The Mixer


Michael Cox, HarperCollins, 496 pages, $22.

On the opening weekend of the Premier League in 1992, all but 13 players were from Britain or Ireland. In the 25 years since, the top tier of English football (soccer to many Americans) has been transformed into the sport’s most globalized — and lucrative—domestic competition. As Michael Cox, a football journalist whose writing often focuses on tactics, shows in “The Mixer,” the Premier League’s sporting evolution has been mostly driven by foreigners. When Arsène Wenger was appointed Arsenal’s manager in 1996, he was derided by Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, as “a novice” who “should keep his opinions to Japanese football.” Yet Wenger was also revolutionary. He transformed the diet and conditioning of players, who liked to eat full English breakfasts before training and would engage in notoriously heavy drinking sessions called the “Tuesday club” since they had a day off on Wednesdays. Wenger steered Arsenal to the championship in 1998, his first full season: the first time the top-flight tournament had been won by a manager from outside Britain. The trajectory has continued. José Mourinho and Rafael Benítez, who joined Chelsea and Liverpool respectively in 2004, introduced more technical nuance. Last season, Antonio Conte, Chelsea’s Italian manager, reintroduced the 3-4-3 formation, previously considered unpopular, and promptly won the title. Thanks to his meticulous research and his focus on strategy, Cox finds a fresh perspective on a story that football fans will think they already knew.