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4.3 out of 5 stars
Soccernomics
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is the US version of "Why England Lose: and Other Curious Phenomena Explained", with some small differences; the chapter on the FA Cup is replaced by one comparing Association Football with American Football, and the language is americanised. Anyway here's my review based on the English version.

I've read quite a bit of S&K's work as part of my MSc and although I don't necessarily always, or indeed often, agree with their reasoning, they do make interesting points. "Why England Lose..." is a departure into the mainstream from their early, more academic work and judging from the jaunty tone of the book they had great fun writing it, and aimed at rattling some cages along the way.

However, to appeal to a wider audience much of the academic rigour which I would normal associate with S&K is abandoned and conclusions are reached on some rather shallow arguments. A reader not familiar with the use and misuse of statistics should bear in mind that correlation does not constitute causality, and that if at first your stats don't support your hypothesis you can normally rummage around for some that do. This is not knocking S&K in any way and I wouldn't suggest that S&K have done this at all, but academic bias is a common phenomenon and often hard to resist.

Two chapters of the books were particularly interesting - one, regarding the nature of fandom, for its mythbusting and the second, regarding the inherent racism in the game, for perpetuating a flawed myth.

In drawing attention to the nature of a fan and the churn of fans at particular clubs, S&K have aimed a strong, square kick at the goolies of one of the game's sacred cows, and about time too. I'm fed up being told by people how they've followed Chelsea/Man Utd since before they were good. I was also once told by someone at West Ham that they had had a particular seat for 30 odd years. Strange, as when I went back in the 80s that area was standing!

As regards the inherent racism argument I do feel that S&K let themselves down a bit. Yes, Asians are proportionally underrepresented both in the crowd and on the pitch, but get yourselves down to the Emirates and you'll see how the local young Asian community have embraced Arsenal.

Similarly, the lack of Asian players on the pitch may be striking, but is their proportional underrepresentation any greater than the underrepresentation of young, white, working class males in the ranks of doctors, lawyers etc? Indeed, you will find that the Asian community is overrepresented in careers such as doctors, dentist, pharmacists etc, not for any racial reason but rather for cultural and generational considerations. The generation under debate will normally be sons of immigrants who have worked hard to create opportunities for their children. The emphasis put on education and discipline for this generation favoured academic achievement over sporting excellence, as a respectable profession to support the family was the objective. The subsequent, current generation have different views and that can be seen at clubs such as Arsenal. I've no doubt that this generation will be more willing to encourage their children to embrace sport and we will see an increase in the number of Asian players in the next 15 years.

A more valid point for discussion would be how a club should cope with changing demographics in their catchment area, this is particularly crucial for smaller club who find it hard to attract fans in competition with the big glamour clubs. Clubs like Orient, for example, find themselves in an area which has undergone great demographic change and appear to be left in a locale where the new residents show little interest in the club as theh have no historical ties to the area and are often transient. How can a low profile, relatively unsuccessful club connect with its neighbourhood?

The above whinge aside, S&K have made a good effort at plugging a gap in the market, with an accessible approach to football's problems. It is a bit dumbed down, and certainly more Ant & Dec than Einstein & Oppenheimer, but it's still well worth a read. Just bear in mind that if a problem is complex, it is complex; by making simpler you necessarily ignore some of the issues. As I said at the top, a good introduction and hopefully it will encourage people to read further.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 30 January 2013
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I think this is almost certainly the best football book I've ever read, just beating Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics: A History of Football Tactics. It's superbly written, the stats, economics and research are well considered and convincing, and overall it's a compelling page-turner of a book.

First, let's set the scene - it's perhaps not surprising that I like this book so much. I have about three hobbies, the main one of which is watching and reading about football. I've been entirely seduced by the Football Weekly/Jonathan Wilson/Blizzard culture of 'thinking people's football'. Not only that, but I'm a maths graduate, and pretty much the only bit of that that has survived my graduation is my love for statistics. So in some ways a book on football, trying to get into the numbers to destroy or confirm the myths around it - and that's essentially what Soccernomics is - sounds perfect for me.

But having said that, I'm not normally a great reader of non-fiction: I need to be engrossed and entertained. And here I truly was.

