Great Team Tactics: England's World Cup Winners in 1966
Before the start of every major international tournament, English football fans hark back to the days when Sir Alf Ramsey led the Three Lions to World Cup glory in 1966.
Unfortunately, no manager has since been able to replicate the glorious feat, so let's take a look at how England managed to trump every one before them.
In the buildup to the World Cup, Ramsey realised that shape was more important than personnel.
This, Jonathan Wilson suggests in Inverting the Pyramid, is why Peter Thompson was edged out of the starting lineup despite him being referred to as both "The White Pele" and England's best player.
Ramsey tinkered with the first XI and formation, switching between a lopsided 4-3-3 and a 4-1-3-2. According to Wilson, the England boss used wingers against easier opposition that he expected to beat and reserved his curious 4-1-3-2 for tougher tests.
This was certainly the case in the Group Stages, as Ramsey elected to field a 4-3-3 against Uruguay, Mexico and France.
Bobby Charlton was a major fixture in both formations, playing as an attacking midfielder in the 4-1-3-2 and an all-action type in the 4-3-3. England's first goal against Mexico saw the Manchester United man travel quite literally from box to box and slam a screamer into the top left corner.
The pivotal player
England's World Cup win is often lauded for being Stakhanovite in spirit and execution, but that's not a fair assessment of a wonderful team. Others blame England's rigidity in formation and tendencies in modern day football on the practical precedent set by Ramsey. That's not accurate either.
But there was one man who personally saw to it that no opposing flair player would have their way with Bobby Moore's back line, and that was Nobby Stiles.
Ramsey stuck with him despite a horrendous tackle on Jacky Simon during England's final group game against France, and the gaffer even threatened to walk when the FA asked him to bench the midfield destroyer.
Stiles had been playing his domestic football at Manchester United for the last six years but barely gained any recognition on the England scene. This changed, of course, when he successfully shut down some of the greatest creative talents in the knockout stages.
Ermindo Onega, playing in the same role Bobby Charlton occupied in Argentina's similar 4-1-3-2 was nullified, then in the next round Eusebio was quiet as a mouse.
It wasn't simply Stiles' impact that saw England to glory, and Ramsey managed to procure an unlikely victory amid his outlandish prediction of winning, the media establishing favourites and the FA constantly interfering.
Stiles was the anchor, but Jimmy Greaves' injury allowed Sir Alf to bring young Geoff Hurst into the side, and his ability to win the aerial duels to hold the ball was another pivotal factor in the triumph.
Whichever way you look at it, this was a remarkable feat.
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