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Nice concept, but not written for the general fan
on 25 October 2011
This is probably one of the most disappointing books I've read. The concept of comparing transfer fees over time, as well, measuring changes in how the Premiership has developed is very interesting and would make for an interesting read. However, this book doesn't deliver upon that opportunity.
Starting with the positives, this book provides a list, for each club to have appeared in the Premiership, of every transfer and provides a mechanism for comparing prices. Commentary is provided by a fan of the club, giving a biased account personalised to the history of the team. This is very interesting and rewarding reading which the casual fan will find fascinating.
However, the problem lies with the poor statistics and the tone of the Premiership-wide discussion. It is quite clearly written by a Liverpool fan who dislikes Chelsea, with the tone throughout over emphasising Liverpool connections and highly critical of Chelsea in particular. There is also an instance that Sir Alex Ferguson is a relatively poor manager as he has spent much money, without the contextualisation that his managerial successes have generated much of those resources. As a fan of a football league club I was looking forward to a neutral analysis, based in statistics, but that is not the agenda of the text.
The debate in the text does not follow the statistical methods being used. Rather than developing an analytical framework and discussing success, a few preconceived managers who identified as successful, regardless of what the stats say. The measure of a good manager, at different times, is finishing in the top two (although some managers to achieve this are missed out), only those who have won the league, or the managers who have won the most points per season (irrespective of the money spent, which is supposedly the whole purpose of the book). These criteria appear to have been selected to include certain managers when wanted, and dismiss others.
The bias can be found throughout the book. A table of the managerial performance, based on spend per point, only includes managers who have had three seasons in the Premiership, aside from a Chelsea manager included to show his title win was purely monetary. Dalgleish is shown as a great manager due to his spend at Blackburn, but his record at Newcastle is rather passed over with the disclaimer many managers have failed there. There is little point in reading a book claiming to have a statistical basis to claims, if they will be overlooked whenever they go against the views the authors wish to make.
The methodology in some tables is very confusing as the authors misreport how they actually make the calculations. In effect, they calculate for each transfer the percentage of the annual transfer spend by all clubs during that season. Rather than maintaining a theoretical value, which would be more readable, they attempt to convert this to 2010 prices. Therefore, essentially, they divide the total transfer spend by all clubs in the season by the 2010 figure, and use that as a multiplier for each transfer. A simple table showing the spend each year would make the facts easier to see. They, confusing, talk of the differences in average prices, which is not how they actually calculate the prices.
The flaw in this methodology is that players in a season with a low total spend are highly inflated. For a bottom half club, spending £5m when their rivals all spend £5m and the top clubs spend nothing is worth more than the following season where just one bottom half club spends £25m, but the top half clubs spend over £250m. This is an extreme example, but the method is too simplistic and doesn't take spending into account.
There is also a strange belief that sell-on values are important. Roy Keane (Man United) is shown as one of the worst signings as he was signed for a huge fee (when corrected to 2010 prices) but sold for peanuts. The fact he won several titles is irrelevant. This suggests the Premiership is about generating money, which other parts of the book argues against.
This is the problem with the book for me. The statistics are overly simplistic to tell us much, but presented in an overly sophisticated manner which attempts to make it seem very academic, but in reality suggests the authors themselves are confused by the calculations. The narrative tone, for the Premiership overview, is written as biased as the club specific chapters, often ignoring the statistics to make claims on what the authors perceive.
There are also some shockingly weak pieces of analysis. The authors try to argue that transfer prices didn't influence results too much until a certain point and now have a strong effect. The data shown actually suggests that aside from clubs who regularly play in Europe, nothing has changed. Additionally, there is absolutely no discussion of players wages, with a belief that a player costing £2m to sign and £2m a year in wages is somehow more expensive than a player with a £5m a year wage. Given the income and expenditure of clubs is available for the whole period, I wonder if this is using the completely wrong data anyway.
I'm happy to read a book which contains statistics and then claims that some things cannot be shown by stats alone. That is where the fans sections come into their own. I have a real problem, however, with a book which presents highly biased ideas about clubs, makes false claims about statistics to justify these arguments and attempts to claim it is neutral, scientific research.
Liverpool fans, and especially those who are fond of Benitez, will no doubt love this book as it provides some pub-standard data to justify how great Liverpool are and how weak Chelsea and Man United really are. Non-partisan followers of football, wanting a neutral read about the changing nature of contemporary football, however, should either stay away or just enjoy the fans-written chapters.