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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting but a small kindle issue
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...
Published 21 months ago by Herne

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This book could have been written by Jose Mourinho but I prefer Brian Clough's
Like the game itself this book is a battle between attack and defence - the authors attack anybody who believes that instinct and emotion are the tools that the best coaches can use to build and develop successful winning teams. Instead, cool, rational objective analysis by statisticians will always prevail. Or as they put it on page one: "the beautiful game is wilful in...
Published 2 months ago by Michael Walker


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting but a small kindle issue, 2 Jun. 2013
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars A Score Draw, 16 Jun. 2013
By 
D. Lye "David Lye" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This book could have been written by Jose Mourinho but I prefer Brian Clough's, 3 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong (Paperback)
Like the game itself this book is a battle between attack and defence - the authors attack anybody who believes that instinct and emotion are the tools that the best coaches can use to build and develop successful winning teams. Instead, cool, rational objective analysis by statisticians will always prevail. Or as they put it on page one: "the beautiful game is wilful in its ignorance...it is numbers that will challenge convention and invert norms." Its Jose Mourinho versus Brian Clough.

And in case you doubt that you are in the presence of football geniuses, the authors sub title is "Why everything you know about football is wrong." Not surprisingly this level of intellectual arrogance comes from two academics from the USA who appear to believe that the collective stock of football knowledge accumulated over the last 100 years can be superseded provided that you have a good grounding in basic statistical and econometric techniques and can shout loudly enough about how clever you are compared to anybody else involved in the game.

Without ruining the plot(!) I have to say that much of what the authors say about the game is pretty much what I feel that I understood anyway. The genius of the book is to provide a huge range of statistical and econometric models and forecasts to validate what we all believe to be true when we watch the game.

However, nowhere in the book is any reference to any 3rd party review of the authors statistical conclusions so we are left to trust that they are right and in some places I am not entirely convinced that their numbers add up. And in a wide range of other places I think that they fail to realise that although their numbers might be "accurate" as a statistical technique that their conclusions can be absurd without considering the context of what the numbers say.

For example, page 131 illustrates the relative importance of points earned from goals scored and goals conceded. Jose would purr with contentment that the book seems to concur with his own approach to the game that stopping the opposition from scoring is more important than scoring yourself. If you take the authors own graph it would appear that provided you don't concede a goal that on average you will earn 2.5 pts per game. In reality, however, unless your opposition helpfully score an own goal or two, you need to score yourself or you will only get one point. Therefore, the graph, the lines and pages of analysis are predicated on a theoretical abstract that is not related to real life. It is as pointless as the team that concedes 4 goals per game.

At the moment statisticians talk about collecting 5,000 or 10,000 "data points" per game but what are they going to do with these measurements? Are future coaches and managers going to need a Phd in econometrics rather than a good grounding in skills training and tactics? The book might demonstrate a range of clever methods to record events in games and to analyse what makes a good team, player or manager but how should today's manager use this data?

And this goes to the heart of my criticism of the book - I am, sadly, someone with a good econometrics background, and I understand the numbers as well as the authors. I don't think that in vast chunks of the book that there is enough context provided of what their "number" really means. Football lovers without at least an A level in statistics are expected to coo appreciatively at the authors cleverness without having a clue what it means. It's like reading a book on English Law with 25% of it written in Latin to be read by people with no understanding of Latin.

There are a lot of people out there who would love to be able to read a book about football that looks at it from both an objective (read statistical) and subjective (read intuitive and emotional intelligence) stand point but this book is not it.

