’s 2002 World Champions who used the same system.
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  13. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    Recent developments and beyond

    Just as Francis Fukuyama questioned whether we have reached the end of history in the early 1990s, some have recently started to question whether there will be any further changes to tactics. Roberto Mancini suggested that rather than a change of systems the developments of the future would be all in preparation of players. It is realistically too early to call the end of tactical development, but the rate of change has slowed.

    Since 2002 the flat back four has been king, with all the subtle variations being made in the midfield and attacking positions. An increasing trend has been towards more layers within a team, so that now it is common to express a system not with reference to three areas (ie a 4-4-2), but to four or more (ie a 4-2-3-1). Whether this reflects an increasingly subtle distinction between positions or merely an increasing appetite among the public for tactical analysis is unclear.

    An increasing trend has been to move away from two out and out strikers. Whereas it was common to have a pair of goalscorers up front, it is now far more common for their to be only one or even none. For instance England at present play up front with Emile Heskey as the lone target man, a player who has managed just 7 goals in 57 games, but is chosen ahead of more prolific options on the basis of his workrate and ability to bring team-mates into play.

    A further interesting development has been the increasing use of wing-forwards. By the 1990s outside of Holland and Barcelona, the 4-3-3 appeared dead, yet in the 2000s the use of a three pronged attack has been resurgent. In some cases, like at Chelsea under Joe Mourinho, the system has operated more as a 4-5-1, with the wingers quickly dropping back into midfield when out of possession in order to give greater defensive solidity. In others, such as at Barcelona under Guardiola, it has been a distinct 4-3-3, with the wing-forwards being given minimal defensive responsibility, resulting in epic goalscoring.

    Barcelona Under Guardiola






    At Roma, the team operated for some time without any recognised centre-forward. Leading the line was Francesco Totti, a trequarista or withdrawn forward, who would drop deep into midfield and allow the midfielders to break in behind him. The great advantage of this system, as well as overloading the midfield, was that it left the opposing defenders with nobody to mark. Roma thus used the absence of a recognised striker to their own advantage, and were able to twice finish as runners up in Serie A with Totti enjoying some of his most prolific goalscoring spells.

    Even at Old Trafford, the traditional home of the 4-4-2, Alex Ferguson flirted with more adventurous systems. Lacking a central strikers in a similar way to Roma, United would frequently start with a forward trio of Rooney and Tevez, both support strikers, in tandem with Cristiano Ronaldo, nominally a right-winger. Yet again the movement of the three left defences in shreds and enabled United to reach consecutive Champions League finals, as well as winning a hat-trick of Premiership crowns.

    Manchester United's Move to 4-3-3

    ----------Van Der Sar




    The final change has been the loss around the globe of the traditional playmaker. With the loss of the sweeper from formations due to the change in the back-pass rule, and the increasing employment of defensive midfielders to stifle attacking playmakers, numerous managers chose to combine the two roles and use a deep lying playmaker. Sitting just in front of the defence, the deep lying playmaker enjoyed the protection of his defence, and was far enough away from the opposing defensive midfielders to have time and space with the wall. Fernando Redondo of Real Madrid showed how the role should be played, while Andrea Pirlo, previously a trequarista, helped both Milan and Italy to considerable success in the 2000s.

    AC Milan v. Liverpool 2007






    Whether Mancini was right and that there will be no further tactical changes or whether yet more tactical revolutions are soon to take place remains to be seen. What is certain is that tactics are back on the map as a mainstream subject of interest. Managers will always seek to gain an edge on their opponents and as can be seen through this brief history, almost every great team has made some tactical innovation which has helped them on their path to glory.
  14. msioux75

    msioux75 Member+

    Jan 8, 2006
    Lima, Peru
    Hi, I apreciate, if someone could draw these systems, putting an usual team as an example:

    * The Danubian School
    * The Verrou
    * Catenaccio

    ie. The Magical Magyars

    ---------------- Grosics
    Buzansky --------- Lorant --------- Lantos
    ------------------------ Zakarias
    ------------ Bozsik
    ------------------ Hidegkuti
    Toth ------- Kocsis ------- Puskas ------- Czibor
  15. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    I'll do you one better, I'll edit all the posts to include the formations of the teams.
  16. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    I created this thread primarily to help people understand all the positions to go along with my top 100 lists that I am currently rolling out.

    In order to help further with this I created a list of all the positions in the history of the game, with definitions of the positions and also how I have applied these to my lists.


