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VINE VOICEon 27 June 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine 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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VINE VOICEon 30 January 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine 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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VINE VOICEon 2 July 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Andrew Lang once opined "An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts - for support rather than for illumination", while Mark Twain said "Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable." That said this updated version of "Why England Lose " by sportswriter Simon Kuper and economist Stefan Szymanski makes some very interesting and salient points .I would go as far as to say it is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the beautiful game.
This book uses the concepts and approaches discussed in Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game as well as Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and transfers ( on a Bosman free no doubt ) them over to the world of football. And thus they come to the conclusion that wages more than transfers dictate whether a teams is successful or not. That mangers have little impact on a teams performance , that penalties have little impact on results ( try telling that to England ) and that the nation most obsessed with Football is ahem( spoiler here folks ) Norway.
The book also casts a more predictive global eye on the game and predicts that future super powers of the game may not come from where we expect. It also explains brilliantly how Spain have come to rule the football roost.
There is also some startling data that shows that given certain criteria ( Population , income per head and experience ) that the England football team are actually overachieving slightly .Ohh and they perform better under foreign managers than under English ones, with Fabio Capello top of the list which puts some of the glee when he resigned/ was sacked into context. And the authors come to the conclusion that England perform so badly at tournament football because they are knackered ,which watching Scott Parker in the Euros, who looked knackered singing the National anthem, might just be the case.
Statistics can prove many things but they do not always tells the whole truth. The authors assertion about changing managers having no real effect, other than a short term fillip which could be equally due to luck or something equally amorphous look flawed when you take into account how Chelsea performed after sacking A.V.B. And the lack of importance of penalties clearly hasn't filtered through to Ashley Young who dived so blatantly to win two penalties in the latter stages of last season. Maybe if he had practised his ball retention instead of his fosbury flop he would not have had such a wretched time in the Euros?
But then that's one of the many great things about football .Football is still a game of intangibles that usually make a difference. And you can number crunch till the cows come home ( usually just after England are knocked out on penalties )but you will never really solve the impenetrable mysteries dramas and vagaries of the sport.
That said i repeat, i would still highly recommend reading Soccernomics , just for the issues it raises that are truly worth thinking about. Like the fact that we might soon see a sizable shift in the power base of both club and international football. Goodness knows, plenty of people involved with English football could do with thinking more about the game.
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on 19 August 2014
This is certainly an interesting approach to football writing. The authors have taken the increasing amount of statistics available on football and see what they can do with them. Some chapters are particularly interesting – I enjoyed the first few chapters on player analysis and how clubs are increasingly taking a Moneyball-style approach to judging their sides. Some chapters are a little less convincing – the attempt to rank national sides on achievement seemed a little more arbitrary to me. Still, for taking a minor, niche interest and making a mainstream book out of it, the authors should be commended.
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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine 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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on 4 December 2012
.. I guess a bit like the England team itself.

The start of the book was very engrossing, especially for someone like myself who is not a soccer fan. It coupled fact-based presentation with insight and analysis using an economist's viewpoint. (e.g. why clubs cannot make a profit etc.).

Unfortunately, they ran out of steam and in the second half the analysis disappeared completely and was replaced with simple presentation of facts and statistics.... I found myself paging on faster and faster and then didn't bother with the last few chapters.
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on 15 March 2013
Excellent book giving the other side of football off the pitch.
Detailed analysis and controversial comment always good for a football fan.
would recommend it to any one interested in football.
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on 16 December 2013
One of the greatest books I've ever read, if not THE best book!! Amazing not just for me, an economics student, but easily accessible for anyone else! Great insights into football transfers, why teams fail/succeed among other great details. Extremely fascinating book!! Recommended for anyone/everyone!! The best!
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on 3 December 2012
Only 5 chapters into this book, and has already opened some interesting points of debate.

The book is hugely informative, yet synthesised in such a way that keeps the reader interested and wanting more.

Some great anecdotes within the book, and as a Chelsea fan, the chapter on penalties and game theory was a treat.

A must read for any well-informed football fan, and highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 27 June 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
First, a quick warning. This is an updated edition of Kuper's original "Why England Lose"; heavily expanded and rewritten, but I'm sure there are some people who will get their knickers in a twist when they feel they've been "done" and bought the same book twice.

Right, with that out of the way - what a fantastic book. A rational and statistical look at various facets of the most wonderful game in the world (I'll let "Soccernomics" ride, because "Footballnomics" just doesn't look right). It seeks to correct many "truths" that we think we all know about the game - for example, statistical evidence proves that it's not all about how much you spend on transfer fees, it's more about wages. It covers a variety of elements of the game - why some managers always flop and yet still get given jobs, why transfers fail and how to run an effective transfer policy, and why certain countries always outperform others. The section on penalties is wonderful, and should be taken on board by every Englishman (especially after another quarter-final exit after a penalty shoot-out). It is, essentially, football's version of "Moneyball". It is also essential.
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