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Inverting The Pyramid by Wilson- Coaching Tips

I have recently read the soccer book Inverting the Pyramid- The History of Soccer Tactics by Jonathan Wilson. This was an amazing read and I highly recommend it to anyone who interested in learning more about how soccer has reached the level to what it is today. Wilson does a great job examining the development of the game in all different cultures and the major coaches who impacted the way soccer was seen and played in those cultures. I have dug-out coaching tips and interesting quotes that I believe are important to take away. Here they are:

Inverting The Pyramid- The History of Soccer Tactics by Jonathan Wilson

  • There is no right way of playing; at some point every soccer culture doubts its own strengths and looks wistfully to the greener grass abroad

  • Attacking full-backs would become an increasingly important part of the Brazilian game

  • Ponta da Lanca- one of the two central forwards dropping slightly deeper that his partner, providing a natural link with the midfield

  • It is, frankly, horrifying that a philosophy founded on such a basic misinterpretation of figures could have been allowed to become a cornerstone of English coaching (referring here to Charles Reep, who argued that long-ball soccer was far more effective than passing soccer)

  • Tactics must rather be conditioned by circumstances and the players available

  • Part of the genius of the great tacticians is their ability to apply the right system at the right time

  • “I believe in striking quickly from defence. A team is most vulnerable when it has just failed in attack. If I had to suggest an ideal number of passes, I would say three” (Sir Alf Ramsey, England National team coach 1963–1974)

  • The beauty of a system is that it can be more important than personnel

  • With three defenders at the back, the far side defender had to cover behind the center-half, so that the opposing winger always had space from the cross-field pass. With four defenders at the back, the far side defender can play tight on the opposing winger and take away his acceleration space. Without this space, the winger’s finished (Sir Alf Ramsey’s discovery)

  • “I’m employed to win football matches,” Ramsey said. “That’s all.”

  • Watch the Hungarians of the fifties or the Brazilians of the sixties, and what is noticeable to the modern eye is how long players have on the ball-and it not just because their technical ability gave them instant control. It is simply that nobody closes them down.

  • It is that diminution of space, that compression of the game- pressing in other words- that marks out modern soccer from old.

  • The evening before games he would gather his squad together- or the senior players at least- to talk through the next day’s match, canvassing their thoughts before drawing up his final game plan. I was that level of trust and mutual understanding that allowed Maslov to implement his more radical tactical innovations (Victor Maslov, professional Russian club coach 1942-1973)

  • Maslov may have coached by consensus, but he could be ruthless when he saw a player who did not fit his system

  • No matter how talented the individual, if he did not function as part of the collective, he had no place within it.

  • Catenaccio- which means “chain”, in the sense of a chain on the door of a house- summons up Italian soccer at its most paranoid, negative, and brutal

  • Catenaccio was seen as the “the right of the weak” and Gino Armano was known as ‘tornanti’- “returners”- wingers who track back and help with defense

  • “As a player I was a very sad thing. My advantage is that big-star players are monuments of presumptuousness when they become managers. They do not know how to teach someone what they naturally did with so much grace.” (Helenio Herrera, Argentinean soccer coach)

  • Everything is controllable, everything can be made better

  • “He would pin motivational notices to the locker-room walls: ‘Fighting or Playing? Fighting and playing.’ ‘He who plays for himself plays for the opposition. He who plays for the team, plays for himself.” (Helenio Herrera, Argentinean soccer coach)

  • Herrera would gather his team in a circle before they went on the field and throw them each the ball and turn, staring into their eyes and asking: “How are we going to play? Why are we going to win?” When he had been round every player, they would link arms over each other’s shoulders and affirm, “We are going to win! We are going to do this together!”

  • He had a reputation for being hard, but he was always warm and would stress human values (Victorio Spinetto, Argentinean soccer coach)

  • “Of course it matters whether a player is technically gifted or not, but if he doesn’t have fibra (toughness, stamina, determination) he cannot become a great” Spinetto

  • “Do you know what attacking is for me? To get behind the defenders” Spinetto

  • The game is all about space and how you controlled it: make the field big when you have the ball and it is easy to retain it; make it small when you do not and it becomes far more difficult for the opposition to keep it.

  • Attack is and remains the best form of defence (Ajax’s Philosophy)

  • Within the Ajax’s model, players derived their meaning, their significance, from their relationship with other players

  • “Habit Football”: Players can find each other by instinct

  • Even the rapid interchanging of positions, which became the defining feature of Ajax’s play, had developed initially as a measure to overcome the packed defenses with which opponents attempted to combat their attacking style.

