BOOK REVIEW: “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

“Freakonomics” for Soccer. “Moneyball” for futbol.  If you remember nothing else from this review than that, you will have the major point.  “Soccernomics” is a book that applies economic principles to the game of soccer.  While European soccer is the main focus of the book, Americans will find something of interest since the authors make several references to baseball (most often inspired by “Moneyball”) and the NFL.

In the prelude to and during the run of the World Cup, I heard more than one commentator make reference to this book.  So, with my sublimated interest in soccer rekindled once again by the tournament, I decided to give this book a go.  Whereas “Freakonomics” found several counterintuitive ideas and “Moneyball” had the compelling story of the Oakland A’s and Billy Beane, “Soccernomics” lacks both of these. 

The book starts out well with a chapter on the English and their perpetual disappointment in their national team, the 2010 version included.  However, the authors go through a database of international soccer events and create a correlation between demographics statistics about a country and that country’s soccer performance.  The three major factors in explaining soccer performance are experience, population and GDP.  Based on these factors, it appears that England actually performs pretty close to expectations. 

The authors then take their statistical analysis to other questions.  They show that in the English Premier League, the more money spent on player payrolls, the better the team performs and that racism prevented qualified African-American players from advancing.  It’s all well argued, but hardly revelatory.  This is followed by the countries that most over-perform and underperform according to their demographics, the best small country, how poverty  is bad for athletic development, etc.   All excellent points but again, nothing that makes you think differently.

I would recommend this book for only the true soccerphiles out there.  Otherwise, I don’t believe there is a lot in there for the casual reader.

On the other hand, there is a lot of good commentary about the English Premier League, and especially about the part of  European soccer that I think should be imported to the US, relegation.  Imagine how much better it would be if teams that can’t or won’t compete at the best level like the Lions, Clippers and Pirates were demoted to a lower league while the best teams from the minors got their chances.  The Lions should have been sent to the Arena League years ago.  We’d all be better off.

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 Worlds Most Popular Sport (Paperback)

One thought on “BOOK REVIEW: “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

  1. Amen to relegation, which happens in sports leagues (not just soccer) all over the world. It’ll never happen here, though, because it would cost way too much money. Relegated teams wouldn’t be able to charge as much for tickets as top divison teams, which means they wouldn’t be able to pay their players as much, which means the players’ unions would never accept it.

    But it’s a great dream….

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