Why England Lose & and Other Curious Phenomena Explained
Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski
After Football Against the Enemy announced his arrival with a bang in 1994, every Simon Kuper book carries a huge weight of expectation.
Why England Lose & Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained keeps his reputation intact as one of the most groundbreaking football writers around. But Kuper is primarily a financial journalist and here he has teamed up with economist Stefan Szymanski to produce a unique take on the game, based on the cold truth of hard data.
Conventional football wisdom is the enemy this time, and the pair apply statistics to explode what they feel are popularly-held myths about the game, starting with the belief that England under-perform.
Their conclusion is that England actually over-achieve, based on their measure of success which takes population, GDP and soccer experience into account. They could do better, they argue, by encouraging more middle-class children to play football and controversially, reducing, not increasing the numbers of Englishmen in the Premier League.
Another tenet of football belief they contest is that changing a losing manager is a wise move, while other chapters take fascinating angles - a transfer policy works best by selling your best players at the peak of their value, regional cities out-perform capital ones at club level for a reason, how the big clubs are anything but big businesses, why teams at the centre of Europe have an in-built advantage and why Japan will one day win the World Cup.
Much is provocative and some of the minutiae fascinating e.g. blond players are consistently overvalued, but the book lacks cohesion, not helped by the graphic design and at times sounds a little smug. In style it resembles popular science hits of recent years like Freakonomics (the US title is Soccernomics) and The Tipping Point, but though you will find yourself picking many holes in their theories, you will be hard-pushed to find a more thought-provoking football book.
Their overall thesis that the received wisdom is unreliable while the figures don't lie may be true, but what a grey sport football would be without its magic, the blind faith and passion of its fans and the possibility of a Denmark (Euro '92) or Greece (Euro '04) coming from nowhere to win a major tournament. Read this book and keep the facts in mind, but keep hoping David still has some stones left in his slingshot.
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