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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best. Soccer. Book. Ever., November 27, 2009
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This review is from: Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey--and Even Iraq--Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport (Paperback)
Simon Kuper is the long-time weekly sports columnist in the Financial Times, and he is one of the reasons I so look forward to reading the Weekend Edition of the pink paper. When I saw that he had authored a new book about soccer, and then saw more details about what the book would be about, I knew I just had to have it and ordered it here on Amazon at a very purchase-friendly price.

"Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey--And Even Iraq--Are Destined To Become The Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport" (336 pages) is co-written by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, a British economist. An economist, you might ask? Yes indeed, as this book brings a fascinating look into the numbers of soccer. Here a couple of quotes from the book:

-- "In 2002 everyone knew that the obscure, bucktoothed Brazilian kid Ronaldinho must have lucked out with the free kick that sailed into England's net, because he couldn't have been good enough to place it deliberately." (commenting on the English belief of freakish bad luck for their national team).

-- "Our finding: England in the 1980-2001 period outscored its opponents by 0.84 goals per game. That was 0.21 more than we had predicted based on the country's resources. In short, England was not underperforming at all. Contrary to popular opinion, it was over-performing."

-- "Soccer is not only small business business. It's also a bad one. Anyone who spends any time inside soccer discovers that just as oil is part of the oil business, stupidity is part of the soccer business."

-- "Provincial towns like Nottingham, Glasgow, Dortmund, Birmingham or Rotterdam all have won European Cups, while the seven biggest metropolitan areas in Europe--Istanbul, Paris, Moscow, London, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Athens--never have. This points to an odd connection between city size, capital cities and soccer success."

-- "Against all evidence, the stereotype persists that the typical British fan is a full-on Hornby."

-- "Staging a World Cup won't make you rich, but it does tend to cheer you up." (commenting on, among other things, the bogus arguments that staging a large sports event brings significant positive economic consequences for the host).

But if there is only one chapter that I had to pick out from this book, hands down it is "The Economist's Fear of the Penalty Kick", an absolute riveting look at the scientific side of the dreaded penalty kick. Using the analysis developed in game theory, the authors examine how penalty kicks are taken (by the kicker) and defended (by the keeper). It culminates with an in-depth analysis of the Manchester United-Chelsea penalty shoot-out at the 2008 CHampions League final. "Then, in what must have been a chilling moment for Anelka, the Dutch [keeper] pointed with with his left hand to the left corner. 'That's where you're all putting it, isn't it?' he seemed to be saying. Now Anelka had a terrible dilemma. This was game theory in its rawest form". (You'll have to read the rest of it yourself...)

Of all the books on soccer that I have read in my life time, I cannot recall being more enthralled and entertained than by this book. This is a page-turner from start to finish, and for me one of the very best books of the year, sports or otherwise. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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Showing 1-10 of 65 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 14, 2009 12:29:23 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 14, 2009 1:00:35 PM PST
SusScrofa says:
Provincial towns like Nottingham, Glasgow, Dortmund, Birmingham or Rotterdam all have won European Cups, while the seven biggest metropolitan areas in Europe--Istanbul, Paris, Moscow, London, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Athens--never have. This points to an odd connection between city size, capital cities and soccer success."

My friend, Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham and Tottenham are all London clubs and have all won European cups...they've all won European Cup Winners' Cups, Chelsea have won it twice! Paris St. Germain have also won a European (CWC) cup. UEFA Cups have been won by Galatasaray of Istanbul and CSKS Moscow. The above data that you cite is revolves solely around European Champions League winners and really makes an unremarkable point.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2009 8:51:10 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Apr 28, 2010 7:39:11 PM PDT
Nice review, stats are not that important in the scheme of things. England is overated & always has been. What good are the stats in non-competive games for England when they have won nothing for decades????
The third paragraph of your review speaks volumes, you rightly pointed out they have more excuses & conspiracies for losing than any other country.

In the 1966 W.cup 25 of the 32 games were officiated by Europeans & were hand picked by Stanley Rous the English president of Fifa.

Second, all the games involving south American teams all had English or Germans officiating.
West Germany ended up playing England in the final.

Third, nasty fouls by English players in the first round games vs. France
were never called or punished.

Fourth, in the quarterfinal vs. Argentina Antonio Rattin was red carded by German referee R.Kreitlen for no reason giving England a man advantage & a dubious 1-0 win. While in the other quarterfinal English referee J.Finney failed to give Uruguay a blatant penalty after a German hand blocked the ball in the penalty area & then inexcusably ejected 2 Uruaguay players giving Germany a 2 player advantage.

