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(Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey--And Even Iraq--Are Destined By (Author)Kuper, Simon)Paperback on (Oct-01-2009) (Anglais) Broché – 1 octobre 2009
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Some of the chapters were so absolutely fascinating, I couldn't stop reading. Other chapters were so ultimately boring that I skipped them. The good thing is that you can skip around and read each chapter independently without really losing any overall scope of the book.
Even though I didn't agree with some the conclusions and read the data differently, I certainly feel much more knowledgeable about the current game and how we got here. If you are a fan of soccer, you should seriously consider this fact-filled book. It will make for great discussions around the TV during next summer's World Cup.
"Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey--And Even Iraq--Are Destined To Become The Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport" (336 pages) is co-written by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, a British economist. An economist, you might ask? Yes indeed, as this book brings a fascinating look into the numbers of soccer. Here a couple of quotes from the book:
-- "In 2002 everyone knew that the obscure, bucktoothed Brazilian kid Ronaldinho must have lucked out with the free kick that sailed into England's net, because he couldn't have been good enough to place it deliberately." (commenting on the English belief of freakish bad luck for their national team).
-- "Our finding: England in the 1980-2001 period outscored its opponents by 0.84 goals per game. That was 0.21 more than we had predicted based on the country's resources. In short, England was not underperforming at all. Contrary to popular opinion, it was over-performing."
-- "Soccer is not only small business business. It's also a bad one. Anyone who spends any time inside soccer discovers that just as oil is part of the oil business, stupidity is part of the soccer business."
-- "Provincial towns like Nottingham, Glasgow, Dortmund, Birmingham or Rotterdam all have won European Cups, while the seven biggest metropolitan areas in Europe--Istanbul, Paris, Moscow, London, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Athens--never have. This points to an odd connection between city size, capital cities and soccer success."
-- "Against all evidence, the stereotype persists that the typical British fan is a full-on Hornby."
-- "Staging a World Cup won't make you rich, but it does tend to cheer you up." (commenting on, among other things, the bogus arguments that staging a large sports event brings significant positive economic consequences for the host).
But if there is only one chapter that I had to pick out from this book, hands down it is "The Economist's Fear of the Penalty Kick", an absolute riveting look at the scientific side of the dreaded penalty kick. Using the analysis developed in game theory, the authors examine how penalty kicks are taken (by the kicker) and defended (by the keeper). It culminates with an in-depth analysis of the Manchester United-Chelsea penalty shoot-out at the 2008 CHampions League final. "Then, in what must have been a chilling moment for Anelka, the Dutch [keeper] pointed with with his left hand to the left corner. 'That's where you're all putting it, isn't it?' he seemed to be saying. Now Anelka had a terrible dilemma. This was game theory in its rawest form". (You'll have to read the rest of it yourself...)
Of all the books on soccer that I have read in my life time, I cannot recall being more enthralled and entertained than by this book. This is a page-turner from start to finish, and for me one of the very best books of the year, sports or otherwise. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
My main argument with the book is that it treats the NFL as the US's main export sport. While the NFL is undoubtedly the most popular league in the United States, this is a recent phenomenon. Baseball has traditionally been "America's Past Time" and thus is the sport that the United States spread around the world, although not to the same level that the English spread soccer.
One analysis that I wanted to read about was the success of Latin American teams. In particular an analysis of Mexico and Brazil. Both countries are soccer crazy and have very large populations, but Brazil has won five World Cups and Mexico none. It would be interesting to see an analysis of why this has happend, but the book mainly deals with European teams as their statistics are more reliable.
After reading through the book, I can safely say Soccernomics is fantastic and a must-read for any soccer fan! Stefan Szymanski lives up to his billing as a top sports economist with thorough detail and Kuper fits the part with his commentary including tidbits of witty humour. Correlating statistical analysis with any sport is extremely difficult because you are attempting to satisfy the common reader without flattening the economic methodology. Kuper is to-the-point and articulate in his arguments. Most importantly, he does not make an argument, and then uses statistics to back up his perspective. Rather, he reads through the information, recognizes patterns, and creates a formula. Several fascinating chapters include Core to the Periphery (Guus Hiddink) and why England loses.
Despite the many positives, there are some flaws. At times, the economic analysis is overwhelming and seems suited more for a peer-reviewed journal than a book for the common consumer. As well, some of the variables are far too large (population, income etc) and rarely include common competing variables (other popular sports etc). Furthermore, Kuper is well-travelled and could integrate more of his personal experiences to add some `spice' to the arguments #Hiddink is an excellent example but we also know how he has done speeches at Fenerbahçe Spor Kulübü.
Needless to say, these our not strong enough weaknesses to warrant it a 4-star. All in all, an excellent book and I would highly recommend it.