CHN Book Club: Soccernomics, Part 1

Soccernomics might be different from some of the other books that we will take a look at as it does not have a central theme as much as it is a book about taking a different look at soccer. The economist view of the game will lend its comparisons to Money Ball and the book refers to baseball frequently in its early stages. This is a fun read with lots to cover in Part 1, so lets get to it, shall we?

In a few years (maybe more) an entire book could be written about how to manage clubs more intelligently. The first few chapters of Soccernomics deal with two very blatant facts: 1) clubs today are not managed intelligently and 2) (somewhat related) lots of clubs lose money. The book delves into the biases scouts have (blondes stand out more and "look the part" of a soccer star) and some of the mistakes clubs make when signing stars (pointing to Newcastle. In the times Newcastle is mentioned in this book, it's not flattering). The book (by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski) spends its first few chapters wondering very loudly if teams were smarter, even by a little, how much could they improve by? The modern example the book gives on how this can be done is Olympique Lyon, the French giant. Olympique finds quality players that others overlook, brings them in, makes them feel at home (important!) and when their stock peaks, they sell. How has this worked out? Olympique Lyon's domination of Ligue 1 is listed under "Criticisms" for the league's Wikipedia page.

Soccernomics points out that most clubs lose money and to an extent argues that if they're going to lose money, they might as well be smart about how the find players and win matches. As much as the authors point to Newcastle's failures, I wonder if the club isn't trying to become smarter and cost-effective and seeing results (hooray Europa League!)

Some other quick hits from me:

~One of the things that I found very interesting, and brought up in one of the Euro threads, was the notion that if England wants to do better at the Euros or World Cup, its best players should not play in the English Premier League. The reasoning is that the level of focus and ability needed in the Premiership is so high that players are fatigued when it comes to international play. So, the book says, England should export its' stars to Scandinavia or America so they'll stay fresh. I wonder if the same strategy would hold true for the US, or if its players still need "seasoning" against the world's best.

~As mentioned above, it's important that clubs make their players feel at home. I was amazed that most clubs don't even help players find homes. I wondered how some of Newcastle's players enjoy Tyneside come December (and what the club does, if anything, to help).

~If you like politics and football (as I do) this book has some neat sections about how clubs from fascist capitals tended to do well because dictators wanted those clubs to do well and funneled resources to them. It was interesting how the best clubs in Europe have gone from being in fascist capitals to industrial towns to now democratic capitals. (The book predicts that Chelsea or Arsenal, two London Clubs, will soon win a UEFA Champion's League title. Hey, look at what Chelsea just did!)

~For all the griping of predictability in the Premiership, it does little to deter attendance or support. Indeed, due to something being on the line just about every match (positioning for Europe or avoiding relegation) support for all English clubs is up in the past decade. Similarily, as much as people hate big spending clubs, they love beating them too and so its good to have those huge teams.

Those are my main takeaways for Part 1. I hope to do Parts 2 and 3 together in early July. What are your thoughts on Part 1 of Soccernomics?

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