Reading Room: Soccernomics

Posted: 11th November 2011 by Generals Wrestling in Reading Room, Uncategorized

Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski attempts to apply the science of stats to the world’s most popular sport: association football. Soccer is incredibly hard to judge on stats alone, however. It’s easy to see what goes into the creation of a run, but what makes a goal? A defense-splitting pass from a midfielder may do the trick, but so many things need to align perfectly for such a pass to present itself. A center-back might need to be slightly out of position or
tired or distracted or injured; the striker needs to be in perfect sync with
his playmaker, ready to make a run for the soon-to-be-passed ball; the
opposition goalkeeper needs to not be ’good’ enough to save the shot.

Wenger’s secret, it turns out, is buying young and cheap players, moving them on in
their late twenties (common wisdom held that a player does not begin his
decline until his early thirties) to get the most money out of a transfer, and
above all, never buying expensive superstars. When one of Wenger’s players,
Patrick Viera, complained about his manager’s reluctance to pony up the cash
for ‘world-class’ players, Wenger responded: “You [Viera] weren’t world-class
when we bought you.”

Soccernomics is not just about facts and figures, then. It also isn’t solely about soccer –
the reader learns, through analyzing international soccer, a lot about the
world. In many cases, success in international soccer corresponds to how good a
given nation is at war – there’s a reason beyond fanaticism as to why Germany
nearly conquered the whole of Europe.

Above all, Soccernomics, despite its heavy focus on the numbers, is a great
read for any soccer fan or any stat junkie from any sport. Even if you aren’t
into the world’s most popular sport, Soccernomics is thoroughly
entertaining and capable of giving you a leg up on your next World Cup office
pool. In fact, I’ll call it right now: Brazil 3 Germany 2 in 2014: the home
team advantage translates consistently to a 1 goal bonus.

Harold Bozarth (W&L ’13), Jr, Biology major, Columbus, NJ