Du Malone writes: I came across Sanjeev Shetty’s Total football (Aurum Press, 2018) when searching online for books on the topic of total football.
Fortunately I read the sub-title — A graphic history of the world’s most iconic soccer tactics — before I bought the book, so I wasn’t disappointed to find that the book was not primarily about total football. Only one of the book’s eleven chapters focuses on that topic.
It does seem perverse though to title a book so misleadingly.
The book is pitched at an introductory level — original research seems to have been confined to a few interviews with journalists. Each chapter describes a phase in tactical history by recounting a couple of key matches.
Total football does, I think, convey the gist of each tactical system that it considers. But in doing so, it reproduces — to my mind unfortunately — two conventions of tactical writing.
First, the diagrams of formations are invariably symmetrical. How often is football really like that?
When I examine the presentation of teams I can remember well, the symmetry proves misleading. In the Liverpool of the 1970s, was Heighway a mirror image of Keegan? Or, for that matter, was Kennedy a mirror image of Callaghan?
Second, the diagrams are frustratingly static. Teams on the attack typically take a different shape to when they’re defending, but that point can hardly be grasped from this book.
True, there are diagrams exhibiting arrows to indicate the movement of the ball or of players. But these diagrams ignore the time factor: what movement happened when? I find it impossible to understand how the featured teams typically put movements together.
The book is highly visual, making plentiful use of diagrams and colour, including the use of coloured papers. Perhaps Aurum’s intention was to extend to book beyond a bookish market. If so, I’d say that’s laudable.
But the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Light grey font against a grey or red background, for example, is just difficult to read. I find myself wondering what the book designer was thinking of.
I feel too that the book hasn’t been as meticulously edited as the author claims.
For example, having learnt how successful Guardiola was in his first couple of seasons at Barcelona, despite the transfer activity of rivals Real Madrid, we read that ‘Barcelona’s president Florentino Perez sacked Manuel Pellegrini after one season, to bring in the most wanted manager in football, Jose Mourinho’.
All in all, I was left with the impression that Aurum’s team — their editors, author, and designer — just didn’t work as hard on this book as they could have done. I’m rather reminded of those teams who convince themselves they’re too good to go down, only to find they’re in the relegation zone.
If I was Aurum’s managing director I’d be looking to bring in a certain Mr Anthony Pulis as publishing director, just to instil some discipline.