This list contains suggested reads on the topic of football tactics and the history and development of football. The list contains only those books that I own myself as it would hardly make sense to recommend a book that I don’t possess. Books marked with an asterisk are on my shelve but not yet read. A list like this is never finished and always open for debate, so feel free to add your comments or suggestions in the comments section below the list.
- Inverting the Pyramid – Jonathan Wilson
The Bible of football tactics, describing the development from the turn of the nineteenth century to the early years of the present century. If you decide to buy one book on football, make it this one.
- Brilliant Orange – David Winner
If Wilson’s work is The Bible of football tactics in general, Winner’s Brilliant Orange is The Bible of origin and development Dutch football and it’s tactics. It discusses socio-political issues in relation to Dutch football in a truly amazing style that could only be created by the well informed outsider that Winner is.
- Football & Chess – Adam Wells
Wells succeeds in linking two sports that are very comparable when it comes to the tactics involved. This books contains a series of well explained diagrams of both chess boards and football pitches detailing the similarities of tactical situations that arise in both games.
- Soccer Strategies: Defensive and Attacking Tactics – Robyn Jones and Tom Tranter
A tad try when compared to the gems listed above, this books does go into detail on defensive and offensive systems. It’s not shy of the technical stuff surrounding man-marking versus zonal marking systems, different formations and even discusses several systems on how to defend corners. That a deep breath, dive in and find yourself rewarded.
- The Coaching Philosophies of Louis van Gaal and the Ajax Coaches – Henny Kormelink and Tjeu Seeverens
The story behind Louis van Gaal’s successful mid-nineties Ajax team. It focuses on the training routines and brilliantly depicts the thoughts behind the formation and playing style that is often termed ‘the Ajax style’.
- Why England lose and other curious football phenomena explained – Simon Kuper and Simon Szymanski
Combining football and straightforward economic data, Kuper and Szymanski explain trends in world football. An original book containing a lot of insightful chapters, although the self-proclaimed ‘scientific value’ of their statements is to be taken with a pinch of salt here and there.
- Moneyball – Michael Lewis
In fact this books does not deal with football at all. Still it deserves a place on this list as it outlines the principles behind rational rather than emotional management of a very successful sports team, The Oakland Athletics Major League baseball team. By focusing on raw performance data rather than the looks of players and by neglecting the bias imposed by watching baseball games, visionary manager Billy Beane shook the world of baseball. It will be a matter of time before his line of thinking will be expanded to the world of football too, with chalkboards, OPTA data and Castrol rankings being only a first step in that direction.
- Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
Not as much a football, or even a sports book, but by far the most inspiring read of 2011 for me. Gladwell intelligently points out several factors that make some people capable of much more than others: outliers. This book also formed the inspiration for one of the best debated articles on 11tegen11, on the biased youth selection system.
- The Ball is Round * – David Goldblatt
Where Wilson focuses more on the development of tactics in footballing history, Goldblatt aims to describe the whole package. The over 900 pages have scared me from reading so far, but I won’t get away with that excuse for much longer.
- Futebol – The Brazilian Way of Life – Alex Bellos
Written in the build-up to the 2002 World Cup, this book goes into detail on the history of Brazilian football, or futebol, and can’t do so without taking you into the history of the Brazilian people. An amazing book, if only for the fantastic photographs inside. But don’t just check those, Bellos’ writing skill make you want to turn page after page, taking you into the fascinating world of Brazilian football.
- The Italian Job – Gianluca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti
Going into detail on both Italian and English footballing history and it’s relation, no better duo could have written this book than the two of Marcotti, top English football journalist with firm Italian roots, and Vialli, former Italy international and former Chelsea player and manager. It’s not so much a history of calcio and football, but rather a personal story told by insider Gianluca Vialli, going over his experiences as player and as manager.
- On Football – Sven-Göran Eriksson
A unique book in the sense that it focuses on the mental aspects of training top level athletes, with a primary focus on football, while drawing example from other areas of sports too. Going into detail on the concepts of confidence, team building, mental coaching this book may offer those with coaching aspiration some useful insight in these parts of the game.