Want improvement? A century ago as America’s eastern cities overpopulated it was, “Go west, young man.” For soccer a century later the trumpet sounds the same. Only going west means tracking back to the previous western frontier. In mainland Europe. Or at least that’s what Simon Kuper believes and writes in his and economist Stefan Szymanski’s new book, Soccernomics.
I transcribed the entire interview, and he didn’t say it once. Maybe it’s the American wife and three American kids. Maybe it was living in Palo Alto as a kid or Boston as a young man. Maybe it’s why he wrote a new chapter (NFL v EPL) and had the book edited and printed specifically for an American audience. But not once in my hour-long conversation with Kuper did he use the word football. I don’t think that means anything, but it was nice.
The PR take-away is that it’s Moneyball for soccer, but has it come too late? Can soccer even compete with baseball when it comes to statistical break down? It’s surely tempting fodder for those for whom soccer is religion and those who see sport as science. But those two will always fight. And while it will instigate and educate, Soccernomics can also ring all too true for the pragmatic few who can subtract passion from reality and who have been cursing the fiscal and emotional insanity of professional (Western European) soccer for years. But no matter your take-away, at least it’s not another book about some strange and historic season of Anytown FC.
Kuper and Szymanski set out in late 2007 to write a different kind of soccer book, to change the discussion, to surprise with data. On the day of the book’s American release, Kuper took time over the phone from Paris to discuss the book, the reaction to it, and what it means for American soccer.
TIAS: Starting with some basics before digging into some of your more American insights, my first question is about the translations of the book. I’ve been through both of them—the UK and US versions—and wanted to know how hard it was for you and your editor to make that switch.
Kuper: Changing it into the American version took an additional month. The main addition was the chapter about the NFL versus the Premier League. Obviously we cut some of the UK stuff—and cutting is easier than writing, so it wasn’t an enormous amount of work I have to say.
You speak about Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball a fair amount in the book, and I read a previous interview you gave where you mention that you didn’t read Moneyball until you had already started on this book. Break down that timeline for me, as I’m kind of amazed you had not read Moneyball, which came out in 2003.
Stefan and I met in Istanbul about December 2007 and immediately began talking about this book—it was Stefan’s idea. Then we began in early 2008. It was after Euro 2008, when I came back to Paris where I live, that I read Moneyball. It was in the middle of the process, but it did help. It helped me understand what we were trying to do and understand that the issues in the baseball and soccer worlds were the same ones. I knew about Moneyball before hand. My brother-in-law in fact had told me—My wife is American so I go to the States a lot, mostly Miami. So I have American family and in fact my three children are Americans. So writing this book for the US market was not a total leap into the unknown for me. And I lived for a time in Palo Alto. I did 6th grade there and I lived in Boston as a student. So I had childhood knowledge of American sports which helped a bit. But I do a weekly column in the FT (Financial Times), and I occasionally write about American sport, but what I realized after a while is that we have so many US readers that I didn’t want to write stuff about American sport that they knew better than me. So I tried to write about the sports there through interviews with David Stern or whomever, because one of the most dangerous things a journalist can do is write something his readers know better.
One of the big points in the book is about the changing face of global soccer and your three points largely deal with Wealth, Population, and Experience. Where does the US fit into that?
We show that the US is a major underperformer. Even taking into account that the US doesn’t have much experience in terms of international games played. Before the 1990’s the US didn’t play very often. So even there, the US massively underperforms, because given it is such a large and wealthy country, I would guess that a normal position would be about 10th in the world. That’s my guess; you’d have to quantify that. My sense is that in recent years, the US is increasingly bobbing up to that position on its good days—like the Confederations Cup, like World Cup 2002. I think the underperformance is being corrected slowly, and we suggest a couple of ways the US could make a leap, by learning more from Western Europe than the US has done thus far. I think the US has the greatest potential of all the non-European, non-traditional soccer countries, simply because of its size and wealth and enormous number of active soccer players.
