Yet another recently finished book – it has been a good month for reading. This one is Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. Here is what I wrote about it:
I’m still not sure whether this spoils football for me or enhances my enjoyment of it. It is a football version of Moneyball, freshly re-branded to hop on the Freakonomics bandwagon and the authors use statistical techniques to try and understand or explain various aspects of football like penalty shoot-out tactics, big-money transfers and managerial jobs.
Having read quite a few books on economics and behavioural economics I found it interesting to see the same sort of analysis applied to one specific real-world area, one that we all know about, or think we do.
The book starts by examining whether big-money, big-name transfers guarantee success, and makes a good case for the theory that paying large salaries gets success more than paying more for transfers. The big transfers seem to do little more than make the fans happy. The thing is, even if I take this onboard completely I know I will still get extremely excited if my team sign a major star, even while part of me knows it isn’t really going to help.
By the way, the authors keep all the working out to themselves, so you don’t have to plough through the actual maths yourself, which is handy because there was a lot of number-crunching done to support some of the theories.
The stand out sections for me, apart from those already mentioned, were the attempt at quantifying the effect of racism on team performances and the impact that hosting a major tournament has on the host nation. That last one applies to Olympics too, and it was interesting to bear it all in mind while listening to people on TV discuss the legacy of the games. The authors more or less prove that hosting a World Cup or Olympics won’t have any economic benefits but will make a country a whole lot happier for quite a while – which is also quantified in an intriguing way.
Along the way you will find out whether England really are perennial underperformers or have actually been overperforming compared to their potential, which countries are the biggest sport fans and football fans, and which British managers are the most clued up when it comes to buying and selling players.
As the new football season has just started this is a good time to read this book. It will give you a whole new perspective on the game but be warned – you will also start to recognise when teams are making all the mistakes listed in the book, even your own team. I have been recommending it to friends for a few weeks now.
The bit about hosting sporting events was particularly surprising. The gist is that a country doesn’t see any real economic benefit in a traditional way, but the increase in general happiness in the population is huge. If you spent all the money it costs to host the Olympics on tax breaks and pay rises instead we would actually not be as happy. Apparently. It opens up a whole debate on those measures of gross national happiness. That concept comes in for a lot of ridicule but might it be the most important thing?