Fifth, after the 1966 W.cup several countries wanted an investigation of the awful officiating.
But, Stanley Rous would not allow it & made sure that those very officials would be retired
before his successor Joao Havelange in 1974 wanted to investigate making sure they would
not be able to testify to cover up what may have gone on. Does it surprise anyone that most outside England felt the 1966 world cup was the most fixed cup to date???

The cliche is true, they can't win the world cup outside of England & until they do the cliche will stick. Quote from J. Havelange the former Brazilian President of Fifa back in 1974.

In the magazine "Four, Four, Two July4th, 2008 issue" Paul Simpson{an English sportswriter} mentions how the games involving Brazil & Argentina coincidentally had English & German referees who let these teams get fouled out of the tournament. Stanley Rous stated "let the players play{a wink & nod} to let the Europeans foul to their hearts delight? Eusebio the extraordinary Portuguese player
to this day states that he was constantly fouled in both games vs. N.Korea & England & got no protection from the officials. The latter game was not even supposed to be in Wembley but at the stadium that Portugal had just beaten N.Korea in the quarterfinal.
This may not be proof but it shows that the 66 W.cup may have been as rigged as some claim the world cups of the 1930's were?

I love that they needed Capello to save them, especially since some in the Brit sports media bash "Italian football."
See the interview with Marcello Lippi at Even Paul Gardner{no lover of the defensive style} of World Soccer magazine stated the Italians sometimes don't get the credit they deserve.

By the way Mopedlad I left positive comments on some of your reviews & voted yes to them.

Also, this last Oct. Lampard discusses the positive Italian influence on English football at & Italian clubs have won the most
titles.{, World Soccer Mag, & Sports Wikipedia}

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2009 7:21:23 AM PST
SusScrofa says:
Yes, just ask the Ukrainians and Croatians about how overrated England are. They managed to win their World Cup qualifying group without winning outside of England apparently.
The "Brit" media has been unfair to Italian football???? Some examples might help support your argument.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2009 9:53:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 29, 2009 1:28:40 PM PST
When has the Ukraine & Croatia ever been consistent footballing powers? Try reading Brian Glanvilles books for his less than balanced critiques of post WW2 Italian football. Statements like post war Italian football has often been "opera buffa? Funny, Italy has actually won a European nations cup in 1968 & 2 out of 4 world cups since 1970.
While since 1966 England has won??? They missed 3 world cups since 1974 & the 2008 Euro's.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2009 11:47:23 AM PST
SusScrofa says:
If you think the current England team is overrated you are a know nothing. If you don't think coming third in a World Cup as Croatia did in 1998 (as well as a FIFA ranking of number 3), makes you a footballing power, again you are a know nothing. The only team that matters is the one that each nation fields in South Africa, and based upon what I've seen of Italy, there's nothing to get excited about. One thing is certain cynical Italian football lives on, with incessant diving and dirty fouling. Past accomplishments give you bragging rights and that's all.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2009 6:29:26 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 19, 2010 1:54:16 PM PDT
As you asked me Mopedlad, examples?
Calling someone with valid points a know nothing is a poor substitute for a cogent argument .
Maybe you want to think Croatia is more consistent since they kept England out of the 2008 Euro's?
They had 2 good years in 98 & 2008, which is very good for a small country.

Did I say the current England team? No I did not. Speaking of diving & fouling, how about England vs. Portugal at 2006 world cup?
Now that was a charming display of sportsmanship from both teams? Where are your examples of incessant diving & fouling?

In the 2006 world cup final Malouda dove which gave France a totally undeserved penalty which even the French media did not deny.
While 1 Italian player got a yellow card, & 3 French players did & Zidane got ejected with a well deserved red card.
In fact, France is the only country to have a player ejected in both of their final appearances, Desailly in 98 & Zidane in 2006.

Past accomplishments? Italy are the reigning Champs & Spain are the champs of Europe. What galaxy are you living in?
Cynical Italian football? Odd, you Brits hired the very Italian who beat you at Wembley in 1973 "Fabio Capello!
Where would England be without him?
Are not Chesea & Hampden Park coached by Ancellotti & Zola respectively? How many Italian clubs have English coaches?

Even Brian Glanville stated in world soccer magazine that without the expansion to 24 teams in 1982 England would not have qualified for the world cup.

Croatia getting the bronze in 98 was an accomplishment but it does not make them a consistent power. But, they did win more than England has in over 40 years. You sir, are the "know nothing!" I'm a woman of almost 68 who was watching football long before you were born.

Fifa rankings are often worthless, they still had Brazil at #1 even after they got humiliated by France in the 1998 final. Did England deserve to be ranked a low #27 in early 1996, did Italy deserve to be ranked at #2 in 2008 after their lousy performance in Euro 2008??? Not really.