  • Total Football means that a player in attack can play in defence- only that he can do this, that is all. You make space, you come into space. And if the ball doesn’t come, you leave this space and another player will come into it.

  • Ajax proved that creative attack is the real lifeblood of the game and that blanket defence can be outwitted and outmaneuvered.

  • “If you want to be a good coach, you must forget the player you were” - Valeriy Lobanovskyi Soviet-Ukrainian soccer coach

  • He (Lobanovskyi) had come to the conclusion that, to win titles, what happened off the field in terms of physical preparation and, particularly, rehabilitation was just as important as what happened on it.

  • The most important thing in football is what a player is doing on a pitch when he’s not in possession of the ball, not when he has it (Valeriy Lobanovskyi Soviet-Ukrainian soccer coach)

  • “The point of training is to increase the speed at which one can be precise” César Luis Menotti (Argentinean soccer coach)

  • There is still a place for great individual attacking talents, but they have to be incorporated into something knowing; they had to be protected and covered for

  • The Boat-Room: a place where Coach Bob Paisley and other backroom staff entertained wide-ranging discussions to benefit the club

  • “The Europeans showed that building from the back is the only way to play” Bill Shankly (Liverpool manager)

  • “If you get the ball in a Liverpool team you want options, you want choices…you want at least two people to pass to, maybe three, maybe more…Get the ball, give an early pass, then it goes from me to someone else and it switches around again” Bill Shankly (Liverpool Manager)

  • A team blossoms only when it has the ball. Flowers need the rain- it’s a vital ingredient. Common sense tells you that the main ingredient in football is the ball itself” Brian Clough, English soccer coach

  • When wide midfielders push on they either need to get followed and thus be pinned back or left. By posing this question and the higher you go, teams often don’t cope with it

  • The precise problem with direct style based on pressing is that it is all well and good until you come up against a team good enough technically to be able to keep possession even when under pressure

  • The longer a team takes to build an attack in possession, the longer the defending team has to recover, regroup, and reorganize

  • If a team can increase the number of times they regain possession in the attacking third, they will score more goals

  • As soon as there is the possibility of exploiting imbalance, the ball should be played forwards

  • 3-5-2 allows for attacking wing backs while keeping a core of 8 in the middle

  • A playmaker should be asked to adjust to the demands of the system and not have the team just built around him

  • To make the decision on which formation and tactics to play, you have to take three factors into consideration: 1) the attributes of the players you have at your disposal 2) tradition 3)Putting factors 1 & 2 together

  • Formation and tactics is nothing if players don’t have faith to follow manager

  • Younger players have fewer preconceived ideas and lack the experience that breeds caution. They are more formidable and less fearful. On the other hand, players who have played a long time together develop an understanding and have grown organically together in order to accommodate each other’s quirks.

  • “Football is all about the search for perfection. We know it doesn’t exist, but its our obligation towards football and, maybe towards humanity to strive towards it. That’s what we remember. That’s what’s special” Jorge Valdano (Real Madrid Coach)

  • Pressing is not just about running and it’s not just about working hard. It’s about controlling space. There are several types of pressing. Partial pressing, total pressing, and fake pressing.

  • In modern football, the players in the middle of the back four…have really become playmakers. They, had space, whereas the number 10, the advanced central midfielder, had become too restricted to control the tempo of the game- Louis Van Gaal

  • Evolution of the 4-2-3-1: a 4-4-2 with wingers pushed high and one center forward dropping deep

  • The most significant recent shift in understanding tactics: the notion that there are three bands (defense, midfield, and attack) is gone!

  • The modern forward, rather is far more than a goal scorer, and it may even be that a modern forward can be successful without scoring goals.

  • Cruyff was told that Guardiola (as a player) wasn’t considered robust enough; he replied that if a player was good enough his physique didn’t matter, a philosophy that has run through the club ever since.

  • Guardiola may have been inexperienced, but he was far from naïve or lacking self-confidence

  • Like van Gaal, Guardiola insisted that if the ball wasn’t won back within the first five seconds, his side should drop back and assume their defensive positions.

  • As cross-pollination among soccer cultures increases, so national styles become less distinct.


I am a youth and college soccer coach who is passionate about making coaching my career and helping assist players in their development. I am always trying to learn from the game and always willing to share with others the insights I have made from the game. If you have coaching tips or materials you would like to share, just contact me.

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