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The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong Paperback – 30 May 2013

89 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (30 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670922242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670922246
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.7 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 95,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A must-read . . . Chris Anderson and David Sally have the ability to see football in a way few have before them. Be warned: The Numbers Game will change the way you think about your favourite team or player, and change the way you watch the beautiful game. (Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A's, the subject of Moneyball)

A fascinating and stylish investigation into a rapidly developing way of understanding football (Jonathan Wilson, author of Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics)

Whether you are a traditionalist or a numbers nut you can enjoy this book. It's thorough, accessible, and devoid of the absolute truths so many on both sides of the debate peddle. (Gabriele Marcotti, football broadcaster and author)

It is the book that could change the game forever (Times)

You need to like football. Millions of people do. And they should rush to read this book immediately. The game they love will take on new depth, colour and subtlety (Ed Smith The Times)

Does the impossible of making the beautiful game even more beautiful (Malcolm Gladwell)

About the Author

At 17, Chris Anderson found himself playing in goal for a fourth division club in West Germany; today, he's a professor in the Ivy League at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. An award winning social scientist and football analytics pioneer, Anderson consults with leading clubs about how best to play the numbers game. David Sally is a former baseball pitcher and a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in the US, where he analyses the strategies and tactics people use when they play, compete, negotiate, and make decisions. He is an adviser to clubs and other organizations in the global football industry.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Herne on 2 Jun. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am part way through this book, and the content is VERY interesting (despite the fact I am not a huge football fan I am a numbers fan and loved Moneyball, the book) BUT be warned if you get the kindle version. It DOES NOT display some of the graphs discussed in the text on my Paperwhite although it DOES show them on the Android version of the kindle app that I have on my phone. That said, I am loving the discussions, especially the one about taking corners...will add more when I have finished! 4/5 for the kindle version, 5/5 for the content so far!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. Lye on 16 Jun. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Numbers Game is an interesting read if you're interested in football tactics. The sub-heading ("Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong") slightly oversells itself. In fact the book bore out much of what I already thought I knew. And it ducks some challenges - for example in an analysis of the relative value of attackers and defenders, the authors remove Lionel Messi from an analysis of the impact of attacking players because his "coefficient" is so abnormally high - which ducks the point that it is precisely because of players like Messi (however rare they are) that clubs pay huge sums for star attackers.

But quibbles apart, there's lots to interest and entertain the "serious" football fan, and the book is well-written and presented, and manages to present some fairly complex statistical analysis in a clear and helpful way.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By William Jordan on 2 July 2014
Format: Paperback
An interesting book, which certainly does challenge, in my view very successfully, a number of preconceptions you might have about football. First of all, on the role of luck in the game (probably around 50% of the distribution of league tables at the end of a season can be set down to what you'd expect from chance results), and related to this the fact that games are hard to predict (the favourite wins much less often than in other sports). The role of substitutes (they make a difference when you are losing and you should probably use them much earlier than most managers do use them). The role of managers (a bit more important that some other studies have suggested - but it's still hard to quantify). And perhaps most interesting of all, some insight into the techniques of different managers - with teams managed by Tony Pulis specialising in keeping the ball out of play (a very special variant of possession football) and with Wigan under Roberto Martinez specialising in long-range shots and free kicks and totally ignoring corners. Other findings - such as that winning teams tend to find the right blend between attack and defence - are perhaps more in line with received wisdom.

My reservations: the style seemed to me a bit long-winded (with the authors wanting always to build up to their punchlines/surprising findings a bit too much); the chapter on 'predictions' I could do without (I'm not sure how falsifiable most of them are!); and the central thesis - that perhaps there is no one 'right' or 'best' way to play football, because the game evolves and styles of attack and defence evolve - is perhaps underplayed.Of course perhaps it isn't the central thesis of the book - the authors do seem to think that while Stoke or Wigan might defeat (some of) the numbers through their style of play, neither will ever be wining the Premiership...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mark Harrison on 11 Aug. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book serves as a good introduction to sports analytics for someone who's only really familiar with football. This is likely to be a good many people; analytics hasn't really yet made the jump across the Atlantic from its roots in baseball and basketball, and football is in any case a less obvious case-study than those two sports, as the book illustrates in some detail.

Where the book falls down is in the details. Anderson tries a little too hard to be accessible and there are some inaccuracies as a consequence. Often these manifest as broad-brush points which aren't quite borne out by the data presented.

The analysis presented sometimes lacks key context and occasionally lacks critical thought. The author labours a point about the long-term trend of English football towards an equalised talent base without mentioning that the financial rewards of the last two decades have exacerbated inequality at the top of the game. It may not change the overarching point, but it needs acknowledging. Similarly, the point made on the more optimal (ie earlier) use of substitutes at the World Cup when compared to domestic football ignored one key characteristic of World Cup football: hot weather! When it's hotter, people tire more quickly, so of course managers make changes earlier. It's not because there's something inherently superior or more attuned about World Cup managers, which are often taken from the same pool as club managers.

Statistics are occasionally misused as well. A good example is the impossibly small sample size afforded by World Cup football when considering goal differential as a predictor for success.
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Format: Paperback
A very interesting book - but not because of its analyses.

In fact, it;s the little factoids that give it life. For example, there's the story of a player who was substituted afetr 6 minutes (and on other ocasions came off very early one - yet who survived longer at the club than his manager did.

For a book that focuses so much on The Numbers Game (the clue's in the title, guys and gals) that's a big failing. There are a number of reasons for this, but to highlight just three:

1) The charts are badly designed - or badly reproduced.

Some look as though a spider's crawled across them, and the reader could interpret them in any way they fancy. Although some highlight teams (for example) in the chart, most don't. So if the outlier on the right is - say - Arsenal, you're left in the dark as to who the lefthand outlier is. And that could be just as informative.

2) A number of stats seem to be interlinked but are treated as separate ones.

It's as though research on people with 4 limbs had shown that the vast majority had two arms. Further research also showed that the majority had 2 legs. But, forgive me, if you have 4 limbs and 2 of them are arms, then ipso facto the others will be legs.

One example comes when looking at the fact that big wage bills are almost entirely down to the top teams. The implication is that money wins. However, winners (in England at least) also receive huge amounts of money, allowing them to pay the big wages and atract better players. the latter 'chicken and egg' point is to some extent glossed over.

3) The third problem is one outside the control of the writers - timing.
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