That section of the book really struck me as analogous in a lot of ways to geopolitical discourse with writers like Thomas Friedman heralding the booms of India and announcing the world was becoming, in his catchphrase, flat. You state pretty bluntly in the book that you believe Western Europe has the best practices when it comes to soccer, but Brazil seems to buck that trend to some degree. You give it some respect in the book, but it comes off as a bit of an afterthought compared to the successes of Western Europe. Where does Brazil fit into this picture?
Well, Brazil has the best players. And consistently most of the time in soccer history the best players in the world are disproportionately Brazilian. More so than they are German or French or Italian, but I think after Brazil won the world cup in 1970, it had about 30 years of retrenchment where it tried to figure out a new style—a style that wins matches. Because the Brazilian style that we all glorify from the days of Pele—this wonderful attacking, dribbling style; cavalier soccer at its best—didn’t really work in the new era, because Germany, Italy, and France were just more effective at winning games even though they had worse players. Brazil spent 30 years trying to crack that nut, and the best bid they had of course was winning the World Cup in 1994. A: by having the best players. And B: playing very tedious, collectivist, Western European soccer with those players. The Brazilian population wasn’t altogether happy about that because the population as a whole still wants to see the cavalier game. You see when they play a more cavalier style—World Cup 1982 is a great example—they don’t win. And when they put Ronaldinho, Robinho, and Kaka more or less in the same midfield in 2006, again, they sort of lacked aggression, pace, energy, collectivism defense—all the Western European qualities—and they lost. So Brazil has the best players but they don’t have the best style… anymore.
Does the new coaching staff back that up, in that they hear many of those same complaints from fans of the stereotypical Brazilian style?
Yeah, well, Dunga spent many years in Germany and is himself a very tedious collectivist Western European player, and I imagine that is the style he likes best. But it’s the poisoned chalice being the manager of Brazil, because you don’t just have to win; you have to win playing Brazilian soccer. And I would argue it’s probably impossible to do both. So you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You’re damned if like Parreira in 1994 you win playing the new way, and surely damned if you lose. It’s very difficult for Dunga to square that circle, but I think he’s much more aware than I am of the certain backwardness of traditional Brazilian soccer. In terms of style, not in terms of the individuals, who are the best.
Taking that idea back to the US, I can imagine fans reading this book and thinking that they’ve tried their hand at the foreign coach and it didn’t work out any better. Is that small sample size, just not enough time or data, or wrong guys wrong time? Do you think at all that America could be a special case?
My argument is that it really should be a Western European coach. Bora Milutinovic was not far off of it because he had a lot of Western European experience, and I remember I was part of a group interview with him in 1993 before that World Cup, and I said what style do you aspire to with the US—Brazilian soccer, Italian soccer, Dutch soccer? And he said, no no, at the top level all the countries play the same. And I think that was very true. He was talking about this collectivist Western European style, which he got the US to play at that World Cup very successfully, and which isn’t really nation specific. And I think you need a coach, if he isn’t Western European, who has a huge Western European experience in those central countries I discuss in the book—Italy, Germany, France, Holland. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think the US has gone that way has it?
Which bring us to Jurgen Klinsmann. That is still the big what-if hanging around for some US fans, in part because they never got any true information beyond rumor on how that short lived courtship between him and USSF broke down. The usual thought is that USSF didn’t want to give him full control over the program or federation. Given your Western European leanings, was that a big mistake for the US?
I don’t think it needs to be Klinsmann. We say in the book that there are very few coaches who over-perform, who do more with their players, in club soccer in England, than the players’ salaries would predict. On the international level it is more possible for a coach to make a difference, where he goes to a country with backwards soccer knowledge and he imports the latest cutting edge soccer knowledge. So if you use that model of the coach importing the latest knowledge, it doesn’t have to be an iconic individual like Klinsmann; it could be some German you’ve never heard of. There are a couple of problems or the reasons why it hasn’t happened. One is American nationalism—the belief that we play a lot of soccer, we have 25 million people who occasionally kick the ball around (of course many very infrequently, but it is still an enormous soccer-playing base), we’ve been doing this for 20 years seriously for ourselves now. We don’t need some foreigner, particularly some uppity foreigner like Klinsmann who is demanding all of these powers that the USSF doesn’t want to give away. So I understand that dilemma. I would say just get real and do it. You don’t have to get one of the biggest names in the sport, you just need to get somebody with a solid grounding in the best soccer as it is now being played today in Western Europe.
