First, let me state that I am a big fan of this book. It collects many different strands of analytical thought about soccer and is a great entry into the topic of soccer analytics.
Some basics to get started: Written by Simon Kuper (@) and Stefan Szymanski (@), first edition in 2009, current edition is the third one, published in April 2014. Simon Kuper is a British sports journalist, Stefan Szymanski is a professor for Sports Management at the University of Michigan in the US. This is the first book in which soccer analytics reached a “mainstream” audience and has been translated to German and Spanish.
The book is divided into three sections (plus a foreword): “The Clubs”, “The Fans”, and “The Countries”. The strongest part for me is by far the first part, dealing with the clubs activities regarding transfers, manager hires, or the increasing use of in-match data. Every chapter in this section is based on data, but it never really reads as a statistical exercise. The combination of sports journalist and Sports economics professor works really well here.
The second section – dealing with fans – is the weakest part of the book (and fortunately also the shortest one). Especially the discussion on “Which country loves football most?” I disliked, this is an example how not to use data in my point of view: The criteria are arbitrary, as ist the scoring method, and the analysis is restricted to Europe. You could basically come up with every country by tweaking the parameters. Quantification is not always the right approach, sometimes you just can’t answer a question convincingly with data.
The chapters on the costs and benefits of hosting a World Cup and the nature of fandom I found to be much more convincing. The beauty here is the wide range of examples outside of Europe (for the fan classification) and outside of soccer (It probably helps that Szymanski is professor in Michigan). The fourth chapter in this section deals with the connection between suicide rates and soccer events, convincingly arguing that suicide rates go down during big tournaments as the sense of community is stronger in that time.
Let me finish by reiterating that this is an excellent book that you should buy if you are a soccer fan. Period. It’s entertaining, well-written, and you learn a lot about the game we love. It is also an excellent starting point for further exploration into soccer analytics: The bibliography is high quality and helpfully divided into books, articles and research papers, and magazines. What I would have loved to see in addition is a blogroll and a list of data sources in soccer. I think much of the most interesting (public) stuff is and will be done by bloggers.
The book is sometimes overly focussed on European and especially English soccer, but does make enough general points to never feel provincial.The balance it strikes between technical details and accessibility is usually spot on (I personally would have liked a little more technical details, but then again I am an empirical economist…).
Buy the book at amazon.com here:
Hier der Link zur deutschen Übersetzung auf amazon.de: