Interview: Jonathan Wilson talks all things Manchester United and ‘The Blizzard’
Jonathan Wilson, football writer and published author, has had a huge impact on the way we see the game today; his book Inverting the Pyramid documented the evolution of football tactics, trends and formations and the title has attracted rave reviews ever since it was published. Wilson writes for Guardian, Sports Illustrated and Champions, and has kindly agreed to speak to ManUtd24 on all things United to mark the launch of the new magazine, The Blizzard.
It’s safe to say Inverting the Pyramid has been such a huge success. Did you honestly think that, when you first began brainstorming the possibility of writing the book, it would have such a profound impact on the UK blogging scene and indeed, journalism as a whole?
Not a clue, no. I’d written Behind the Curtain, which had done OK, and I was thrashing around ideas for another book. I’d just done a big piece on the history of tactics for FourFourTwo, mentioned that and my editor was keen because he’d commissioned a similar book a few years earlier with Peter Ball, the Times writer, who sadly died before he finished. I don’t know whether it was the book that had the impact, though, or whether I was just lucky and caught a wave that was rising anyway.
So what’s your honest assessment of the season so far? Has Manchester United been as good as their league position would suggest?
Well, they’ve been the most consistent team, but they’re not a patch on previous United sides. The spread of fixtures has been odd this season – Chelsea had that very easy start, and United have a relatively tough finish, so it’s been a hard table to read. I’d say generally though that the spread form top to bottom this season is the
smallest it’s been for a long time.
That Manchester United has performed so well surely, then, backs up those dissenters who argue the relative unimportance of tactics? Its system is not particularly revolutionary – and indeed goes against current trends – and goes to prove the man-management ability of Sir Alex and player empowerment.
Tactics only have to be the best for the players available in the circumstances; they don’t need to be revolutionary. And of course motivation plays a part – as it did in Chelsea’s second-half comeback on Tuesday.
Dimitar Berbatov is ahead in the race to win the Golden Boot. Would you agree that his goalscoring form is down to him playing higher up the pitch?
Partly that, and partly the fact that United this season have been less about crosses than they were last – whether by design or because of the injury to Valencia, so he’s getting a more varied service (as he proved against Liverpool, he does thrive on crosses, but if it’s just crosses then his movement, which I find fascinating, is negated).
Michael Carrick has been no stranger to criticism in past seasons. However, both Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso have sung their praises for the player. Is it true that Carrick would receive more credit if he were, say, Spanish or even Italian? What has stopped him from being more highly regarded in England?
Possibly, but I think the problem is more that he occasionally has atrocious games. Against Barcelona in the 09 Champions League final he could barely play a 10-yard pass. On form he’s a wonderful player; but he does occasionally seem to have crises of confidence…
Manchester United is a curious case of pragmatism against attacking flair (such as the dilemma facing Argentina and La Nuestra). Barcelona and Arsenal’s frailty in the air shows the difficulty in achieving balance in all aspects of the game yet United seems to hold no weakness. But at the same time, they are happy to relinquish possession in order to win the game. Where do you stand on what is the “right way to play the game?”
I love watching Barcelona play – who doesn’t? But that’s an aesthetic rather than a moral judgement. So long as a team doesn’t cheat – persistent fouling, time-wasting, intimidation etc – I’m happy to a team to play in any way it wants; defensive or attacking, short passes or long, 3-5-2 or 4-2-3-1 – whatever is the best for those players in that particular game.
Finally, tell us more about ‘The Blizzard’ magazine, what can we expect from it?
It’s a quarterly journal featuring high-quality writing about football. The aim is to provide more in-depth and more esoteric pieces than are found in the mainstream media. There’ll be no editorial line, no pushing certain agendas, no drive for populism, just writers writing about what they want to write about. The pilot issue is live now at http://www.theblizzard.co.uk/ in pdf form and can be downloaded on a pay-what-you-will basis. In June, Issue 1 comes out in print form, available by subscription through the website.