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Book Review of Soccernomics by Simon Kuper
Soccer is called “the beautiful game” because of its simplicity and popularity; unlike ice hockey or baseball, it can be played on a piece of land with nothing more than a bunch of rags. However, football, like any other human activity, reflects more about the people who play the game than just a scorecard or trophy. Simon Cooper’s new book Soccernomics looks deeper into the world of the world’s most popular game to understand trends, suggest reasons for the current global hierarchy and suggest future nations to become superpowers in worldwide competition.
Cooper begins with a simple question. Football in the modern language began as association football between British clubs and universities. A workmanlike game, it lacked the “gentlemanly” rules of cricket, emphasizing physical play and consistency over strategy and positioning. England thus had a head start reaching up to a century and a half over some nations, yet they boast only a single World Cup win in the last hundred years. Why, asks Soccernomics, did the titans fall?
The book delves into this issue. It was never a case, Cooper argues, of England under-performing but rather over-performing: the tiny island nation is too small to support a large pool of talent, too cold to support the one-year game and too isolated from competitors to create improvement. It explores the financial decisions made by English clubs and explains their occasional poor performances.
The book also delves into the issue of soccer on the global circuit.
Economy and performance are linked together throughout the text. Should big clubs sign big players for big money? Should an organization be run like a business or like a model of success on the ground? Can a franchise expect a hot player to repeat their success? Oftentimes Cooper goes against conventional thinking, using rational examples of statistical trends rather than the subjectivity of fans and ownership.
Soccernomics highlights how various countries are poised to explode. Nations such as England, France and Italy have a large talent pool and a history of success, yet recent invasions by what were then considered inferior footballing nations have seen that hegemony crumbling. The rise of African countries and Asian powers such as Japan and South Korea come to mind. Such concerns, Soccernomics claims, are sure to be the norm rather than the exception in the sport’s near future.
For those with a passion for the beautiful game, Soccernomics is a brilliant and highly informative book to be part of anyone’s football book or literature collection.
2011 Moira G Gallaga©
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