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The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics By Michael Cox

Release date: 11th January, 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins

List Price: £9.99
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Avoiding the need for a lengthy preamble, Michael Cox gets straight to his most important argument in the opening lines of The Mixer, noting that, “The introduction of the back-pass law in 1992 had a transformative effect upon football. Not since 1925, when the offside law was altered…had a law change been so effective in improving the spectacle of the world’s most popular sport.”

In a rare example of sporting and commercial serendipity, the new rule was introduced at precisely the same time as Sky were desperately keen to repackage football (remember the cheerleaders and other pre-match razzmatazz?) and sell it to subscribers. Yet this simple rule change made the game faster because goalkeepers could no longer pick the ball up from a back-pass.

“Sky were hugely fortunate,” notes Cox. “Without this significant improvement…the Premier League wouldn’t have developed into the multi-billion pound product it is today.”

Cherry-picking from a veritable conveyor belt of amusing, unforced errors, Cox reminds us of the mistakes made by players who had difficulty understanding the new rule. One of them, Sheffield United ‘keeper Simon Tracey, had “the brains of a rocking horse” according to his then manager Dave Bassett.

Within a comparatively short period of time, however, ball-playing goalkeepers were contributing to the game’s flow. No longer could they hold the ball and wave defenders upfield; the ball had to be played, ensuring that a) spectators saw more ‘game time’ and b) outfield players were involved for longer, a development which contributed to improved fitness levels.

In a hugely entertaining, meticulously researched and intelligent book, Cox traces the corresponding technical progress prompted by the 1992 rule change, noting a much greater reliance on innovative coaching methods which produced both Manchester United’s free-flowing style and Arsenal’s invincibles.

The last 25 years has been a time of tactical innovation. This has nothing to do with the formation of the Premier League, although ironically, the competition has benefited from playing methods which concentrate upon pressing, the use of ‘a false number 9’ as well as the tactics employed by Claudio Ranieri as he led Leicester City to an improbable league title.

Tactics continue to change, though not always for the better. This season has witnessed a marked willingness of most teams to concede possession when facing one of the so-called ‘Big Six’ with the sole intention of not losing. This doesn’t make for entertaining contests, but given the amounts of money at stake should a team lose its top flight berth, perhaps it’s a strategy we could have predicted.


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