*Starred Review* Call it Moneyball for soccer: journalist Kuper (Soccer against the Enemy, 2006) and economist Szymanski (Fans of the World, Unite! 2008) apply cold, hard facts to our commonly held beliefs about the beautiful game and tell us that everything we think we know is wrong. England’s national team doesn’t underachieve (if anything, given its size, location, and talent pool, it overachieves); paying big money for hot players isn’t a good idea (usually, the players’ exertions mean they’ll underperform next year); and soccer clubs make terrible (though remarkably durable) businesses. Unlike Kuper’s more sober Soccer against the Enemy, there’s a teasing playfulness, almost braggadocio, here, as the authors burst bubble after bubble using the words, “We have the data to answer this question.” As they acknowledge, some fans will resist subjecting long-held emotional attachments to the cold light of statistical analysis. And some may argue their findings: just as Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s are coming off their third losing season, author-praised AC Milan is off to a terrible start. But whether analyzing the relationship of spending to winning or applying game theory to the penalty kick, the authors’ delight in discovery proves both persuasive and contagious. It’s a fascinating book with the potential to effect genuine change in the sport. --Keir Graff
LONGLISTED FOR THE WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK OF THE YEAR 2009
"If you're a football fan, I'll save you some time: read this book ... compulsive reading ... thoroughly convincing."
"Szymanksi has recently published the best introduction to sports economics ... while Kuper is probably the smartest of the new generation of super-smart sportswriters ... fascinating stories."
"[Kuper and Szymanski] basically trash every cliché about football you ever held to be true. It's bravura stuff … the study of managers buying players and building a club is one you’ll feel like photocopying and sending to your team's chairman"
Paddy Harverson, former communications director of Manchester United, Financial Times
"Demolishes ... many soccer shibboleths ... well argued, too. Szymanski, an economist, knows his stuff, and Kuper, a born contrarian and FT sports writer, is incapable of cliché ... great stories and previously unknown nuggets."
"One for the thinkers"
"More thoughtful than most of its rivals and, by football standards, postively intellectual ... Kuper, a brilliantly contrary columnist, and Szymanski, an economics professor ... find plenty of fertile territory in their commendable determination to overturn the lazy preconceptions rife in football."
"Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski are a highly effective and scrupulously rational team, combining the former's detailed and nuanced understanding of European football with the latter's sophisticated econometric analysis. With a remarkable lightness of touch, they desmonstrate the limits of conventional thinking in football, as well as the real patterns of behaviour that shape sporting outcomes."