I'm not excited about Italy's chances of repeating, but Marcello Lippi still has 6 months to include the younger players.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2009 9:12:59 AM PST
SusScrofa says:
You wrote " England is overated

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2009 6:20:10 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2009 6:39:27 PM PST
Tom Plum says:
Okay, you are telling us about England?? Then let's see what the truths are.

Oh, and now FIfa rankings are useless too, maybe elo ratings too.

I'd say Brazil deserved their number 1 rating for a system looking at the long term. By the way, once France got to number one which they did, they stayed a long time as well.

Fifa rankings are maybe worthless when they don't serve one's purposes. The elo ratings page also can be used as a measuring stick.

And let's get out of the way that at every opportunity afforded him, Brian Glanville will say David Beckham does not belong on the England squad, it's not like his word is infallible. He worked as a reporter in Italy. He may have a slant. Brian Glanville also suggested Reading's coach Coppel would have been a good fit for England while Reading were in the Premier League but they dropped back to the next lower league.

As far as I'm concerned without one of history's dirtiest teams West Germany, not so much anymore and that's why they didn't win in '06 or '08 in the Euro (check out how Ballack was bloodied going after a header while the Spanish defender born in Brazil, Senderos or something went for it too), if they didn't have goalkeeper Schumacher tackle the French attacker and get away with total impunity and West Germany also in many person's view colluded to draw with Austria to eliminate Algeria who defeated them in the World Cup, maybe they didn't belong either in that expanded format, Italy might not have won that world cup in 1982 thanks largely to a player who had just served a ban for match fixing. So that cup was still botched up, officiating against Yugoslavia in favor of Spain. It's still only a tournament. West Germany well may not have deserved to be in the final game.

Let's look at other World Cups, Italy has been involved in: this is written:

1938: and let's remember, the Azzurri wore black uniforms for the Fascist government in that tournament.

"The quick recovery of Leônidas raised rumours. FIFA says that coach Pimenta declared he was "resting Leonidas for the final". According to this report, Mussolini's assistants would have "convinced" Leônidas to not play that match."-

Another webpage on the net claims there was a pitch invasion at one of the games the officiating was so poor.

Now, let's look at 1934:

"But although Italy was a strong team at the time, its victory in the World Cup could not be assured. So it seems Mussolini, who dubbed himself Il Duce - the leader - set about fixing the tournament.

At times, Italy appeared to have more sway than the official organiser, Fifa. Mussolini dictated which referees would oversee each match, and once on the field their behaviour immediately led to talk of corruption.

The referees of two Italy matches were suspended by their home countries because of the poor standard of their officiating.

In Italy's semi-final against Austria, the referee actually headed the ball to an Italian player. The same referee was drafted for the final and invited alone to meet Il Duce before the match. During the game the Italians' aggressive style of play went unpunished and the home team eventually won 2-1."


Admittedly, in the 2006 World Cup, they are champions.

And there isn't much to find fault with, De Rossi bloodied McBride very badly, hey, an Italian player bloodied the Spaniard, Luis Enriquez real bad in 1994, some coincidence.

France beat Brazil in 2006, France beat Brazil in 1998 and France beat Brazil in 1986. We haven't seen Italy do such, admittedly, they drew the 1994 final with Brazil, making them virtually co-champions since I don't really believe in shoot outs. Italy won against Brazil the last time must have been 1982. There is nothing to add on to the Zidane affair but obviously, that defender has had the same thing happen to him from other players as well. Oh, and Henry did leave the game injured, Cannavaro kicking at him but France may have taken a dive in that game as well. It ended in a draw, only a shootout decided the winner.

But Brazil and Italy have played two times in the past few years, I believe once in the Confederations Cup, Italy losing 0-3 and in a friendly, 0-2 . If they are champions, they certainly have decided not to make a statement concerning the team most consider the most perennial world power, sure, zero goals for, five against. I guess they can't be bothered with more minor tournaments and friendlies.

I suppose, rest their souls, we will hear how Italy was not able to send their best team to the 1950 World Cup because of the Superga tragedy. Let's see how England played against that team:

May 16, 1948, in Italy,
Italy 0 England 4 -

Not that England was invincible, Republic of Ireland did defeat England in 1949 at Wembley.

I suppose it's a coincidence Italy played in the foulest of all games, the battle of Santiago in 1962 versus Chile?

Yes, Henry did cheat the Irish out of the world cup, that is certain, but gamesmanship, all of that has contributed to the environment and the teams that initiate such underhanded tactics in the first place.

If you denigrate some teams, be prepared to get a response.

You sir! Have now had a response and I hope everyone joins in. And I'm sorry, not meaning to upset the apple cart but somewhere there are common "truths" for us all to look at.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2009 6:53:34 PM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2009 6:53:48 PM PST
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