Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

Soccernomics will go down in history as the first book I ever read from start to finish on my Kindle. It was great, I got most of my reading done on the metro and anticipate reading many more books this year as a result.

Anyway, I had mixed feelings about this book. Sometimes I liked it, sometimes it drove me nuts. It's sort of a combination between Moneyball by Michael Lewis (an in depth look at the way new statistics are changing baseball), How Soccer Explains the World, and a Malcolm Gladwell book. However, comparing this book to those awesome books is way too high a compliment. It is merely in their genre.

The authors use complicated statistical analysis to answer some of soccer's unanswered questions and dispel some of its myths. For example, it goes into how good England actually is and how good it should be, why and how European clubs aren't run as well as they could be, which country has the best soccer fans, and which country is best suited for future success (spoiler: its us, Japan and Iraq). On one hand, they didn't get too bogged down in a lot of statistics mumbo jumbo (and warned you to skip ahead two paragraphs when they did), which I appreciated, but on the other sometimes it seemed like they were full of shit. I will be the first to admit I don't know a whole lot about statistics, but some stuff seemed totally bogus. For instance, they set out to determine which country in Europe had the best soccer fans (Norway). They did this by determining which country plays the most soccer, which watches the most on tv, and which actually goes to the stadium most. Ok, cool, I'm with you so far. But then it breaks down, because while they had enough data for the playing category, they didn't for watching and attending. They eliminated Iceland and Scotland just because they didn't have the numbers. So it felt kind of half-assed to me. In another section they're trying to determine if English fans are really that loyal and devoted and crazy and such. In their pursuit, they decided that the true measure of a devoted fan was actually going to the games, and if you didn't you were somewhat less than. Well, not only did I agree with that intellectually, it chapped my ass personally. I feel like there are several readers of this blog who are in the top ten percent of Carolina fans, yet you could count their trips to the Dean Dome in the last two years on one hand (not you, Jim, you're just a slacker). Just because you can't actually get there doesn't mean you're not a zealot. They even mention this later in the chapter, when they say the two biggest factors in whether you actually go to the game are age and income. There are several other minor inconsistencies throughout that take a little bit away.

Still, there were some parts that were interesting and it wasn't totally bad, but the parts that irked me stood out more than the parts that fascinated me.


Anonymous said...

Could you make that cover image a little bit bigger?

Brent Waggoner said...

A Scanner Darkly was the first book I read start to finish on my Nook. The more you know.

Christopher said...

Good points. After all, Norway's a pretty wealthy country overall, yes? Its population centers are probably also (relatively) close together. Hard to expect some poor, isolated Mongolian to go to FC Ulaan Bator games.