REVIEW: The Mixer, by Michael Cox

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ByTheMinute Create A Story

Understanding football tactics can be a complex beast. There's the initial numerical set up (be it a 4-4-2, a 3-5-2 or a 4-2-1-2-1 if you want to be all hipster about it). Then comes the roles of each player (are they a defensive midfielder or do they play the box-to-box role? What about a deep lying playmaker?!)

Finally, there's the team philosophy that the club is adopting (do you want to be known for your progressive style or are you exploiting the opposition by hoofing it long because their centre back is knee high to a skirting board?)

In 2017, these terms take a far more commonplace among football supporters vocabulary. However, it has not always been this way. Back at the start of the 1990s, there was no false nine or 'libero' in the English game. It was all about sticking the ball into the POMO (the position of maximum opportunity). Otherwise known as sticking it in the mixer.

It is this term that Michael Cox chose for his first book "The Mixer" which charts the development of football tactics since the inception of the Premier League. What a stunning debut it is too.

I'm a huge fan of Michael's work on the Zonal Marking website which takes a naturally dry and niche subject (football tactics) and puts an incredibly engaging and entertaining twist on it. He is clearly a very intelligent person but never makes you feel inferior to his knowledge. That style is evident all the way through this wonderfully written story.

It takes a very simple process of telling the journey from every team using 4-4-2 at the start of the Premier League in 1992 to the complex, heavily analysed tactics that are in play in 2017. Each season is given a chapter which focusses on one or two key teams or individuals that were the most influential or pioneering in that time period.

Rather than stick purely to the top sides, Cox delves deeper to showcase the people or teams who changed the game. For example, one of the early 2000s chapters studies the impact Sam Allardyce's long ball game ruffled the feathers of Arsene Wenger; the 2008/09 chapter contains an in-depth look at how Rory Delap's throw-ins proved so worth to Stoke City in their early days of playing in the league.

Clearly, Cox wanted to tell the story of the tactical expansion within the English game since the launch of the Premier League, but he doesn't purely stick to tactics. There are a number of brilliant stories about managers, players and pundits who have graced the game. One example is how Steven Gerrard almost had his big toe amputated following an accident near his home when he was 10 years old.

These stories are scattered among the tactical analysis which has defined Cox. And this book is so much more than just tactics. It is a journey through time which shows the influence that European football has had on the English game and the move from British players at the core of Premier League teams (all bar 11 players on the opening weekend back in 1992 were British) to a foreign revolution.

The only improvement I could offer Cox (one which would make me buy the paperback copy if he wants to add it in!) would be to show tactics boards throughout the book. I love how he displays these on his website and feel it would have been an excellent addition to portraying the Newcastle 'Entertainers' or the Man Utd treble winning side in this manner. But that is me being very, very picky!