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11 of 11 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 18 months ago by Herne

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24 of 29 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
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...
Published 6 months ago by S.C. Arthur


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11 of 11 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Football geeks of the world unite, 31 May 2014
By 
P. G. Harris - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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One might surmise that the final corollary to Chris Anderson and David Sally's Numbers Game is that chance may become, in future, an even greater determining factor in the outcome of top level soccer matches.

In their fascinating book, they give a history of the use of statistics as well as providing an analysis of where the game is going, and what constitutes winning strategies and tactics. In this vision of the future, the top clubs are similarly wealthy, understand the value of defence, appreciate that not turning over the ball is the key to success and concentrate on maximising the ability of their weakest player. The difference between the top teams is then going to come down to a sublime moment of skill, an insight from a manager which gives that sliver of "edge" or most often, pure luck.

On the way to their various conclusions, the authors provide some entertaining and interesting moments. They explain the roots of the long ball game from analysis carried out by a post war accountant, and also demonstrate why his theories were flawed. We see how Stoke City under Tony Pulis survived by adopting an approach radically different from what any other club was doing. Alex Ferguson is described provocatively as being only as successful as should have been expected from a club that wealthy. "It can be harder to play against ten men" is comprehensively debunked.

Overall, Anderson and Sally argue their case convincingly, although the resistance they expect from vested interests within the game is depressing. Their statistical arguments are well presented and generally persuasive. On the odd occasion where their arguments seem a little dodgy, it is probably fair to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the weakness is in the explanation rather than the method.

In the end, I was convinced that their approach was sound, but also inherent in their belief that we will see greater use of analytics, is the knowledge that there will always be a maverick out there who will buck the trend and win matches through being radically unconventional.

A fascinating read if you like the idea of there being something more than blood and thunder to football. If, on the other hand, you think that England's fortunes can be turned around by a great manager who can instil passion into the players, you'll probably find an awful lot to disagree with.
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful and interesting account of recent developments in soccer analytics, and their implications, 29 Oct 2013
By 
Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong (Paperback)
'The Numbers Game' looks at the future of football from the perspective of mathematical analysis. The enormous increase in the volume of data available on the performance of clubs, players and managers, in tandem with the development of information technology, has made possible new insights into a game dominated by gut instinct, anti-intellectualism and tradition. The book's authors have backgrounds in sociology, football analytics, game theory and professional sport to give authority to their observations.

The book is in the recent tradition established by two influential predecessors: Michael Lewis's pioneering 'Moneyball'(2003), which deals with the impact of analytics on baseball, and Kuper and Symanski's 'Why England Lose' (2009: reissued with revisions and new material as 'Soccernomics', 2012). If 'The Numbers Game' is isn't as straightforwardly compelling as 'Moneyball' - it lacks that book's strong narrative and concentration on a single club - it's at least as interesting and informative as 'Soccernomics', and will appeal to admirers of that book's approach.

The subtitle - 'Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong' - is a little misleading. Anderson and Sally do slaughter their fair share of sacred cows, but they are sufficiently objective and even-handed to admit it when their new numbers confirm or nuance rather than contradict some aspect of traditional wisdom. (For example, the manager, the most sacred cow of all, fares rather better at their hands than he does with Kuper and Symanski.) Nor are they afraid to tackle anomalies that at first sight seem to mock the new wisdom. How is it possible for the long ball game to thrive at Stoke when possession football has become the new orthodoxy? If we now believe that team performance can be greatly improved by improving or replacing the worst rather than the best players, why do owners and managers persist in paying fortunes for hugely gifted individuals and then playing them alongside team-mates of significantly lesser ability?

The result is continuously interesting, and represents a genuine, if incremental contribution to the advance in popular understanding of the power of analytics in football. The authors conclude with ten forecasts for the future of soccer and of analytics within the sport; it will be interesting to see how these pan out.

'The Numbers Game' is clearly and accessibly written. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the statistical and strategic aspects of the sport, rather than the personalities and results, and to anyone looking for insights into likely developments.
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24 of 29 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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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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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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