This book at times reads like a business story to me more than a sport story. Having read my fair share and worked a bit on financial journalism subjects, and college courses in statistics and whatnot, the book’s principles of buy low, sell high, don’t over pay, come off as kind of obvious to me—or obvious for sure to a business person, maybe not a sports fan. It really hit home with Lyon, which features prominently in the book maybe more than any other club. And maybe because I have followed that team as a fan, because they show me the players that are going to be the stars of the future before they go on to Man U, Madrid, and the backs of Americans’ jerseys, it seemed to almost go without saying they were the model club in doing things the right way. Were you surprised at the findings in the book as you and Stefan crunched the numbers or was it more a case of preconceptions being proved through the book?
Like you I had some knowledge of finance and worked for a time as a financial journalist for FT. And I have written about the soccer business a bit, chiefly in the mid-nineties when I was a reporter for the FT and went around to clubs that were floating on the stock market and stuff. I think what I came away surprised by was—I encountered stupid people more in soccer than in any other business I had written about, and I thought there was an incidental quality to that. And I came away thinking as with baseball apparently, the stupidity is structural. And the clever ones, like Lyon as you mentioned, are the exceptions. It’s a very bleak vision of the industry that we present.
Arsenal and Wenger is another example of the clever ones you give in the book. In Wenger’s case it’s his use of statistics, and as part you tell the story about the post-game Bergkamp-Wenger chat about him being subbed, which is just classic. The thing I’m curious to ask you about is their new American boss.
Gazidis, yeah. I appeared with him at a conference in Zurich. We had a panel together where we discussed the book. And because he is a very polite man he said that he mostly agreed with it. I liked him very much. I would dispute, actually, that he is American, because his father like my parents came from South Africa. His father left in the 60’s when he had become a radical and later a member of the Pan-African Congress, which would have been like a white man joining the Black Power movement in the US. Obviously he was a hugely impressive and principled guy who spent his own money buying antiretroviral medications for people with AIDS in the poorest regions of South Africa when the government refused to fund it. But anyway, most of my conversation with Gazidis was about his father who I was very stuck by, but what was your question—I was just so taken by him on a human level?
Maybe we can agree he has spent a lot of his business education in the States and is taking that over to Arsenal?
And you talk about in the book how Americans, even just through basic education, get a more economic view of the world.
Absolutely. And in sports as well.
Is that something you think we will see more of? As the US steals soccer knowledge, Europe steals business knowledge? Do salary caps and revenue sharing follow Ivan over the Atlantic? Or is MLS a special case, Soccer United Marketing (SUM) a special case?
I don’t think the details of MLS will necessarily be exported. But I think your point is an interesting one in that the US leads the sporting world in a lot of ways. One is how to make money out of sports, how to run it as a fairly serious business. And also in the medical and fitness fields, where Klinsmann helped Germany do very well at the World Cup by importing the best American fitness knowledge, which turned out to be much more advanced than soccer fitness knowledge. So yeah, I think people like Gazidis are exporting knowledge that is very scarce in European soccer. I won’t name them, but last week in London I went to a very, very big English club and spoke to an official there who had regularly flown to the Red Sox and Oakland A’s to see how they evaluated players and to sort of absorb the Moneyball thinking.
I don’t think they fit the description, so it likely isn’t Fulham, but they just announced a partnership with a marketing group that is involved with the Red Sox.
I didn’t know that.
Yeah, from the press releases it seemed a marketing move to push the Fulham brand in the US.