    Goalkeeper: Not much explanation necessary for this one. Since the amendments to the Laws of the Game in 1870 a goalkeeper has always been a feature of football. (Example: Gianluigi Buffon)

    Sweeper keeper: A keeper prepared to rush off his line to act like an additional defender and play the ball with his feet. (Example: Rene Higuita)


    Right or left fullback: In the classical pyramid formation, one of two defenders expected to cover all defensive duties. They would generally cover the central forwards of the opposing team. With the move to the WM and the arrival of a third back these players moved out towards the flanks and began to cover the opposing wingers. Little to no responsibility for going forward. (No contemporary example)

    Right or left back: Lateral defenders in a 4 or 5 man defensive line. Some responsibility for going forward but primarily defence minded. (Example: Gary Neville)

    Right or left wing-back: Lateral defenders who look to get forward, these will normally be positioned between the defence and midfield. Some very attack minded versions can spend most of the game attacking. (Example: Roberto Carlos)

    Centre back: Originally a term to describe the third back in the WM formation. Now a generic term to cover all central defenders. In these lists a term to cover an all round defender who has elements of stopper and cultured defender to his game. (Example: Carles Puyol)

    Cultured defender: A central defender who is comfortable on the ball and has good technical skills. They will normally play in a 4 man defensive line and be partnered by a stopper. (Example: Rio Ferdinand)

    Sweeper (also known as the libero): A defender who will sweep up behind the rest of the defence and act as the spare man. Commonly, though not always, a cultured defender who will bring the ball out from the back and join the attacks. (Example: Danny Blind)

    Stopper: A central defender who is almost exclusively used to stop the opponents. Commonly they will be less skilful on the ball than a cultured defender and will be unlikely to bring the ball out of defence. (Example: John Terry)


    Half-back: Generic term to cover all of the midfield line under the pyramid and WM formations. This terminology continued into the sixties, well beyond the use of the formations that went with it.

    Centre-half: Although the term has now been bastardised to mean a central defender, it originally meant the central player in the half-back line. They acted as the key link between the defence and attack, and as such played an instrumental playmaking role. (No contemporary example)

    Right or left-half: In the pyramid the lateral members of the half-back line, who would be charged with marking the opposing wingers as well as providing a link to the attack. Under the WM these were generic terms to refer to central midfielders. (No contemporary example)

    Central midfielder: Generic term to cover all central midfielders. In these lists a term to cover an all round midfielder who has elements of each of the other central midfield positions. (Example: Michael Ballack)

    Anchor: A defensive minded midfielder who often sits deep and looks to break up the opponents’ play. Likely to act as a holding midfielder and look to incept passes, and cut off passing lines. (Example: Claude Makelele)

    Destroyer: A defensive midfielder who plays at a high tempo and actively seeks to break up play by hunting down opponents and making tackles. They are likely to have limited attacking responsibilities and will normally look for more talented players once they have won the ball. (Example: Gennaro Gattuso)

    Box to box midfielder: A midfielder who covers the length of the pitch and is as likely to be found in the opposing box as his own. They require great energy and stamina to cover every blade of grass (Example: Michael Essien)

    Deep lying playmaker: A withdrawn midfielder who sits in a deep position to dictate the play. They will commonly pick up the ball from the defence and distribute it with long raking passes. (Example: Andrea Pirlo)

    Playmaker: An attacking central midfielder, who dictates the style of play of his team. Normally a significant amount of the team’s play will go through them, and they will be responsible for controlling the tempo of the team and generating assists. (Example: Juan Roman Riquelme)

    Offensive midfielder: A central midfielder who will look to surge from deep into goalscoring positions. They will often not start as high up the pitch as a playmaker or winger, but will either shoot from long range or use their movement to get into the box unmarked and will typically be a (relatively) heavy scorer. (Example: Frank Lampard)

    Lateral midfielder: A midfielder who plays on the flanks but is likely to play slightly infield from the touchline and in a deeper position than a winger. They will rarely look to dribble past players and are more likely to play crosses from deep or drift further infield to link play. (Example: David Beckham)

    Winger: A midfielder who hugs the touchline and looks to beat his marker through a combination of pace and trickery. They will be responsible for supplying crosses for the centre forwards to attack. (Example: Ryan Giggs)


    Centre forward: Clasically used to refer to the central forward in the pyramid and WM formations, regardless of their style of play. Later a generic term to describe all central forwards, now commonly used to refer to a target man.

