In any revolution, there are revolutionaries. People that think outside the box, people that go against the grain, people that have the bottle to challenge convention and say, “I’m going to do it completely differently”. Some change it for the better, some change it for the worse but all have an effect on the revolution. Over the lifetime of football, there have been all kinds of influences on the sport and that’s what I hope to explore.
Matthias Sindelar is perhaps a surprising choice, but only to those you don’t know of him. This guy, born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1903, is arguably the inventor of the false nine, or at least the first great innovator of it. It is probable, given the footballing culture in South America, that dropping into midfield was not rare even before the Sindelar came onto the scene- however, it’s just as probable that ideas developed completely independently if you consider the lack of communication and world competition before 1930. Sindelar was part of Austria’s Wunderteam of the early 1930s and this only added to the fanaticism that surrounded him at home.
A passer, entertainer and magician, the striker brought the power of dropping deep to the attention of the masses with an impressive performance against the English in 1932: the masses being approximately 5 people in the British Isles, naturally. Little note was taken of Sindelar’s movement – “we won, what’s the problem?!” – and this would come back to haunt them twenty years on as Nandor Hidegkuti baffled the English defenders who were so used to following the opposing centre-forward into the box for a bit of a elbow bashing. Hidegkuti brought the tactical innovation to the forefront of the British media for months upon months but the close proximity of Austria to Hungary is no coincidence. Sindelar was extremely popular in Central-Eastern Europe and his influence extended much beyond his homeland. Wikipedia alleges that ‘anecdote has it that some Viennese football fans went to Sindelar’s games not only to see him play but to get a better understanding of how football should be played’ and I would not find a suggestion that a young Hidegkuti attended one of 10 matches between Austria and Hungary between 1926 and 1937.
75 years later, Francesco Totti and Lionel Messi would re-popularise the dropping movement and kick start a craze adopted across the world.