That’s yet another example of how the English in particular, the place with the closest link to the States, and the number of Brits who travel to the States is larger than the number of Germans, French, or Italians who travel there each year. So I think it will be the British clubs who do this first, who say the US knows a lot of off-the-field stuff, back office stuff, ranging from Moneyball to finance and fitness that we can learn from. That is a trend that is starting, an export going the other way that the US can be proud of, having that place in soccer where the US leads the field.
Given this book project, and I don’t know if you want to make predictions, but here in the US we have these national projects, one is called Project 2010, saying we will be able to win the world cup by 2010, which few people think we have a real chance of. So I’m wondering after crunching all this data, when will the US win the World Cup?
It’s very hard to put a date on a World Cup because the World Cup is a random walk. What you really need to be, where you really need to get is the last 16. And I think the US is at that level with a decent shot of making the last 16. And then you have to win four matches, and most of those matches will be decided by one goal. So if you are one of the stronger sides in the lat 16 you can sort of stumble your way to the World Cup and do it. Germany in 2002. Korea in 2002. Turkey 2002. Partly it is when the World Cup is not held in Europe. Most of the favorites immediately have a disadvantage, which will be the case in South Africa. It’s just possible. I’m not going to put any money on the US winning next year, but if it happened I wouldn’t be dumbstruck because of the randomness. Saudi Arabia is not going to win the World Cup. Or North Korea. But if you are a plausible contender as the US is, then you can do it. The trend will be for the US to get stronger and stronger, and it may never happen between now and 2050, but I think the likelihood is that it will happen between now and 2050, with an ascending trend for the US.
You mentioned here and in your book the randomness that comes into play with soccer, especially with playoff system as in the World Cup or Champions League. One of the reasons I love soccer is that lack of statistical glut that you see in baseball and American football. Did you worry as you wrote the book that the Moneyball aesthetic doesn’t fit soccer? That it is a game beyond the numbers? Or is my romantic dream destroyed?
Baseball has always produced more data, as has cricket. Soccer has historically produced very little data. And because the most important soccer games are decided by one goal, there is a greater randomness than there is in baseball. And because baseball seasons are 162 games–the Billy Beane idea that you can lose a game or two but throughout the season your rationale will tell out works slightly less well in soccer because the season is much shorter, and in cup competitions it works even less well. I certainly don’t think we found the stat that tells you how to win a soccer game. There is not that “on base percentage” that is trumpeted by Bill James (the mind behind the statistical theories of Moneyball) as being so crucial in assessing batters. It’s been quite hard with defenders or midfield players. I was talking to this guy at the English club I mentioned, and he said with defenders, do you look at how many tackles they made? Well Maldini never made a tackle. Was he a bad defender? Clearly not, so it is not that easy in soccer to find that exact stat that tells you everything. Wenger said—I presented at this sponsors evening with Wenger in Switzerland during Euro 2008—people really kill stats. If it were clearly about how many kilometers you run in a game than you would just pick Ethiopian marathon runners and win every game. However, it’s not just about the quality; it is about the quantity. If you are a central midfielder and running 12K a match, and the guy marking you has only run 10K, then that difference will probably manifest itself in the last 10-20 minutes of the game when the first guy tires. So it may mean you pop up three times in the opposition penalty area unmarked because he is not tailing you anymore. And if in those three times you get the ball, you have a very good chance of scoring unmarked from that position. So he says, quantity that we measure in stats absolutely is important. It’s not the whole story but it is part of the story that had not been looked at very much in soccer and needs to be looked at. So I’m not saying at all that we now have the data to unlock how to win a soccer game, but if you use the data your chances of winning will increase.
Even in that one data point, the one we always get on TV when a player is substituted—how much he runs. So one gut reaction is that whoever is running the most is working the hardest, covering the most field, tracking back on defense, pushing forward in attack. And that is the guy you want. But maybe all of that running just means he has poor ball skills or game management or mental intuition. Now you don’t want that guy.
