Wizard’s Library – The Mixer by Michael Cox

In the first of a new series, Jase takes a look at Stoke City’s appearances in various football books. This week he tackles The Mixer, by Michael Cox.

What is it?

The book is called The Mixer by Michael Cox, described as “The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines”.

From the birth of “The Premier League” in 1992 right up until Antonio Conte’s title-winning 343 side, Cox covers the fundamental tactics shifts that turned the Premier League from technically limited hoofball to the greatest league in the world (or something).

Tales of opening day havoc caused by back-pass rule changes, Kevin Keegan players midfielders in defence to cram as many attackers in his side as possible, Sam Allardyce’s War Room, the Makelele role – it’s a diverse set of chapters spanning nearly two decades that cover so much.

Whether it’s adding new layers of detail to themes you already know (Benitez used new formations in lesser games to trick bigger teams weeks later) or teaching you snippets you didn’t know at all (Arsenal’s revolution didn’t start with Wenger), Michael covers them in a very readable and more-ish manner.

After putting the book down, I was ready to binge Premier League Years and scour YouTube to watch all of Henry and Van Nistelrooy’s goals again.

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That’s nice – but you promised me Stoke

Indeed, I did. Part Six – Direct Attacking, sandwiched in between chapters detailing the devasting duo of Ronaldo and Rooney at Man United and the rise of Inverted Wingers in the league, lies a chapter solely for Stoke City entitled A Wet and Windy Night at Stoke.

This segment covers the Potters’ return to the top division after 23 years in exile. Each chapter opens with a quote relevant to the team at the time, and for Stoke it was simply:

“It’s a man’s game.” – Tony Pulis

This appeared to set the tone for the chapter, with Cox focusing on Pulis’s ultra-defensive yet effective brand of football to frustrate Premier League stalwarts. References were made to the “back eight” often deployed by the Welshman, his fetish for six-foot plus players and strikers on the wing to provide even more height to the side. Premier League defenders, now well-drilled in being fast and technical to cope with the evolution of the league, were being murdered by the revival of Route One done so effectively that Sam Allardyce likely shed a tear.

That being said, Pulis’s largely defensive habits would have looked very out of place in a section dedicated to Direct Attacking. Instead, Cox decided to focus on the weapon that effectively put us (back) on the map this century – The Delap throw.

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“He’s like a human sling” – David Moyes

There are the standard details in there which will amuse neutrals but are common knowledge to most Stoke fans. Boaz Myhill putting the ball out for a corner rather than a throw, Dean Windass’s touchline antics, towelgate and the origins of Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

There are also some great stories from other managers in there on how they came, saw and failed to conquer the Delap throw.

One paragraph saw David Moyes trying to explain to his new “foreign” signings who barely spoke a word of English what to expect when they visited the Britannia Stadium – a game which saw Delap’s throw fly past Tim Howard and in by virtue of an Everton head.

Gareth Southgate, when preparing his Middlesbrough side for the long throw ahead of their visit to the Britannia Stadium, had to bring his thrower to the edge of the 18-yard box to imitate Delap’s deliveries. Even then, it was all for nothing – the game was won by a Shawcross header from a Delap throw just days later.

My favourite section is Philippe Scolari, Chelsea manager and former World Cup winner, properly enjoying Pulis and Stoke’s long throw approach to games:

“I think he puts the ball better in his hands than his foot – it’s fantastic. Maybe it’s not beautiful football but it’s effective…the put the touchline inside because they are intelligent. I like this coach.”

Some of the funnier stories in the chapter included the war of words between Eddie Jones and Ryan Shawcross, when England’s rugby coach opted to distance himself from Stoke’s supposed rugby-like approach. Delap throwing footballs at Potteries plates and jugs, and later refusing to throw a Christmas pudding over a double decker bus, were also surreal PR stunts that rounded off a memorable campaign for Stoke.

The chapter wasn’t all anecdotes though – Cox does a great job of focusing on the tactical aspects of the play. These included decisions going through defender’s minds when the ball flies in to the box (including leaving Stoke attackers onside as not to crowd their own keeper) and how Pulis used to train his sides in key areas of the Britannia Stadium pitch days before matchday to “rough it up”.

If ever a chapter lived up to the book’s name, it was this one.

So that’s Stoke – but would you recommend the book?

Definitely. I’d recommend the read for any football fans who want to grasp an idea of the Premier League’s key developments in the last 18 years, or even those who just want to reminisce about the players and performances from their formative years.

Where can I read Michael Cox’s work?

The Mixer is available on Amazon, amongst other places. Michael also has another book coming out later in 2019 entitled Zonal Marking, which sees Cox move beyond the Premier League and tackle the development of European football over the last three decades.  Lastly, he’s on Twitter as Zonal_Marking.

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