I read the first version of this book, then called Why England Lose, when it was first published and really enjoyed it. The latest edition is even better. The authors avoided simply re-publishing the same old book, instead re-examining their conclusions and ensuring this edition is fresh and up to date.
The book is essentially Freakonomics applied to football, with some Moneyball thrown in. The authors use statistics to disprove the prevailing wisdom on how football functions and how to be successful in the game. It covers a wide gambit of football related issues – ranging from how to play the transfer market well, what national teams overperform and how loyal fans really are.
The authors attempt to look globally in scope but the book focuses on European football largely because that is where the best data sources are found. It is a long read and covers a huge amount of detail. It is best enjoyed in chapter sized chunks to leave time to think about it rather than flying through and finding yourself overwhelmed in the detail. Some chapters are better than others – discussions on which national team over performs got tiring, and felt like a repeat of the discussion on why England lose. By contrast, the chapter on penalty shootouts and game theory was brilliant and insightful.
In particular, the book left me wanting to find a good book on the rise of Olympique Lyonnais and how they used clever transfers to dominate French football before the oil baron PSG took over. The “wisdom of crowds” theory put forward in the book doesn’t really seem convincing to me as transfer committees at other clubs have been anything but successful. Any recommendations would be greatly welcome.
I enjoyed the book but in some ways I would hesitate to recommend it for everyone. I’m not sure how much a non-nerdy fan would enjoy it. It’s probably safe to say that if you think a “statistical look at football” sounds like fun, you’ll enjoy this book a lot. Given its huge sales numbers there must be more of us football nerds out their than I thought!