Maybe, but if my central midfielder was only running 8 kilometers I’d have a good look at that. I wouldn’t immediately sell him, but I’d think about it—why is this guy running less than the others. Now maybe his positioning is so brilliant or his function within the team is so good that he doesn’t need to run, but maybe there is a problem there. I think you use the data as important pointers. I interviewed a guy at the Milan lab who said he found—and the guy in London said the same thing—that there is no correlation between how many kilometers your team runs and whether you win. But the guy in Milan said that there is a correlation between the high intensity running—the sprinting—and whether you win. If you do more high intensity running in a game, your team is more likely to win.
A good chunk of the book is devoted to managers or coaches. They obviously have the control to pull these statistical levers on the field. Coupled with your belief in the Western European coach, besides Guus Hiddink and Wenger, who are the other guys you feel support your claims?
England is experiencing it right now with Capello. You can think of England as part of Western Europe, but as I argue in the book there was significant isolation from about 1979-1993 if you want to be pedanticly exact about it. And with Eriksson and now with Capello there is this admission that, OK we don’t have the best soccer knowledge anymore and we are going to import it. Trapattoni in Ireland. One very prominent success was Rehhagel in Greece. Troussier in Japan. My point is you don’t have to have this sort of brilliant unique figure like Hiddink. I’m not sure that he is, but he is cast as such. As long as you have someone who is very familiar with best practice and very able to explain it in a new country, he will probably achieve an improvement. And as long as he’s given more than 9 months when he loses two games.
I’m constantly stuck on the topic of American soccer’s youth development, and wondering how that fits into this game of stats. You say in the book that judging an 18-year-old isn’t giving you the data you need to know what he will become. So what are federations and clubs to do about that issue besides leave that control to the eye of certain individuals, often these so-called brilliant figures? Beyond those few, and more than anything in soccer probably, that seems to be the biggest crap shoot. Where do we find players, where do we put them, how do we train them? The Barcelonas and Arsenals of the world being two of the examples everyone likes to rave about.
Yeah. Barcelona, Ajax, and Sao Paulo are the best in the world at producing quantities of world class youngsters. I think Arsenal buys them at a slightly older age. They seem to acquire these kids when they are 16 and on, but obviously Wenger has a brilliant eye for that. I think Wenger is really the only person who consistently identifies kids who later become any good. He seems to have a unique gift. For the rest of us, the great warning is Freddy Adu. You just can not pick that one guy at that age. The body changes, the personality changes so much between then and adulthood. The warning for clubs from our book and the Adu example is by all means you need to produce young players because it is a fairly cheap way to generate talent, but don’t bet on any one of them because the predictor of who is going to make it is so weak.
So if it’s the amount spent on one given asset, is the MLS model a better way to go? Will we see caps and revenue sharing ever in Europe?
It’s never going to happen. In the US there is much more central control and much more a history of everyone getting together and agreeing that it is good for us to be a part of the NFL; and our interests are served by being an obedient member. In Europe there is no tradition like that, and you have the additional complication with everything in Europe, with different countries and cultures. It’s very hard to enforce. If you set rules and then Real Madrid break them, are you not going to let them in the Champions League? It’s not going to happen. And the vast majority of clubs break rules on debt and salary spending. In fact, when the clubs got together to suggest a salary cap, they weaseled out at the last moment, the European Club Association. The clubs wouldn’t go for it. And salary caps as a percentage of revenue favors the big clubs too, because they have the biggest revenues. So I just think Platini—I see him as a preacher figure. You can admire it. He is a romantic. He’s calling for this 1950’s soccer when the sport was composed of local boys and no one got enormous salaries and the debts were to the local butcher and baker. Maybe that is a worthwhile vision, but it’s just not gonna happen. And the regulator is weak. UEFA is not the NFL. UEFA is weak, and I get the sense the NFL is very strong on governance.
This may be a question for Stefan, but this book really took me back to my college statistics class where I felt you could find a statistic to back up any piece of information you wanted. How did you avoid that pitfall with the statistics for the book?
