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

4.0 out of 5 stars 98 customer reviews

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Paperback, 30 May 2013
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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 (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 161,362 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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: 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.
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Format: Paperback
Was pleased when my girlfriend bought me this book, because I'm vaguely interested in football and teach stats to psychologists. While an entertaining read, anyone with any fundamental formal training in statistics will find fault with many of the analyses presented. In only the first couple of chapters, I spotted at least three errors: one was banal in that numbers in the text did not tally to summed probabilities in the corresponding table; another misleadingly suggested that the correlation between number of corners and goals scored was "essentially zero" based on average goals scored per number of corners (an example of the ecological fallacy: conclusions from aggregated data over different numbers of games are incorrectly used to infer the game-by-game relationship), and the authors overplay the role of chance in football compared to other sports by neglecting to emphasise the high proportion of draws in football (e.g., the probability of the team taking the most shots winning the game is .49, but that's not as bad as the authors pretend because 1 in 4 games ends in a draw).

When you've spotted that many errors so quickly, trust in the authors breaks down and reading this book became an exercise in checking whether each of the analyses was solid. While that is a useful exercise in its own right, this is a Penguin book that is aimed at a wide audience, many of whom may not be able to apply critical skills to the text. That is concerning, and I'll be on the hunt for a better book.
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