Book Review: ‘The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong’
Two college professors, Chris Anderson and David Sally, decided to write a book titled The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong to go over famous philosophies in the sport and use data to determine if notable ideals were true or just results of people falsely waxing poetically.
The rise of analytics has permeated through every fabric of society, especially sports. Anderson is a soccer analytics pioneer who has consulted with clubs. He says he’s sworn to secrecy against mentioning what teams, to teach them how to utilize numbers to their benefit. At 17-years-old, Anderson was a goalkeeper for a fourth-division side in West Germany but his career didn’t last long and he pursued higher education afterwards. David Sally also used to be an athlete as he was a baseball pitcher and he is an advisor to clubs and other organizations in soccer around the world. Both were not gifted athletes so they understood early how statistics could help them gain an advantage over opponents while realizing the shortcomings of their own team and how to improve. The book begins with a quote from a legendary statistician that set the tone for the book and puts their point of view in perspective.
“In sports, what is true is more powerful than what you believe, because what is true will give you an edge,” said Bill James.
James is a godfather of analytics beginning in 1977 when he began releasing baseball books with his own statistics that teams use today. He is looked at in the highest regard in America’s pastime and became an adviser for the Boston Red Sox in 2003. After the franchise hadn’t won the World Series for 86 years, under James’ philosophy and tutelage, the team has won three championships in 11 years.
Many soccer purists on either side, attacking or pragmatic, may not care about what the numbers prove preferring to remain with their own beliefs but throughout the book, you’ll be surprised of what data tells the scholars.
They prove to you that soccer relies on luck a lot more than people think, how rare scoring a goal is, why goalkeepers and defenders don’t get paid as much as attacking players even though they should, why Chelsea should’ve bought Darren Bent instead of splurging on Fernando Torres in 2011, how important the long ball really is, why a soccer team should be constructed like a space shuttle, the true impact of a manager, if possession is as important as Barcelona and Spain think, how club spending determines where teams finish on the table and several other interesting topics.
In case you weren’t a big fan of math in school, the authors use plenty of graphics to visually display what the numbers are saying. They depend on plenty of people’s research to dating back decades to make sure their research isn’t skewed by abnormalities or a lack of sufficient information.
At the end of the book, they make 10 bold predictions of how analytics will progress and affect the future of soccer based on what the research tells them. Soccer has always been the thinking man’s game due to philosophy on style of play and formations but the book does an excellent job of taking people’s thought process to another level. If you’re a hardcore soccer fan or a novice trying to learn more about the sport, the book is an essential read to expand your mind on how to view the beautiful game.
The Numbers Game is available from Amazon and all fine booksellers.