Top critical review
21 people found this helpful
on 5 January 2010
It's an interesting idea for a football book - use data to look at football phenomena instead of conventional wisdom, and see if some myths can be exploded. And for a little while, it works really well. The first feature on Why England Lose throws up some interesting angles, like the dearth of middle class players in the game, and the apparent fact that actually England do okay. And then, the attention to detail appears to drop. This is a shame because the book remains entertaining throughout, but the glibness of the conclusions reached, the selective data used to illustrate points that could easily be explained by other phenomena, it makes the book less enjoyable. More damagingly, those points that I can't verify personally are no longer as believable as before, and on revisiting the original chapter, I found that I didn't have the same confidence in either the data used or the conclusions reached.
I'll give just a couple of examples - there's a whole chapter on European Cup Winners that raises an interesting point that the main metropolitan areas of Europe can't offer a single European Cup/Champions League winner between them, and then uses some highly selective interpretation of data to predict that London will soon be winning them all the time. Doesn't include the success of Real Madrid or Ajax by the way. More annoyingly, there's an interesting chapter on football being boring or interesting if the same sides dominate. It reaches the point that it's interesting. So it ignores Celtic and Rangers in Scotland, or the big 3 in Portugal, and instead draws conclusions from crowd levels in England in two selected periods. In doing so, it ignores socio-economic factors like the end of the war and gradually increasing entertainment sources in the earlier period, and the recovery from hooliganism and disaster in the later period. These cannot be ignored, because they have a far greater impact on the figures than the point they are trying to make. And then ten pages later (Page 190 if you're interested), these factors turn up to prove a separate point about the FA Cup. Very very sloppy? Or deliberate? Either way, it spoils the book for me. There's too much of this.
I could go on - the theory about Lyon's success being down to committee thinking is interesting, but it's not taken any further, and there are far too many cases where such a policy doesn't work for them to be ignored. And the yearning for a club run by fans when there was such a high profile failure in the last few years, it's just sloppy. It's a shame, because the book is at least entertaining, and it does raise some interesting issues; but they simply haven't done what they claim to have done, which is to analyse football phenomena. There's far too little objective analysis. And irritatingly, there's an obsession with baseball throughout that just won't die. Disappointing.