I would suggest that anybody interested in football and stats could do worse than read this book, Soccernomics by Kuper/Symanski and The Nowhere Men by Michael Calvin as a trilogy. Brian Clough might not have had a PhD in either econometrics or diplomacy but he always said that the key to great management was to treat football as a simple game played by simple people. He would be, to put it politely, puzzled to be told that everything he knew about the game was wrong but I know who I would put in charge of my own team - and it wouldn't be a team of econometricians from Harvard.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating... but ...., 21 Jun. 2013
By 
P. Fairburn - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong (Paperback)
I loved the whole Moneyball story from the US, and this book does have plenty of interesting insights.
It's time that football used reason and evidence. I think 'gut' feelings in football are as unreliable as in much of the rest of business, sport and life. (We see what we want to see / confirmation bias, etc., etc..)
But... as another reviewer has said, there's a nagging feeling that some of the correlations are the result of other uncontrolled variables.
The authors do make it clear that there isn't one 'best' formula for all teams; that managers must play to their team's strengths. But that feels like an excuse for (for example) Wigan being relegated in spite of the book praising Martinez and his methods there.
Having said all that I enjoyed the book, in particular the analysis of why winning corners isn't much cause for celebration.
So - it's not quite 5 stars. If you think that a bit of intelligence and 'stats', could improve your team - I recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and informed, 21 July 2013
This review is from: The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong (Paperback)
Just finished reading and I must say this book is spot on. I found this to be a refreshing and interesting interpretation of football, and feel as though I have a more comprehensive grasp of the game since reading. If you want to learn more about football's more technical side, this is the book for you!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll never look at football the same way again., 15 Jan. 2014
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You'll never look at Football the same way again. Goes a long way to obliterating many of the lazy cliches and generalisations which are often used in Britain as a substitute for this sort of in depth analysis.

The one thing I hope this book achieves beyond all else, is to highlight how woefully inadequate favourites such as Match of The Day, Sky Sports, amongst others have become at analysing Football matches.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 13 Nov. 2013
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Dont agree with everything in the book but gets you thinking about the game in a different way.

A lot of good insight, would definitely recommend
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant read, 5 Nov. 2013
I am working on a project on statistical analysis in football and this has many depth studies which cover this as well as an informative description of how statistics are truly used in football when compared to other sports.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars eye opening and brings big data in to the football world, 8 Oct. 2013
This review is from: The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong (Paperback)
Increasingly big data and the understanding of it is impacting on our daily lives. Little did i realise how much it will impact on my coaching and viewing interest in football. The beautiful games will become even prettier in future as long ss you enjoy numbers! An excellent read.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why everything you know about football is wrong - if you've never watched football, 20 May 2014
This review is from: The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong (Paperback)
If the authors of this book (or the publishers - I don't know who's ultimately responsible) had just been content to leave it with its main title then I would have walked away from it not terribly impressed, but not particularly bothered by it either; as a statistics-heavy summary of general trends in football there's relatively little wrong with it, aside from being a bit dry. But no, they also feel the need to lure in the unsuspecting (which, it turns out, includes me) with the strident assertion that "Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong". Others will just have to take my word for it that I went in with an open mind, fully prepared to believe that there are plenty of traditionalist myths in football just ripe for debunking. As it turns out, however, Chris Anderson and David Sally's earth-shattering, paradigm-smashing conclusions are mainly as follows:

- Scoring goals is good; conceding goals is bad.
- Defence is just as important as attack.
- Paolo Maldini was really good.
- 3 goals is usually enough to win the game, unless your defence is rubbish.
- Teams who pass well do better than teams who don't.
- Keeping the ball is good; giving the ball away is bad.
- More shots on target lead to more goals.
- Wealthier teams tend to be more successful.
- Smaller/weaker teams do better when they play to their own strengths instead of their opponents'.

Well consider my mind blown. The further I got into this book the more I found myself wondering what its target audience was supposed to be - I assume that only football fans would be interested in the first place, but anyone who's ever watched a game of football will know that all the authors are doing is dressing up blindingly obvious facts and trends with a lot of numbers which are almost completely in line with common sense and general knowledge.

It was only about halfway through that I bothered to check the author bio at the front of the book, and discovered, to my complete lack of surprise, that the authors are statisticians who consult for football clubs. I realise that almost no non-fiction book is written without some kind of agenda or bias, but the degree to which these gentlemen manipulate the data to make their chosen profession sound utterly indispensable, when they're actually telling nobody involved in football anything they haven't known since they were four years old, would be funny if it weren't so irritating.

