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The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong Paperback – July 30, 2013


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The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong + Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Spain, Germany, and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia—and Even Iraq—Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport + Inverting The Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics
Price for all three: $41.90

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (July 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143124560
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143124566
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* It’s a truism that soccer resists statistical analysis due to its free-flowing nature and few set plays. But times, and technology, are different, and now almost anything can be measured. To the recurring refrain of phrases such as “Our data show,” the authors subject the beautiful game to a gimlet-eyed accounting, determining which cherished beliefs are true and which are wishful thinking. And what do the data show? That luck plays more of a factor than most managers like to admit—but that managers are more important than many think. That regional differences in playing style are overstated. That weak players are actually more influential than talented stars. And that’s just for starters. Coaches should read this closely, though it may prove dispiriting for fans. After all, arguing about ambiguities is half the fun. Occasionally, the authors get lost in the weeds (as in their close reading of what it means to “possess” the ball), but no matter. By any standard, this is a landmark book, scrupulously researched and bound to be influential. Although it’s not light reading for casual fans, it may eventually change the game they watch. We compared Soccernomics (2009) to Moneyball (2003), but this hits even closer to the mark. --Keir Graff

Review

"The Numbers Game does the impossible of making the beautiful game even more beautiful." - Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink

“Chris Anderson and David Sally have the ability to see football in a way few have before them. Be warned: The Numbers Game will change the way you think about your favorite team or player, and the way you watch the beautiful game.” – Billy Beane, Manager of the Oakland A’s and subject of Moneyball
 
"I learned a lot, and it's hard not to applaud a project that is bent on the disenchantment of football's internal conversations and archaic practices, while simultaneously acknowledging an ineradicable core of the unpredictable and random at its heart." - David Goldblatt, author of The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer for the Times Literary Supplement

“…North American soccer fans would do very well to pick up this book.  It will not only help them understand the game better, but it will also stimulate new ways to analyze and think about the game.”  – Forbes
  
“[This] is the book that could change the game forever.” – The Times (London)
   
“By any standards, this is a landmark book, scrupulously researched and bound to be influential.” – Booklist (starred review)

“Witty and thoughtful…should appeal not just to soccer fans, but to readers of Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics.” – Kirkus Reviews

"Their rather innovative and revolutionary way of looking at the game makes for fascinating reading." - The Library Journal

“A highly original contribution to our understanding of what we are seeing at a match, their book is unbeatable” – The Independent on Sunday
 
“Pundits, armchair fans and professionals, will find that several of their long-cherished truisms are not true at all.” – The Guardian
 
“Superb” – GQ

Customer Reviews

Worth a read, but not sure it says anything not already assumed.
Kyle McGovern
Another problem in their analysis is that they set up a false dichotomy between skill and luck, as if these were the only two contributing factors to the result.
Miguel Gonzalez
Recommended for any fan of soccer who is eager to learn more about what makes the beautiful game so beautiful.
Sam Galindo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By C. Paris on January 26, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I liked both this book and Soccernomics, but I thought this one actually focused better on the game and the impact of data. Soccernomics spent more time than I would have like discusses fans of soccer.
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57 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Miguel Gonzalez on June 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a statistician and soccer fan, I have always been a fan of books that attempt to sift through the data and come to objective conclusions about the reality of the game. Unfortunately, the book's positioning statement (Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong) appears to have been implemented at the expense of objective conclusions based on that data.
Let me give you a brief example based on certain claims made in Chapter 1.

The authors make the conclusion that half of all games are decided by luck, unfortunately, this conclusion does not follow from its premises.

- The first problem (I admit, this might be a failure to clarify as opposed to making unwarranted conclusion) is that the authors fail to specify how draws work into their analysis. They claim that "a little over half" of all games are won by favorites and that "the likelihood of the underdog winning was 45.2%" while at the same time stating that 1-1 draws are the most common score line. It may just be that the percentages they offer simply do not include game that ended in a draw, however, if this is the case, they did a terrible job communicating this to the reader.

- The authors also failed to eliminate other possible explanations for their data and instead jumped to the one conclusion that might result in the more surprising revelation. Their claim that 50% of games are decided by luck stems primarily from the fact that only about 50% of the game is won by favorites, therefore if skill is not the determining factor in a specific game, it must have been a result of chance.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By I. Taylor on September 6, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The authors clearly love the game, and love analytics, but they haven't written a great book. I found myself nitpicking their arguments more than agreeing with them, starting with the "Why everything you know about soccer is wrong" subtitle, which they quickly contradict in the introduction with the statement "We will, we expect, challenge some of your assumptions, but we will doubtless support others."

Among the many other contradictory elements are the discussions of the Castrol Player Index which they use to argue for a high correlation between the quality of players within any team: "Great players play with other great players." This is followed four pages later by the statement "...Messi's score arises from his inclusion in the Barcelona subsystem...", suggesting that the Castrol rankings are dependent on the quality of the team and not an independent measure of a player's performance. If team quality influences the ranking, how believable is the initial conclusion about correlation between? In fact, it's still believable, because it matches the many things we know about soccer that isn't wrong.

Finally, I found the Americanization of this edition for sale in the US to be inconsistent and distracting. The word "football" has been excised, even in quotations: "As Ronay write: 'In the early 1990s, [soccer] entered a new era.'" On the other hand they make frequent reference to the book "Why England Loses", which was sold in the US (probably everywhere outside the UK) under the title "Soccernomics".

There are certainly interesting analyses and new ideas here, but my recommendation is to read Soccernomics instead.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Sam Galindo on August 6, 2013
Format: Paperback
Really interesting approach to analyzing the game from a very unique perspective. The authors do an excellent job of backing up their claims convincingly with large data sets and statistical analyses. Recommended for any fan of soccer who is eager to learn more about what makes the beautiful game so beautiful.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By English Guy on October 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This book is up there with soccernomics as a statistical analysis of the game. However, unlike Soccernomics, which delves a lot into the economic backdrop of the game (relation of GDP to world cup performance etc.), this one focuses on the game on the field. How many shots does it take to score one goal on average? How often are goals scored from corner kicks? What is the point value of a clean sheet (on average) or scoring two goals in a game? What is the value of share of possession and how did Stoke City manage to outperform their time of possession? I think some of the claims it makes about the value of statistics are a bit overstated but it is a first class read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Draper on August 30, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
On the plus side: "The Numbers Game," to paraphrase Mark Twain, makes a lot of good hamburgers out of sacred cows. Anderson and Sally provide us with much food for thought regarding assumptions about soccer that we may never have questioned before. One great example is the strong evidence they provide that the game's outcome is about half determined by luck. They go a little too far when they say this means soccer is a "coin-toss game," but still, it is a revelation to realize that so much is out of the hands (or off the feet) of the players and coaches. It makes you wonder how much else in sports--and in life--is determined by chance. There's also a connection here to much later in the book, where the authors address the issue of "regression to the mean." Again Anderson and Sally provide us with examples that question how much control coaches and players really have over the game they are trying to influence. It was astounding to learn that in many cases, whether you replace a manager or not can be irrelevant--a team can "regress to the mean" and start improving their play just as much by keeping the manager as by firing him. (The same goes for whether the manager screams at them for losing or calmly explains how they can play better--though the latter, they suggest, is better for morale.) One final point I thought was very important was the evidence the authors provide that money alone does not rule soccer--they prove that there are "plenty of clubs [...] that outperform their salary tab in any given season." This is akin to the argument made about Billy Beane and the Oakland A's in "Moneyball." It's heartening to know that the underdog can still win, any given Sunday, with the appropriate strategy and a bit of luck.Read more ›
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