The book is written by a partnership - Simon Kuper, a journalist, and Stefan Szymanski, an economist - and it is clearly a partnership that works really well. The writing is so accessible, and the skill in presenting what are at times quite complex statistical and economic theories is clear. But that doesn't mean they've watered down the maths - my feeling is that the numbers here make sense, and follow through, and are well thought out. The writers are also open and clear about when and where they are making assumptions, which is a really great demonstration of the thoroughness of the work.

So, would this book be suitable for someone not quite as football/numbers mad as me? I think so. And the reason for that is that a lot of this book is about looking at the world surrounding football: how do social and economic factors affect a national team's performance? Which is the most football-mad country in the world and why? Statistically, is there racism in football? Is football actually 'big business'? (According to this book, no - it's small business and it's bad business!)

So whilst my favourite bits were the early chapters - analysis of the transfer market, whether managers have an impact on their teams' performance or not and particularly the spectacular chapter about penalty shootouts, and the amazing story of the Manchester United-Chelsea shootout in Moscow in 2008 (and how Game Theory and statistical analysis affected it) - there is a lot here for anyone with an interest in sport, football in particular, statistics and economics.

The truth is I couldn't recommend this book enough.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 29 July 2012
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Every World Cup, every European championship and every local friendly seems to end in heartache for England as a team who "should" win get knocked out by an unlucky situation that is beyond their control. But why? In this Americanised version of the original Why England Lose Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski use statistics and other econometric techniques to try and find out. In true moneyball style they aim to answer the questions of when should you buy a player, can penalty shootouts be controlled and which country has the most fans.

Whether you are a football fan or not this book is definitely an interesting read. While the Americanisation does feel bolted on to the end of chapters in places, the references to the most recent large football competitions and definitely welcome as they bring it bang up to date. The book is well written throughout, in a journalistic but informative style, with enough to keep the most serious football fan entertained while not alienating those less informed about the sport. The tables and statistics are presented in a non-technical and well explained manner keeping it accessible to those without an numerical background. Overall definitely one for football fans and also for anyone with an interest in sport.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2012
This is a very interesting book. It does offer a lot of insights into worlkd football that I had never taken into consideration. The latter chapters correlating a country's economy and history with its success in football and other sports is particularly interesting.

I think the chapter describing Norwegians as the best supporters in the world was odd to say the least, although I accept they did use statistical evidence to support this claim (Benjamin Disraeli's quote springs to mind).

However this is where my compliments end. The first few chapters it describes Wenger as a revolutionary intellectual legend, Cloughie as a flawed genius and Fergie as a mysterious secretive winner. It is so in awe of Fergie it even describes him as so great noone knows how he does it.

No mention of Bill Shankly or Jock Stein (both of whom admired greatly by fellow Glaswegian Fergie) and only fleeting references to Dalglish (he is described as a former player that punched way above his weight). There is also no mention of Bob Paisley and his 3 European cups in very few years. Or indeed of many other managers such as Don Revie, and some references to Cappello (described in a roundabout way of being too good for England), Ericsson etc.

I appreciate it cannot tackle all aspects of football (although it likes to think it does) but there is no mention of hooliganism in football and nothing on crowd safety aspects (such as the Bradford fire, Heysel or Hillsborough).

It also described that giant of European football Olympique Lyonnais (me neither) as a present and future Champions league winner (???)

All in all interesting but biased.
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Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm still not sure whether this spoils football for me or enhances my enjoyment of it. It is a football version of Moneyball, freshly re-branded to hop on the Freakonomics bandwagon and the authors use statistical techniques to try and understand or explain various aspects of football like penalty shoot-out tactics, big-money transfers and managerial jobs.

Having read quite a few books on economics and behavioural economics I found it interesting to see the same sort of analysis applied to one specific real-world area, one that we all know about, or think we do.

The book starts by examining whether big-money, big-name transfers guarantee success, and makes a good case for the theory that paying large salaries gets success more than paying more for transfers. The big transfers seem to do little more than make the fans happy. The thing is, even if I take this onboard completely I know I will still get extremely excited if my team sign a major star, even while part of me knows it isn't really going to help.

By the way, the authors keep all the working out to themselves, so you don't have to plough through the actual maths yourself, which is handy because there was a lot of number-crunching done to support some of the theories.

