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on 12 May 2016
I'm a fairly knowledgeable chap about football and always reading things here and there through various magazines (World Soccer) being one which cuts the daily force fed rubbish you read in the papers.

However this book is a cut above the rest, recommended by a chap who wrote an excellent piece about a Moneyball themed Football Manager career. Inspired by this book he wrote the column. And what a recommendation it was!

This will lay down your previous conceptions about football, the myths that football is big business (its not), and lots more interesting things that you weren't aware of - or hadn't looked into.

I cant rate this more highly as the scoring system only goes upto five stars....really a six or ten would justify this.
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on 23 November 2012
The first couple of chapters of this book are absolutely fascinating, analysing in depth and detail how money affects football. For someone like me who's heavily into statistics and also football, it seems like the dream book - the numbers stack up very well and provide a revealing insight into exactly how linear the relationship is between Premier League budgets and eventual performance. There are some remarkable insights; although the lack of focus on salaries (as opposed to transfer fee investment) invariably skews the data a bit, the textbook example being Bolton Wanderers under Sam Allardyce who look good in the book but in reality blew a fortune in paying far higher salaries than the club could sustain. Quibbles apart, though, the analysis part of the book is superb. Sadly, the latter part of the book came as a bit of a disappointment - it was blatantly padding and waffle, designed to fill the blank pages. There's really nothing of interest in, say, the last three quarters of the book, but it's still worth looking at, if only for the revelations at the front. It would have made a superb research paper or magazine article, but there's really not enough material in it for an entire book, which is a great shame. I'd recommend any intelligent football fan to read this book, but probably try and get hold of a second-hand copy, rather than splash out the full price.
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on 8 May 2017
Bought this for a pal's birthday as he absolutely loves football and studies economics at university. He absolutely loved, since then he has lent it out to various people who all have great things to say. I'm just starting it and am actually enjoying it despite not really being into football. In summary if you vaguely like reading, economics or football you'll probs rate this book.
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on 21 March 2017
Interesting read
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on 3 March 2017
This review is based on the 2012 UK edition of this book (very similar but not identical to the US edition), originally published as 'Why England Lose'.
In it an economist and a sports writer used statistical methods to try to explain various trends in soccer. In this they appear to be largely successful. As others have commented on these efforts I will concentrate my review on one topic they address.
In one chapter they ask, 'Does English Football Discriminate against Black People.' Their conclusion is that it did - as some of us old enough to remember didn't need to be told - but that it ceased to do so in the 1990s. As in baseball, reality – the 'ruthless fairness' of the game - overcame prejudice.
In this chapter they dismiss a priori the possibility of average group differences in abilities. To even consider such a possibility seems to qualify you as a racist in the eyes of the authors. But here the authors are asking us to deny the evidence of our own eyes. Since 1984 there have been no major Olympic boycotts. In every race since then to find the fastest sprinter on the planet every runner has been a man of West African origin (with the exception of Frankie Fredericks who comes from Southwest Africa), just as long distance running is dominated by runners from Rift Valley countries together with some from the Magrheb. Swimming tends to be dominated by swimmers of European or East Asian extraction. Different groups are good at different things.
Furthermore if we look at African football we see that almost all the best players and almost all the most successful countries are found in West Africa. But the authors share a fear with a great player, namely that, ‘If you say the blacks are stronger and faster than whites, Thuram argued, you open the door to saying that whites are more intelligent than blacks.'
The reason I’ve titled my review ‘Not just a case of Black and White’ is that while the authors discuss race in black and white terms the UK is the home of a large Asian population, particularly from the Indian subcontinent but there are very, very few professional footballers drawn from this population. Is that white club owners and managers who have abandoned their prejudice against black skin still have it against brown skin or is it that comparatively few individuals from those Asian communities have the physique to compete at the highest levels of contact sports?
Now the authors assert that “our book uses data to clarify thinking…” and it does but perhaps political correctness doesn't involve thinking at all.
In the years to come the ruthless fairness of facts in the form of genetic analysis will help answer the questions the authors dodge. If the answers aren't what Kuiper and Szymanski like will they dispassionately accept that they were in error in a future edition or will they do a Stephen Jay Gould?
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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 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 27 July 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A book in the same vein as Freakonomics, taking widely held beliefs and holding them up to the scrutiny of statistics eg which country is really the biggest football fans, or the real impact of a manager on a team. Entertaining and interesting if a bit overlong in some of the explanations of methods used.
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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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on 5 June 2016
Difficult read, not very captivating. Too many short sentences.
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