The Numbers Game

The Numbers Game : Why Everything you know about Soccer is wrong (2013) by Chris Anderson and David Sally is a book that looks at the application of data analysis on soccer. The overblown name of the book gives a good picture of the overblown attitude of the writers to the numbers discussed in the book.

There is certainly some solid and interesting discussion of numbers in the book. The discussion of the incremental value of goals is really interesting. They also give a good justification for why in a low scoring game like soccer the role of luck in an individual game is likely to be higher than in higher scoring games like Rugby or basketball.

The main problem with the book is that the authors don’t question their own work enough and don’t ponder alternative theories to their own. Amusingly, they look Charles Reep who is credited as justifying the English long ball game but don’t think that what Reep did, namely have too much confidence in the wrong numbers and who didn’t think of alternative theories using those same numbers.

Soccernomics is a better, calmer book that looks at the role statistics is playing in soccer. However, if you are into soccer and statistics and pondering just how difficult quantifying soccer is this book is worth a read.

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