Book Review of Soccernomics by Simon Kuper

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Soccer is called “the beautiful game” due to its simplicity and popularity; unlike ice hockey or baseball, it can be played on a patch of dirt with nothing more than a bundle of rags. Yet soccer, like any other human activity, reflects more about the people playing the game than a mere scorecard or trophy. Simon Kuper’s new book Soccernomics looks deeper into the world of the most popular game on the planet to understand trends, suggest reasons for the current global hierarchy, and suggest the next nations to become superpowers in the worldwide competition.

Kuper starts out with a simple question. Soccer in the modern parlance began as association football between British clubs and universities. A working man’s game, it lacked the “gentlemanly” rules of cricket while emphasizing physical play and endurance over strategy and positioning. England, thus, had a head start that amounted to as much as a century and a half over some nations, yet they boast only a single World Cup victory in the past one hundred years. Why, asks Soccernomics, did the titans fall?

The book delves deep into this issue. It was never a case, argues Kuper, of England underperforming but rather over performing: the little island nation is too small to support a large talent pool, too chilly to sustain year-long play, and too isolated from competitors to forge improvement. He explores the financial decisions made by English clubs and explains their poor showings time and time again.

The book also jumps into the question of soccer on the global circuit.

Economics and performances are linked together throughout the text. Should big time clubs sign major players for big money? Should an organization be run as a business or as a model of on-pitch success? Can a franchise expect a hot player to repeat their success? Often times Kuper goes against conventional thinking, using the rational examples of statistical trends rather than the subjectivity of fans and ownership.

Soccernomics emphasizes how different countries are poised to break out. Nations like England, France and Italy have a large talent pool and a history of success, yet recent conquests by what were then considered as inferior soccer countries have proven the hegemony to be crumbling. The rise of African countries and Asian powerhouses such as Japan and South Korea come to mind. Such upsets, claims Soccernomics, are sure to be the norm rather than the exception in the near future of the sport.

For those who have a passion for the beautiful game, Soccernomics is one brilliant and highly informative book to form part of anyone’s collection of books or literature on soccer.

2011 Moira G Gallaga©

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