    Striker: Often used generically to refer to all forwards, specifically a clinical finisher whose primary purpose it to score goals. (Example: Michael Owen)

    Withdrawn centre-forward: Prior to the Danubian school of football all centre-forwards were out and out goal scorers who led the line. Following the example of Matthias Sindelaar some centre-forwards dropped deeper in order to confuse their opponents and retrieve the ball. (No contemporary example as superseded by support striker)

    Outside left or right: In a four or five man attack, the widest players on the pitch. Essentially wingers with even greater license to attack, and no defensive responsibilities. Rarely heavy goalscorers these were primarily creative players who would stick to their flanks. (No contemporary example)

    Wing forward: The outside forwards of an attacking trio. Often very attacking wingers who will cut inside to shoot or seek to dribble past their markers, they can be heavy scorers but will also act as creators for a central striker. (Example: Lionel Messi)

    Target man: Centre forward of a more physical nature. Normally they will be tall, strong and good in the air, allowing long balls and crosses to be played in their direction. Sometimes prolific scorers they are often used more to lead the line and allow others to play off them (Example: Didier Drogba)

    Support striker: A forward who plays off the main striker, but in front of the midfield (commonly said to be “in the hole”). They are primarily providers and link men for the team, but in some cases can be prolific goalscorers as well. Often they will play in a very similar style to the playmaker, but in a slightly more advanced position. (Example: Alessandro Del Piero)

    Inside left or right: In the pyramid and WM the forwards who played in between the outside left and right, and the centre-forward. These were traditionally goalscorers themselves until Alex James dropped into the midfield in the 1930s and acted as another midfielder. Later a genric term to describe any central forward, though the inside left tended to operate deeper than the inside right. (No contemporary example as superseded by support striker and striker)
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  17. islamdiaa

    islamdiaa New Member

    Dec 18, 2009
    Real Madrid
  18. RichardL

    RichardL BigSoccer Supporter

    May 2, 2001
    Reading FC
    Nat'l Team:
    It's not that strange when you consider that handling the ball (but not carrying it) was allowed in the early days. There wasn't any need for a designated goalkeeper when anyone could make a save.

    I always find the early development of football as a sport fascinating, both in the tactics and the progression from what was essentially "just a game" to professional football. It'd be interesting to see what tactics were played in those early days. There'd certainly have been some, however rudimentary, but the rules of the day would have created a very different emphasis on what types of play were effective.

    Good thread all round.
  19. msioux75

    msioux75 Member+

    Jan 8, 2006
    Lima, Peru
    I think that Bellini position was Centerback & Orlando Pecanha played as "Cuarto Zaguero". I would draw the system like that.


    D.Santos ----- Bellini ----- Orlando ----- N.Santos

    ---------- Zito ------------------- Didi

    Garrincha ----- Vava ----- Pele ----- Zagallo

    Anyways, I like your thread. Congratulations ;)
  20. msioux75

    msioux75 Member+

    Jan 8, 2006
    Lima, Peru
    Está faltando la tactica que usaba Inglaterra en los inicios del futbol internacional, cuando jugaban 1-1-8
  21. nimma

    nimma Moderator
    Staff Member

    Jun 5, 2006
    Manchester United FC
    Brilliant read....Loved it.....Prior to this i didnt know much about the early formations.......Thanks for posting Comme.....
  22. Cirdan

    Cirdan Member

    Sep 12, 2007
    Jena (Germany)
    Very nice thread. What I believe is sold a bit short is man marking vs zonal marking. I believe abolishing man-marking is mainly responsible for the death of the sweeper - using man marking, you need one as a back-up, in zonal marking, the defenders can back each other up and the player is much better utilized in the "regular" defense line.
  23. comme

    comme Moderator
    Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2003
    In another thread where I linked to these posts someone questioned by sources for this. Just for anyone who is interested the following books were all of significant use as well as numerous issues of World Soccer and Champions.

    Soccer Tactics by Bernard Joy
    Soccer Revolution by Willy Meisl
    Soccer Nemesis by Brian Glanville
    Soccer: The World Game by Geoffrey Green
    Association Football by Green and Fabian
    Flat Back Four by Andy Gray
    The Story of the World Cup by Brian Glanville
    Brillant Orange by David Winner
    Calcio by John Foot
    The Beautiful Team by Garry Jenkins
    Futebol by Alex Bellos
    Fields of Glory, Paths of Gold by Connolly and MacWilliam
    Tor by Uli Hesse Lichtenberger
    Morbo by Phil Ball
    The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt
    Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson
    Twenty26Six repped this.
  24. Gregoriak

    Gregoriak BigSoccer Supporter

    Feb 27, 2002

    But a team playing with a sweeper can also apply zonal marking. Dynamo Kiev in the 1980s is an example.

    Usually, teams playing with a sweeper applied either strict man-marking (Italian teams of the 1960s to 1980s) or a combination of zonal and man-marking (German teams in the 1980s and 1990s).

    But a pure zonal marking system can also be used when playing with a sweeper.
  25. Gregoriak

    Gregoriak BigSoccer Supporter

    Feb 27, 2002
    This here - The Enigyma of Systems - by Friedebert Becker is also a worthwhile read.

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