Thousands and thousands of words could be written on the impact the original Soccernomics (titled Why England Lose in the UK) had.
Published almost ten years ago, even World Soccer Talk’s original review noted that the book was timely in its use of sports science on a game that had long resisted it.
Now, with a World Cup looming and their original theories debated in other books like The Numbers Game, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski have published an updated “2018 World Cup Edition” of their original work.
Not surprisingly, the authors maintain their original theses not only held up but were further proven in the interim years with one major exception.
For those who have not read Soccernomics yet (and if you read WST regularly, why haven’t you?), you can easily jump into this book without reading the original. Those who have read the original, likewise, will enjoy the updates and reminders of the original thoughts that have become mainstream.
The authors again try to use economics and social science theory to explain some of the more pressing questions in the game.
For so long, things like how to correctly take penalty kicks and why crosses from the wings are the ideal way for tall players to score were based on gut instinct or observations by leading managers. Kuper and Szymanski turned these ideas on their head and forced them through the sieve of scientific thought.
The first part takes aim at the business of soccer, primarily why clubs continue to lose money in this lucrative age of television rights but more importantly why this is okay.
They also tackle some of the more touchy racial and societal issues such as why more black, female, or minority managers are not hired for, well, any men’s soccer jobs. And, again, why building new stadiums are poor revenue generators for cities.
The second part focuses on the fans. Here is the part where my interest began to wane a little. Ironically, their research disproved a number of common misbeliefs such as depression among fans after a favorite team’s loss, but I felt like this information was widely available.
While the revisions added even more data, and in this section the data was most compelling, I did not feel like I learned anything critical.
Section three is where a mea culpa is issued.
In the first edition, the authors boldly claimed that the U.S., Japan, and Australia (among other smaller soccer nations) would become kings of the sport. Two World Cups later, won by soccer powers Spain and Germany, the authors do admit that they underestimated the timeline for demographics to push these countries into the elite.
To their credit, they dig into why their predictions were wrong and offer data to show why western European nations are so dominant in international soccer (think ease of idea exchange).
The section ends on a dud, though, as their search for the most overachieving and underachieving nations did not really add much to my soccer knowledge.
I read this book over two trans-Atlantic flights and it certainly helped the time fly. Similar to the original edition, the book is written with an eye towards the mass media audience, not scientists. Their use of datapoints lean toward pop culture more than actual science.
The big question is whether the new edition is worth spending another $20ish for a book that you have probably already read.
My answer is yes, as both authors clearly spent energy and time digging into the data to see if their original assertions hold up. For no other reasons than to see them take on critics, and in rare cases agree with them, this is an entertaining read for any soccer fan.
Authors: Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski
Publication Date: April 24, 2018
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