The stand out sections for me, apart from those already mentioned, were the attempt at quantifying the effect of racism on team performances and the impact that hosting a major tournament has on the host nation. That last one applies to Olympics too, and it was interesting to bear it all in mind while listening to people on TV discuss the legacy of the games. The authors more or less prove that hosting a World Cup or Olympics won't have any economic benefits but will make a country a whole lot happier for quite a while - which is also quantified in an intriguing way.

Along the way you will find out whether England really are perennial underperformers or have actually been overperforming compared to their potential, which countries are the biggest sport fans and football fans, and which British managers are the most clued up when it comes to buying and selling players.

As the new football season has just started this is a good time to read this book. It will give you a whole new perspective on the game but be warned - you will also start to recognise when teams are making all the mistakes listed in the book, even your own team. I have been recommending it to friends for a few weeks now.
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Kuper and Szymanski, who produced this as a 2012 update of "Why England Lose" (now there's a title for you), approach sport from their backgrounds in, respectively, psychology and economics. They use their own expertise, plus a formidable range of databases from many other (credited) contributors, to propose several challenges to the conventional wisdom of football - in particular, English/British football. To quote a few examples:

-Contrary to what most English supporters (and much of the world) believe, England aren't rubbish. Based upon a set of criteria such as population and per capita GDP, England are actually "over-performers". Contrastingly, Argentina had their worst decade ever period ever from 1981-1990 (despite Maradona and winning one out of their two World Cup finals) and have got much better since.

-Capello is arguably the best England manager ever. (Shock, horror!)

-The most successful way for a club to spend its money on players is on their wages, not transfer fees

-The best way to win a penalty shoot-out is to drop the form book on which side of the goalie to shoot (your best side, his worst, or alternate right and left), and simply to shoot left and right in random order. (At last - a real use for all those laptops littering modern dug-outs these days - run a random number generator program!)

-Hosting a major sporting event induces a feelgood factor, but it doesn't give much tangible boost to the host country's economy. (This review written during the 2012 Olympics; I feel sure, however, that the British Government will give the taxpayer a full, audited, cost-benefit analysis ...)

The beauty of this book is its success in steering a middle course between mainstream reading and an academic thesis, though in view of the authors' pedigree I'm sure that much of the material came from research in their day jobs. The technical arguments are leavened by frequent mordant wit; for example, Michel Platini's statement that "English clubs won the European Cup 10 times in a row" elicits the comment "Oh dear, Platini is not going to win any pub quizzes any time soon."

After reading this book, you would imagine that the writing is on the wall for the old-fashioned manager, such as Ferguson (an employee of his is quoted as saying "If you showed him a laptop, he'd think it was a placemat"), in contrast to Arsene "Le Professeur" Wenger - but then why are Man Utd more successful than Arsenal? It's because London's too big for a club to really succeed! Read the book to find out the explanation for this phenomenon and many more.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 24 July 2012
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
...this book is very interesting, entertaining and well written.
It is being compared to the two books 'Freakonomics' and 'Superfreakonomics' and it does have some of that style about it. I enjoyed both of those books so thought I'd try this and was pleasantly surprised.
The authors have examined a variety of facts and figures, sometimes going back 30 years, to provide evidence that either support or debunk popular conceptions related to football.
One section deals with racism, and why simple economic forces have effectively eradicated that (as least as far as players are concerned - how many coloured managers are there?). The behaviour and comments from years ago, when coloured players were starting, are quite shocking seen with today's attitudes. However, I admire the fact that the authors (and publishers) have decided not to edit these out or tone them down.
It covers why football clubs almost never go bankrupt and yet hardly any of them make a profit - something that 'normal' companies could only dream of.
The single largest indicator of a clubs league position? The salary bill. It shows why this is so and then shows which teams are actually more or less successful against this measure (punching above/below their weight, as the book describes it).
Some of the quotes from those involved in the sport are fascinating and hilarious. However, I have been told that Ian Wright didn't complain that living in Italy was 'like being in another country' but Kenny Dagliesh actually made up that quote as a 'dig' at Ian, and it has followed him ever since.
Penalties - do they actually make a difference in the long run? The research that goes into them and the mental war between the penalty taker and the goal-keeper.
This book also shows how much research goes into the game these days - and how much each team spends trying to get an 'edge' above the rest. It also explains why foreign managers often do well for a while, until their new tactics and ideas are adopted by the rest.

