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The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson & David Sally

Release date: 15th November, 2013
Publisher: Viking

List Price: £12.99
Our Price: £9.09
You Save: £3.9 (30%)
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Reports emanating from Spain over the festive period suggested that Lionel Messi could be on his way out of Barcelona after talks regarding his eye-wateringly lucrative contract apparently stalled.

Of course, this might just be one of those ‘stories’ released by an interested party in order to gee-up Barcelona’s evidently tardy negotiators and leave them fearing the departure of the club’s prized asset.

Nevertheless, Paris St Germain, seemingly unaware of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, have apparently taken the bait and are said to be prepared to bid £220 million for the Argentine maestro should he become available. Even by the inflated standards of PSG’s Qatari owners, that’s an awful lot of moolah to play for a footballer, particularly one whose impact is questioned by The Numbers Game, a fascinating look at the game’s tactics and statistics.

Actually, it’s unfair to say Messi’s contribution to Barca’s success is undermined by this book, although the authors do exclude him from their statistical analysis of the impact of attacking players, ostensibly because they deem his playing "coefficient" to be abnormally high.

If anything, this would justify PSG’s apparent willingness to part with such a massive sum of money to secure Messi’s services – they would do so because he is blessed with statistically immeasurable genius.

The colossal increase in the volume of data measuring the performance of footballers and coaches, combined with a correspondingly swift development of technology, has resulted in fresh insights into a game traditionally ‘analysed’ with reference only to instinct or an established coach’s ‘eye’ for a promising player.

The Numbers Game, following in the tradition of Moneyball, published a decade ago, and Soccernomics, re-issued with updated material in 2012, attempts to take this analysis a stage further.

Whereas Moneyball focused on a single club, Anderson and Sally’s analysis encompasses several, though this doesn’t detract from the book’s narrative, which offers fascinating evidence of why substitutes should be made in the 58th, 73rd or 79th minute. There’s also room for considering Stoke’s long-ball game under Tony Pulis and why improving a team’s worst player is more effective than buying a pricey replacement.

Indeed, perhaps PSG’s head of recruitment should read The Numbers Game before taking his club’s alleged interest in Messi any further; it could save his employers a small fortune. Readers of this accomplished study might be inclined to agree.


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