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Why England Lose: And other curious phenomena explained Hardcover – 6 Aug 2009
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For Simon Kuper's Football Against the Enemy:
"A terrific book, deftly written" Guardian
"Another great work on soccer … effervescent and hilarious" Independent
About the Author
Simon Kuper's first book, Football Against the Enemy, won the 1994 William Hill Sports Book of the Year prize and is widely acknowledged as one of football's seminal books. Simon writes a weekly sports column in the Financial Times and has previously written football columns for The Times and The Observer. Stefan Szymanski is Professor of Economics and MBA Dean at Cass Business School in London. Stefan has a global reputation and has acted as a consultant to government and to major sports organisations such as the FIA (motor sport), UEFA (football) and the ICC (cricket).
Top customer reviews
Comparisons with Moneyball, Michael Lewis's 2003 account of how Billy Beane revolutionized the Oakland Athletics baseball team through statistical analysis, are inevitable. At times `Why England Lose' seems a self conscious attempt to give football the Moneyball treatment . But the very nature of the game is less controlled than baseball, which essentially boils down to one-on-one encounters between pitcher and batter. Football's inherent randomness, despite the authors attempts to argue otherwise, make it more difficult to be influenced by statistical theory.
Arsene Wenger is the golden boy of this book. He has used statistics and psychology to brilliant effect, particularly in the first half of his career as Arsenal manager. The authors unravel some of his strategies, but don't really add much new. There's a sense that even an in-the-know fan could suss them out (buy young, sell after a player has peaked, make a player feel wanted, and so on) over a few post-match pints.
But instead of on-the-field business the authors explain other footballing phenomena. Some, such as why new stadiums and football tournaments don't bring desired economic benefit, is fascinating. Others, such as which country is the best `pound for-pound' footballing nation, less so.
This is an entertaining book, but I'd stop short of describing it as a must read. There's a knowingness - which borders on smugness - in its tenor that belies the actual content -- which is interesting but not exactly earth shattering. In his earlier works and his weekly FT column Kuper has proven himself a far more entertaining and perceptive author; it's a shame he doesn't quite carry it off here, but maybe that's a problem that comes with co-authorship.
Rather it takes set of (largely Anglo-centric) assumptions about football, and tests them using broad statistical analysis.
So the title, for example, 'Why England Lose', explains how actually England do about as well as the size of the population and other factors warrant.
And the history of European football alongside industrial growth is considered when highlighting how few major European capitals have produced a European Cup winner. London hasn't to date, for example.
Simon Kuper's input is obvious in the writing, Stefan Szymanski's economist's brain in many of the fields of inquiry.
Thought provoking rather than revelatory. Recommended.
The book itself is probably worth 4 stars. A scrupulously fact-checked, exhaustive analysis, it is not. Nor is it intended to be. It is supposed to be a book looking at some interesting phenomena in football in a new and entertaining way. In that it succeeds. You probably won't agree with every argument, but you are at least challenged to come up with a counter-argument instead of falling back on pundits' clichés.
The chapter I felt was missing was whether it is true that "the league doesn't lie". The hypothesis is that over 38 or 42 games, luck / randomness / bad refereeing decisions etc. should even themselves out. It should be possible to analyse this statistically - and not just by one team's fans looking at specific decisions that "cost them" - but oddly, the authors didn't go there.
Still, the rest is a good read. Just not on a Kindle.
I won't spoil the fun, but if you ever wondered WHY England lose, WHY Real Madrid buy galacticos (and its not because they want to win the league) and exactly how MUCH difference a manager makes, then you should buy this book.
Despite having finished it, this tome retains pride of place next to the bog for essential peaceful reading.
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A reader with a basic knowledge of statistics would probably enjoy it more - each...Read more