The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong (Anglais) Broché – 30 juillet 2013
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“Chris Anderson and David Sally have the ability to see football in a way few have before them. Be warned: The Numbers Game will change the way you think about your favorite team or player, and the way you watch the beautiful game.” – Billy Beane, Manager of the Oakland A’s and subject of Moneyball
"I learned a lot, and it's hard not to applaud a project that is bent on the disenchantment of football's internal conversations and archaic practices, while simultaneously acknowledging an ineradicable core of the unpredictable and random at its heart." - David Goldblatt, author of The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer for the Times Literary Supplement
“…North American soccer fans would do very well to pick up this book. It will not only help them understand the game better, but it will also stimulate new ways to analyze and think about the game.” – Forbes
“[This] is the book that could change the game forever.” – The Times (London)
“By any standards, this is a landmark book, scrupulously researched and bound to be influential.” – Booklist (starred review)
“Witty and thoughtful…should appeal not just to soccer fans, but to readers of Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics.” – Kirkus Reviews
"Their rather innovative and revolutionary way of looking at the game makes for fascinating reading." - The Library Journal
“A highly original contribution to our understanding of what we are seeing at a match, their book is unbeatable” – The Independent on Sunday
“Pundits, armchair fans and professionals, will find that several of their long-cherished truisms are not true at all.” – The Guardian
“Superb” – GQ
Présentation de l'éditeur
Innovation is coming to soccer, and at the center of it all are the numbers—a way of thinking about the game that ignores the obvious in favor of how things actually are. In The Numbers Game, Chris Anderson, a former professional goalkeeper turned soccer statistics guru, teams up with behavioral analyst David Sally to uncover the numbers that really matter when it comes to predicting a winner. Investigating basic but profound questions—How valuable are corners? Which goal matters most? Is possession really nine-tenths of the law? How should a player’s value be judged?—they deliver an incisive, revolutionary new way of watching and understanding soccer.
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Among the many other contradictory elements are the discussions of the Castrol Player Index which they use to argue for a high correlation between the quality of players within any team: "Great players play with other great players." This is followed four pages later by the statement "...Messi's score arises from his inclusion in the Barcelona subsystem...", suggesting that the Castrol rankings are dependent on the quality of the team and not an independent measure of a player's performance. If team quality influences the ranking, how believable is the initial conclusion about correlation between? In fact, it's still believable, because it matches the many things we know about soccer that isn't wrong.
Finally, I found the Americanization of this edition for sale in the US to be inconsistent and distracting. The word "football" has been excised, even in quotations: "As Ronay write: 'In the early 1990s, [soccer] entered a new era.'" On the other hand they make frequent reference to the book "Why England Loses", which was sold in the US (probably everywhere outside the UK) under the title "Soccernomics".
There are certainly interesting analyses and new ideas here, but my recommendation is to read Soccernomics instead.
Let me give you a brief example based on certain claims made in Chapter 1.
The authors make the conclusion that half of all games are decided by luck, unfortunately, this conclusion does not follow from its premises.
- The first problem (I admit, this might be a failure to clarify as opposed to making unwarranted conclusion) is that the authors fail to specify how draws work into their analysis. They claim that "a little over half" of all games are won by favorites and that "the likelihood of the underdog winning was 45.2%" while at the same time stating that 1-1 draws are the most common score line. It may just be that the percentages they offer simply do not include game that ended in a draw, however, if this is the case, they did a terrible job communicating this to the reader.
- The authors also failed to eliminate other possible explanations for their data and instead jumped to the one conclusion that might result in the more surprising revelation. Their claim that 50% of games are decided by luck stems primarily from the fact that only about 50% of the game is won by favorites, therefore if skill is not the determining factor in a specific game, it must have been a result of chance. One very possible reason is that even though team A is favored over team B, team A's quality is only slightly better than team B so that even if skill was the determining factor most of the time, in the long run the difference in quality is not enough to break the 50/50 paradigm. In other words, the nature of the game might require a more drastic difference in quality in order for one team to dominate another, but this does not help to establish that a slight favorite losing is simply a result of chance.
- Another problem in their analysis is that they set up a false dichotomy between skill and luck, as if these were the only two contributing factors to the result. This is surprising since they talk about the 48/26/26 rule (48% of game are home wins, 26% ties and 26% losses). Most of the data they collect comes from League games, where every team plays every other team at home and away. Therefore, since 50% of all games are won by the home team and 50% of all home teams are underdogs, it renders the fact that roughly 50% of all games are won by the underdog a lot less surprising.
Examples such are these are scattered throughout the book and it is difficult to know whether these are a result of lack of clarification or intellectual dishonesty.
On the minus side: One thing I found a little disappointing about the book was that it didn't really have one or two main heroes to root for like Billy Beane or Bill James in "Moneyball"--in fact the book probably mentioned those two sabermetricians almost as much as any other single soccer statistician, manager or player. I think it would've made the book's narrative more compelling overall if the authors had spent more time getting to know say, Tony Pulis of Stoke, Arrigo Sacchi of AC Milan or less famously, Jimmy Davies of Waterloo Dock AFC. All three men were mentioned as fascinating examples of managerial insight, but were only given a few pages to shine. I suppose we'll have to settle for the pioneering role of Wing Commander Charles Reep for now...