On the rare occasion that the authors' line of argument does seem to deviate significantly from conventional wisdom, their propensity for misinterpreting or flat-out ignoring facts that don't fit their theories has to imply either genuine ignorance (unlikely, given the amount of time they've evidently spent poring over the data), or a willingness to wilfully mislead. A few examples of this (for anyone still reading):

- They declare that, "As we have seen, underestimating the role of the defence has been a characteristic of football ever since its first codification" (p. 175). The only evidence they offer to support this is that strikers tend to cost more in wages and transfer fees than defenders and goalkeepers, and that Alex Ferguson sold Jaap Stam because he mistakenly thought he wasn't tackling enough (and not because of the controversial autobiography). In the first instance, I think the authors are giving football fans far too little credit; yes, fans love to see goals and yes, it's attacking players who tend to be the superstars with the salaries to match (albeit with plenty of notable exceptions), but the money side of it has a great deal to do with the fact that exciting and/or effective attackers sell more season tickets and more jerseys than defenders do, and the simple fact that fans find goals and goal scorers sexier doesn't mean they don't understand the importance of a good defence to their team's success. As for the second thing, I'll assume, for argument's sake, that it is true, and that Ferguson made a blunder not because of Stam's book but because he though that the reduction in tackles made by Stam was indicative of a player getting lazy and/or old, when it was actually a positive sign (because, like Maldini, he was using excellent vision and positional sense to shut down the opposition's attempts to attack without having to make a tackle); if that's the case, then it seems as though Ferguson acted based on statistics taken without proper context or interpretation, and his error in judgement is thus a neat metaphor for this book as a whole.

- There's a whole chapter given over to the relative values of goals scored first, second, third, etc., the idea being that first and especially second goals are far more important than the extras added onto the end of a thrashing; this is then converted into an "exchange rate" with regard to the points that these goals typically end up winning for the team. This, by itself, makes sense enough, I suppose, but their narrow interpretation of the resulting numbers leads them to declare that one of the top teams should have bought Darren Bent (rather than Torres or Andy Carroll) in the January 2011 transfer window, because his goals over the past couple of years had been so valuable to Sunderland; while it's undoubtedly true that Torres and Carroll both ended up offering a poor return on their investment in terms of production, they conveniently overlook both the obvious mitigating factor that Bent's goals were proportionately more valuable because he was one of the better players at a weaker team and the weight of history - Bent had already had a shot at a top club, and his Tottenham career was, while not catastrophic, hardly the stuff that football legends are made of (18 goals in 60 league matches).

- Finally, it turns out that Roberto Martinez, late of Wigan, now of Everton, is quite keen on his stats, thus making him the perfect poster boy for Anderson and Sally's manifesto; he did, after all, keep Wigan up time and time again despite the extent to which Wigan's financial limitations stacked the odds against them every year, the club surviving for seven years before finally going down last year. Except that anyone with a functioning memory could tell you that they were still managed by Paul Jewell from 2005 to 2007 and by Steve Bruce from 2007 to 2009, and a moment's research will also tell you that it was these two managers who guided them to their best finishes (10th in 2005-06 and 11th in 2008-09) - and the salary details handily provided in the book show that Martinez had no less money to play with than his predecessors. In fact, if only by default, Martinez was the only one of Wigan's three Premier League managers to get them relegated - and the authors conspicuously fail to mention whether or not Jewell and Bruce were big fans of statistics and statisticians. Don't get me wrong, I think Martinez is a good manager, as reflected by his FA Cup win with Wigan and Everton's strong performance this season, but this omission of his predecessors' contributions is really quite outrageous given his alleged status as "one of the heroes of this book" (p. 7) and a brilliant exponent of "guerrilla football" (p. 182).

These are just the most egregious examples that I can call to mind from a book packed cover to cover with information that is either desperately obvious, largely irrelevant, badly misinterpreted (whether deliberately or otherwise), or flat out wrong. I apologise for ending up writing a bit of an essay here when my disdain for this book could probably have been summed up far more concisely, but given the laziness and negligence of which I feel the authors are guilty it seemed important to provide actual examples rather than sweeping generalisations.
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