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VINE VOICEon 17 October 2009
`Why England Lose' or `Soccernomics' - to give it its non-UK title - is an attempt by Simon Kuper, a leading football writer, and sports economist, Stefan Szymanski, to give football the `freakonomics' treatment. The result is sometimes entertaining and often interesting, but overall the effect is somewhat uneven and frequently bogged down by the authors' attempts to provide a theoretical framework for their musings.

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.
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on 7 August 2009
Given the subject matter, I thought this book could be a little dry. Far from it. Its exceptionally easy reading and deals with a number of myths about the Beautiful Game. The 2 authors neatly dissect various intuitions and myths that have arisen about footie, and present their findings in a very readable form.

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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on 5 January 2010
It's an interesting idea for a football book - use data to look at football phenomena instead of conventional wisdom, and see if some myths can be exploded. And for a little while, it works really well. The first feature on Why England Lose throws up some interesting angles, like the dearth of middle class players in the game, and the apparent fact that actually England do okay. And then, the attention to detail appears to drop. This is a shame because the book remains entertaining throughout, but the glibness of the conclusions reached, the selective data used to illustrate points that could easily be explained by other phenomena, it makes the book less enjoyable. More damagingly, those points that I can't verify personally are no longer as believable as before, and on revisiting the original chapter, I found that I didn't have the same confidence in either the data used or the conclusions reached.

I'll give just a couple of examples - there's a whole chapter on European Cup Winners that raises an interesting point that the main metropolitan areas of Europe can't offer a single European Cup/Champions League winner between them, and then uses some highly selective interpretation of data to predict that London will soon be winning them all the time. Doesn't include the success of Real Madrid or Ajax by the way. More annoyingly, there's an interesting chapter on football being boring or interesting if the same sides dominate. It reaches the point that it's interesting. So it ignores Celtic and Rangers in Scotland, or the big 3 in Portugal, and instead draws conclusions from crowd levels in England in two selected periods. In doing so, it ignores socio-economic factors like the end of the war and gradually increasing entertainment sources in the earlier period, and the recovery from hooliganism and disaster in the later period. These cannot be ignored, because they have a far greater impact on the figures than the point they are trying to make. And then ten pages later (Page 190 if you're interested), these factors turn up to prove a separate point about the FA Cup. Very very sloppy? Or deliberate? Either way, it spoils the book for me. There's too much of this.

I could go on - the theory about Lyon's success being down to committee thinking is interesting, but it's not taken any further, and there are far too many cases where such a policy doesn't work for them to be ignored. And the yearning for a club run by fans when there was such a high profile failure in the last few years, it's just sloppy. It's a shame, because the book is at least entertaining, and it does raise some interesting issues; but they simply haven't done what they claim to have done, which is to analyse football phenomena. There's far too little objective analysis. And irritatingly, there's an obsession with baseball throughout that just won't die. Disappointing.
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on 28 October 2009
Most importantly, the first 200 pages of this book are excellent reading - please keep that in mind while I get through a couple of minor irritants!

As someone else mentioned, I found my attention drifting through the middle section of the book. I couldn't quite see the point of some sections, and others seemed to huff and puff for page after page without any meaningful conclusion.

Secondly, about half way through I had to skip back to the front to see if I hadn't missed a foreword by Arsene Wenger. This is a very `Arsenal' book. There are numerous digs at Liverpool and Spurs, and every 3 pages either Chelsea or Man Utd are being cited as a negative example of something or other. Looking at the index, Arsenal and/or Wenger are mentioned 45 times - and every single reference shows Arsenal in a positive light. While some are perfectly justified, a piece on loyal supporters uses Nick Hornby (a famous Arsenal supporter and author) as the archetypal diehard (they are called "Hornbyesque fans") really stretched credibility. No offence to Hornby (who if I remember rightly, grew up a long way from North London anyway) but writing on the subject of diehard supporters and using Arsenal as a positive example? I would accuse the authors of a lack of research but I suspect at least one is a regular visitor to the Emirates!

But these irritants should not detract from the book as a whole. As I mentioned, the first 200 pages of this book are an absolute joy. Depending on your view of football many of these chapters will either confirm a lot of things you may already have suspected, or better still, come as an absolute revelation. It cuts through a lot of the hype and guff that are spouted at us by the likes of Sky, ITV and the BBC - if you find yourself rolling your eyes at Sky's pre-match build up every Sunday, or wincing as Andy Gray/Andy Townsend/Lawro trot out another cliché then this book is absolutely for you.

For the most part, the statistical analysis is well explained, well presented and genuinely enlightening. There are also some fascinating insights from experts within football, but even more from experts outside football and for that reason alone I could quite happily have devoured another thousand pages. So much of this book was 'fresh' - that's really the ony way I can put it that makes sense.

I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this book, despite my grumbles. And furthermore, once you've also read it, I guarantee you will probably want to put it in an envelope and send it to your club's Chairman/Manager with the note "Please, please, please read this!!!"
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on 30 August 2009
The combination of data-analysis and great sports writing makes this book really enjoyable. The authors clearly love football and love the numbers too. I really enjoyed the analysis of managerial myths: why transfer spending is usually wasted, why football clubs are often irrational, why Brian Clough is the only manager who ever made a serious difference to footballing performance. If you like football, highly recommended.
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on 12 September 2009
The book is an economists look at the game of football - a Freakonomics for football. There are some insights that should make the book mandatory reading for strategists at the FA, club chief execs, and ALL football pundits. Although it is over 300 pages often fairly detailed analysis, it is surprisingly easy to read, and peppered with interesting anecdotes about the likes of Brian CLough and Guus Hiddink. I could not put it donw and read it from cover to cover in a day.
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on 10 November 2010
I am enjoying reading this book. But MAN, the conversion to Kindle is horrible. There are lots of typos and most of them look like bad OCR conversions. The best example is the famous "Bosnian ruling" on transfers. If you're reading this review you know what should be. But apparently ni = m. For a recent book - 2008 - this is ridiculous, why didn't they take the proper copy and transfer it?

I'd give this probably 4 to 5 stars for content and readability, and 1 star or less for the Kindle edition. Horrible horrible horrible.
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on 24 June 2015
If you like football ("soccer"), you'll love this book! Using data and statistical analysis, the authors explain why England lose (and in fact have still been doing better than expected), how to play the transfer market, why coaches don't matter much, how to approach penalty shoot-outs, why World Cups reduce suicides, what is the most football-mad country (Norway!), etc. Data versus "common wisdom" - find out who wins!
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on 17 November 2010
A smashing book (in terms of the content) but an absolute shocker of an e-reader edition. Clearly the publishers could not be arsed to proof read the conversion from the text to the electronic copy. No publisher in their right mind would print a book on paper with as many typos as this - they would be laughed out of the industry. It is a shame, as the book itself is very interesting but whoever was responsible for the e-edition has seriously let the authors down.
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While you might not agree with the conclusions made by the writers in the book, you can't deny that it is a fascinating application of economic theory to football. It certainly gave me food for thought.

The thing that surprised me while I was reading the book was that I was taken more by the writers' methodology than the actual subject matter. I loved the way that something as romantic as footballing glory can be analysed using regression analysis. I never thought that I would see a mathematician like Gauss mentioned in a book about football.

Having said that, the romantic football fan in me still hopes for glory and wants his team to do better than the statistical factors would suggest it should. The book seems to suggest a degree of fatalism in football which I would love to disprove but expect I can't.
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