THE MIXER by Michael Cox

The subheading of this non-fiction book is ‘The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines’ and had been on my radar for a while, having heard good things about Cox’s other books. I’m pleased to say that it did not disappoint, working as both a nostalgic overview to the first twenty five years of the English Premier League, and also as a summation of how football has evolved in that time, picking out the various players and managers whose contributions helped shaped the game.

The book is broken down into 25 chapters, each one roughly categorized by the key events of a particular year in a decidedly chronological order, beginning with the inception of the Premier League – and with it the money and razzmatazz that Sky TV brought with it. It’s easy to forget such facts like out of the 242 players who started a Premier League match on that opening weekend of 1992, only 11 were foreign. It’s easy to forget how changing the back-pass rule in 1992 (making a goalkeeper forbidden to handle a ball played back to him from one of his own players) took the safety play out of the way and made the sport infinitely more exciting. There are many items of trivia in this book, and they help illustrate how English football evolved from being rather staid and old-fashioned to eventually become one of the most-watched leagues in the world.

There are chapters focusing on players like Eric Cantona, the SAS (Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton), Gianfranco Zola, Dennis Bergkamp, Michael Owen, Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, as well as iconic managers and tacticians like Sir Alex Ferguson, Kevin Keegan and his ‘we’ll outscore you’ policy, Arsene Wenger’s influence in bringing modern methods of diet and conduct to English football, the long-ball game of Sam Allardyce, etc.

If you have an interest in football tactics and team formations, this is a fascinating book. It also works as a way of reliving the key moments of the sport over the last quarter of a century. I found myself recalling incidents I had forgotten and remembering the names of players that had since slipped my mind. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to catching more of the work of Michael Cox. As such, it comes highly recommended.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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