Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Spain, Germany, and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, and Even Iraq Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport by Simon Kuper is basically the Freakonomics for Soccer. It looks at how the game is played but also the business of the sport and has many many many good things to note. Ideally, this article would be fifty things to learn, but here are ten things to learn from Soccernomics:
- the most dangerous corner was the inswinger to the near post. The beauty of the inswinger was that it sent the ball straight into the danger zone.
- In short, the more you pay your players in wages, the higher you will finish, but what you pay for them in transfer fees doesn’t seem to make much difference. While the market for players’ wages is pretty efficient—the better a player, the more he earns—the transfer market is inefficient. Much of the time, clubs buy the wrong players.
- A new manager wastes money on transfers; don’t let him. Use the wisdom of crowds. Stars of recent World Cups or European championships are overvalued; ignore them. Certain nationalities are overvalued.
- Older players are overvalued. Center forwards are overvalued; goalkeepers are undervalued. Gentlemen prefer blonds: identify and abandon “sight-based prejudices.” The best time to buy a player is when he is in his early twenties. Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth. Replace your best players even before you sell them. Buy players with personal problems, and then help them deal with their problems. Help your players relocate.
- It was Rupert Murdoch who went to English clubs and suggested putting them on satellite TV; the clubs would never have thought of going to him. In fact, the clubs often fought against new moneymaking schemes. Until 1982 they refused to allow any league games to be shown live on TV, fearing that it might deter fans from coming to the stadium. They couldn’t grasp that games on television meant both free money and free advertising. There is now a good deal of research into the question of how many fans are lost when a game is shown on TV. Almost all the evidence shows that the number is tiny, and that the gate revenue that would be lost is usually well below the amount that would be made from selling extra matches for television coverage
- Let’s compare the breakeven rule to the salary cap, widely used in American major-league sports. A salary cap generally restricts teams’ spending on players to a fixed percentage of average club income (55 percent, say). UEFA’s breakeven rule restricts player spending to the level of club income defined as “relevant.” The key difference is that the US cap is the same for all clubs, whereas breakeven caps each club at the level of its own resources—a lot for the larger clubs, not so much for the smaller clubs. So while the American salary cap encourages competitive balance between clubs (it stops the Dallas Cowboys from spending infinitely more than the Jacksonville Jaguars), UEFA’s breakeven rule cements inequality by making it harder for smaller clubs to compete with the aristocrats. This hardly seems fair, unless by “fair” you mean the idea that big clubs should be protected from competition from upstarts.
- “Two thirds of goals come from possessions won in the final third of the field,” he lectured. The great sin, to him, was losing the ball near your own goal.
- “Soccer” was the most common name for the game in Britain from the 1890s until the 1970s. … Soccer conquered the world so fast largely because the British gentleman was such an attractive ideal.
- Daniele Tognaccini, longtime chief athletics coach at AC Milan’s “Milan Lab,” probably the most sophisticated medical outfit in soccer, explains what happens when a player has to play sixty tough games a year: “The performance is not optimal. The risk of injury is very high. We can say the risk of injury during one game, after one week’s training, is 10 percent. If you play after two days, the risk rises by 30 or 40 percent. If you are playing four or five games consecutively without the right recovery, the risk of injury is incredible.
- Kevin Alavy, the managing director of the Futures Sport + Entertainment consultancy whom we met earlier in the book, says that often the Premier League enters a new territory by offering itself on free-to-air TV. That’s what it did in eastern Europe, across the former Soviet Union, and more recently in Indonesia. Until a few years ago, hardly any of the 247 million Indonesians knew soccer. But given the chance to watch top-class English games on TV for free, many began watching. In recent years, says Alavy, “typically Indonesia has been the number one market by TV audiences for the Premier League.” Once Indonesians were hooked, the Premier League gave them a new TV rights deal that offered them far less free soccer.
2 thoughts on “10 Things to Learn from Soccernomics (by Simon Kuper)”
Excellent post Michael! I definitely agree with the points you made, there is a lot to learn from the numbers behind these arguments. Highly recommended book!