Book Review: Michael Cox – The Mixer

The Mixer sees football podcast regular and founder of Zonal Marking.Net Michael Cox weave the story of the tactical development of the Premier League in a beguiling and well-researched book which sits amongst the finest studies of football in recent years.
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The Mixer documents the tactical development of the premier league on this, its 25th anniversary. To approach this complex task Cox thematically organises prominent tactical innovations in a mainly chronological manner, although he deviates from this where it aides the books narrative flow. For example the book starts with an analysis of the implications of the back-pass rule (outlawing goalkeepers to pick up back-passes from defenders). In this section Cox highlights the importance of the rule, which led to a tactical revolution in the tactical demands put upon goalkeepers, paving the way for the emergence of modern sweeper-keepers like Manchester City’s Claudio Bravo. Cox takes a tactical innovation or law change and extrapolates this for content which can be applied and expanded to discuss the development of tactics throughout the Premier League era. This thematic grouping of ideas provides a structure to the book which represents its greatest strength, allowing the reader to dive head first into a tactical principle and see its manifestations throughout a longer period. This greatly aids the enjoyment of the book, allowing Cox to bring in similarities between different and players and eras. The structure of the book represents one of its greatest strengths, condensing a glut of material into a strong, narrative focused effort.

 

Whilst the book concentrates on tactics, this is no dry theoretical analysis. The tone of the book is often whimsical, approaching the game with an emphasis on the characters that have played key roles in the Premier League, such as Eric Cantona’s French mystique or Ruud Gullit’s Dutch mastery. This lightens the tone of the book and reflects what we all love about the game, the characters which make it so engaging. The way that these characters are explored adds flavour to the book by bringing to life the tactical elements and evoking a certain nostalgic value.

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Cox explores the key characters involved in the Premier Leagues tactical development, such as Eric Cantona ushering in the era of magisterial number 10’s.

Cox’s interpretation of tactical innovations are far from the cliché ridden efforts of other modern football titles (I’m looking at you Ruud Gullit). Instead Cox offers genuinely fresh insight, drawing similarities between seemingly different tactical eras and moulding this into a coherent narrative. His unique perspectives leap from the page and make for a really engaging read, which makes astute observations about the game. This is where the Cox’s research shines through, showing him to be a knowledgeable journalist who can influence the way you see the game. This is surely the highest compliment that can be paid for a book of its kind.

 

The books accompanying podcast: available here, provides substantial additional material. Instead of looking at the wider tactical trends outlined in the book, the podcast discusses the evolution of specific positions, highlighting the role of notable players. This podcast doesn’t regurgitate the content of the book and offers supplementary content for free. The podcast thus offers a great resource for readers and non-readers alike. Additionally Cox’s regular appearances on The Totally Football Show podcast also provide his trademark tactical analysis of games and are well worth a listen.

 

Overall this book offers football lovers a much-needed dose of tactical analysis, which helps to illuminate the tactical at play in current Premier League games and how the modern game came to be. The Mixer helps to demystify the tactical element of the game in a fascinating way and is therefore a must buy for football fans. The Mixer deserves to be recognised as one of the finest examples of contemporary football journalism.

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