Simon Kuper is the long-time weekly sports columnist in the Financial Times, and he is one of the reasons I so look forward to reading the Weekend Edition of the pink paper. When I saw that he had authored a new book about soccer, and then saw more details about what the book would be about, I knew I just had to have it and ordered it here on Amazon at a very purchase-friendly price.
"Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey--And Even Iraq--Are Destined To Become The Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport" (336 pages) is co-written by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, a British economist. An economist, you might ask? Yes indeed, as this book brings a fascinating look into the numbers of soccer. Here a couple of quotes from the book:
-- "In 2002 everyone knew that the obscure, bucktoothed Brazilian kid Ronaldinho must have lucked out with the free kick that sailed into England's net, because he couldn't have been good enough to place it deliberately." (commenting on the English belief of freakish bad luck for their national team).
-- "Our finding: England in the 1980-2001 period outscored its opponents by 0.84 goals per game. That was 0.21 more than we had predicted based on the country's resources. In short, England was not underperforming at all. Contrary to popular opinion, it was over-performing."
-- "Soccer is not only small business business. It's also a bad one. Anyone who spends any time inside soccer discovers that just as oil is part of the oil business, stupidity is part of the soccer business."
-- "Provincial towns like Nottingham, Glasgow, Dortmund, Birmingham or Rotterdam all have won European Cups, while the seven biggest metropolitan areas in Europe--Istanbul, Paris, Moscow, London, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Athens--never have. This points to an odd connection between city size, capital cities and soccer success."
-- "Against all evidence, the stereotype persists that the typical British fan is a full-on Hornby."
-- "Staging a World Cup won't make you rich, but it does tend to cheer you up." (commenting on, among other things, the bogus arguments that staging a large sports event brings significant positive economic consequences for the host).
But if there is only one chapter that I had to pick out from this book, hands down it is "The Economist's Fear of the Penalty Kick", an absolute riveting look at the scientific side of the dreaded penalty kick. Using the analysis developed in game theory, the authors examine how penalty kicks are taken (by the kicker) and defended (by the keeper). It culminates with an in-depth analysis of the Manchester United-Chelsea penalty shoot-out at the 2008 CHampions League final. "Then, in what must have been a chilling moment for Anelka, the Dutch [keeper] pointed with with his left hand to the left corner. 'That's where you're all putting it, isn't it?' he seemed to be saying. Now Anelka had a terrible dilemma. This was game theory in its rawest form". (You'll have to read the rest of it yourself...)
Of all the books on soccer that I have read in my life time, I cannot recall being more enthralled and entertained than by this book. This is a page-turner from start to finish, and for me one of the very best books of the year, sports or otherwise. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!