Using data to better understand (and improve a team’s odds of winning) the Beautiful Game.
Analytics, the use of data and statistics, has grown exponentially in the world of sports in recent years. Michael Lewis’ Moneyball revealed how Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane utilized analytics to exploit inefficiencies in the baseball marketplace of players and ideas. Coaches and administrators, as well as fans of other sports, have increasingly tried to apply analytics to the games they love. Anderson (London School of Economics and Cornell Univ.) and Sally (Business/Dartmouth) fit well into that tradition in this fine book about the use of analytics in soccer. Like many within the growing number of books in this genre, the authors, both of whom are academics, former athletes and fans, have the ability to convey complicated ideas and even more complex data and statistics into a readable whole that will appeal to fans who want to better understand the most popular sport in the world. Whether they are trying to ascertain what percentage of possession determines victory, to decide whether it is best to focus on scoring goals or not conceding them, to establish just how much coaches matter to a team’s success or myriad other exercises, they make compelling and occasionally contrarian cases for breaking away from thinking that too often comes down to, “seven words [that] have long dominated soccer: ‘That’s the way it’s always been done.’ ” Anderson and Sally destroy most of the rationales for such thinking in this entertaining, witty and thoughtful book, which should appeal not just to soccer fans, but to readers of Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics.
Even the most innumerate soccer fan will find in this book justification to add some math to make the world’s game even more beautiful.