As someone who has no interest in the sport (and learned most of what he knows through osmosis of those around him) I found this book entertaining and fascinating. I can only imagine an ardent football fan would wear the print off the pages.
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Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I must admit that I nearly gave up on this book after the first chapter which was full of statistical analysis and, although relevant to the book that is to follow, not very interesting. However, it really serves as an introduction because when you get further in, it becomes a fascinating and entertaining read.

There are many references to the book and recent film, Moneyball which is set in the US Baseball world and some of the common sense approach introduced there is also relevan in football.

I was particularly interested in reading about new owners of football clubs who imemdiately sack the incumbent manager, no matter how well he has done on a shoestring budget and squad and install their own manager, largely on their "star name" and reputation as a player, no matter what their aptitude and record as a manager or coach is. This is usually followed by a period of failure as the manager tries to build his own team and he is invariably sacked. As a Watford fan, this comes at a time when the new owners are doing just that and this has almost immediately been followed by a similar story at Nottingham Forest. Time will tell if form follows the book's predcitions but has certainly proved to be true in the past.

I find the best way to enjoy the book is to gloss over the statistical information (lies, damned lies and statistics) and concentrate on the anecdotes and stories backing up the theories. I found that by doing this, the book was utterly absorbing and full of common sense that is all too lacking in football these days.
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on 10 July 2012
Having read Moneyball and Freakanomics, I naturally started thinking if some of these concepts could be applied to football. So when I saw this book it seemed that other people had the same thought but unlike me and done something about it :-)

Overall its an interesting read and provides some new insight and perspectives, however I found some of the analysis and conclusions less than convincing.

As an England fan the 'why England lose' chapter was one I was particularly interested in. The statistical model used here to measure a nations success seemed to me to be flawed i.e. historical no of matches played (wouldn't success in tournaments mean that you have played more matches, and surely only recent history is relevant to the current team), population (no mention of demographic mix i.e. some countries have older populations or the simple fact that some countries don't have many footballers but large populations) and wealth (why is this so relevant when the worlds best footballers universally seem to have been born into poverty e.g. Pele, Maradona etc), and similarly the remedies suggested, seem unlikely i.e. more foreigners and middle class in the premier league are required.

The conclusion of this chapter seemed to be England are doing better than we should expect and therefore we should be satisfied. Would the Australian Institute of Sport have been created if the Australians had adopted the same attitude? What I would prefer to have seen is some clear actions on what we could do to ensure we're punching above our weight and winning things!

Other chapters were better and offered more, e.g. the analysis of Spain and the networking effect of being in Europe, the chapter on wages correlating to a teams performance rather than transfer fees. The chapter on penalties is a must read for any England manager, it makes the Hoddle claim that there is no point practising penalties seem laughable.

The chapter on managers, I found probably least convincing of all, the conclusion here seemed to be that managers make no difference whatsoever, is it coincidence that Alex Ferguson was successful at Aberdeen and then Man Utd, or Mourinho is successful seemingly wherever he goes?

Overall I'd say good attempt at doing the moneyball thing, but read with an open mind and don't assume the authors have all the answers.

I'm hoping that someone else can come along and offer a more thorough analysis of how England can do better.
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VINE VOICEon 6 July 2012
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a study into the economics of football. For example it looks at the business side of clubs, the relative success of international sides based on their populations, experience and wealth...

There were good things about this book:

* A few stories (i.e. the journalistic bits that presumably Simon Kuper wrote like the write-up of the Ajax and Barcelona academies)
* Interesting findings based on data (e.g. straight away it's mentioned that the inswinging corner to the near-post results in more goals than other corners, also interesting analyses of penalty-takers)
* Good quotes from various sources (e.g. from Jamie Carragher's autobiography)

Then there were a few things I didn't like all that much:

* When the book got bogged down in numbers
* The way the book made numerous comparisons between football and baseball, all because of the success of the book mde film Moneyball, and for a little Englishman like me who knows nothing about baseball that wasn't great
* It's a little out of date, e.g. cites Lyon as a dominant team in France heading towards Champions League success shortly although their fortunes have since changed, a London team not having won the Champions League although they now have, and it mentions how Portsmouth got through their administration period unscathed, however they entered administration again
* The chapters at the end seemed out of order with the Tom Thumb cup being mentioned in a couple of places before the concept was actually introduced leading to confusion
* Some anonymous quotes were used that would have been great had they been attributed to someone.

Overall: not spectacular.
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