Niccolo Machiavelli was a football tactician of the late 15th and early 16th century renowned for his 1513 treatise, “The Manager”. Visit any top football club today, and you will likely see a quote from this book framed on the trainer’s office wall.
Machiavelli is typically associated with the darker side of the game. Indeed, he was the first to encourage players to explicitly seek to gain an unfair advantage in matches:
It is necessary for a player wishing to hold his own to know how to dive, and to make use of it or not according to necessity…refs are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived…Alexander the Sixth did nothing else but dive, nor ever thought of doing otherwise, and he always found victims.
He was equally open about the role of the enforcer, urging central defenders to take out the opposition’s creative playmakers with career-ending tackles:
The injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.
A closer examination of his work, however, reveals a more subtle blueprint for the successful manager, not all of which relies on cruelty or deceit. He was, for example, the founding father of Gegenpressing, acknowledging the need for extreme fitness to implement this tactic:
He ought above all things to keep his men well organized and drilled, to follow incessantly the press, by which he accustoms his body to hardships.
And his teams were noted for their flexibility, able to switch approaches according to circumstances and ability:
…one with caution, another with haste; one by force, another by skill; one by patience, another by its opposite; and each one succeeds in reaching the goal by a different method.
To mark the publication of “The Manager”, Lorenzo de’ Medici (president of Fiorentina at the time) organised an exhibition match between a Machiavelli XI and a team of stars managed by King Louis XII of France. The game never took place.
Lorenzo was unable to find a referee for the match and the home players never made it onto the team bus anyway, due to unresolved arguments about who would sit up front. The Machiavelli XI were awarded a 3-0 win by default.
The unusual “rolling phallus” formation revealed in Machiavelli’s pre-match notes was believed to ensure all players spent an equal amount of time in each position. The team (in no particular order):
- Cyrus the Great
- Hiero the Syracusan
- Francesco Sforza
- Agathocles the Sicilian
- Pope Alexander VI
- Septimus Severus
- Nabis, Tyrant of Sparta
- Ferdinand II