There are controls. Stefan is the master of stats. He is the statistician and professor of economics. My role with those more technical questions was to translate the data for the common reader in a way that Stefan told me was accurate. So I would take something he had written academically and try to turn it into journalism. If I got it wrong, Stefan would tell me that, and I would rewrite it. Statisticians are obviously aware of this and spend a lot of time arguing about: does this prove anything? And usually when one presents a stat, trained statisticians will try to tell you why it doesn’t mean anything. They try to find confounding factors. Maybe you are measuring something else. Maybe the two variables you are correlating only correlate because of something else. And so Stefan being a professor of economics is used to all of that and used to searching for confounders and trying to make arguments stand up despite them. I mean you can produce stats based on no evidence, like we won yesterday and our players ran more K’s than their players, therefore running kilometers is the crucial factor in the win. Now, there is a problem of sample size, and correlation is not causation. Just because you ran a lot didn’t mean you won. One did not cause the other. So you are right, you can prove anything with stats but it doesn’t stand up in the world of professional economists and statisticians, and that is very much the world that we tried to inhabit but take away the complexity and jargon of the language in which it is usually delivered. To present it in the normal way was the challenge. But absolutely, if I had written this thing by myself there would be no reason to trust the stats. I’m just a journalist, but I wrote it with Stefan. And Stefan’s professional reputation in that sense is on the line, and like all academics he was very anxious that there be nothing in there other academics would read and say, oh that is rubbish. It wouldn’t matter too much to a journalist, but to an economics professor that is terrible. So he is very anxious to answer those points or critique that you made.
The book has been out for a while in Europe. What have people been coming to you with as their big surprise or what is thing that has generated the most controversy? It’s great fodder to argue over.
To me one slightly surprising thing that a lot of the debate has focused on, and I have participated in as well, is that in English soccer the manager is probably—most managers are irrelevant. We say this briefly in the book. Put a teddy bear on the bench it would have much the same impact. And because I have realized that media coverage of the game is so much about the manager. And partly because in US sport journalists go into the locker rooms after the game, and they speak to the players as well. So when the Chicago Bulls win and you speak to the players after the game, and there’ll be about 8 voices. So if a guy scored 20 points the journalist will speak to him, and he’ll give his own self-serving account about why he scored 20 points. And you have multiple focuses for explanation after a victory. But in English soccer the players typically say nothing. The manager comes out for a press conference and he says he won because I motivated my players. This guy was not performing and I got him performing. So a huge amount of the coverage is about the manager. And just because you see the manager on TV people start to think that the manager actually matters. In our book, what we say is that in English club soccer—it’s not like international soccer where you can import knowledge to a backward country. In English club soccer pretty much all the information is out there. Everybody pretty much has the same amounts of information. So no manager, not even Arsene Wenger anymore I would say, makes much difference. Hardly any man can make much difference. And that has been quite controversial. I’ve had people telling me that’s rubbish. And because Alex Ferguson is an exceptional man, which I think he is, must be an exceptional manager, which I think he is not. The trick for managers is that it is a marketing and PR role, and you are the head that rolls. You constantly have to market yourself to the media and the fans and sponsors and players, and as soon as you lose the support of those groups you go. Ferguson is an exceptional man and because of that he has managed to unite those groups behind him for 25 years. Which is an amazing feat.
It reminds me of the way presidential politics work, at least here in the States. You’re constantly campaigning, paying attention to the needs of those who could potentially get in the way of what you want to do or eventually just crush you. And there’s probably an argument that it doesn’t matter as much who the president is as much as all the people and pieces that surround him in the federal government.
Or the economic circumstances of his time or political circumstances. I think that is a very good analogy because the great talent in most presidents is in PR and marketing. And whether their policies work out or not is a separate matter. And as you say maybe in very large part beyond their control. Although I would say a president has more power to influence a situation than a soccer manager does.
But it is true. There is the analogy that you have all of these factors beyond your control and for example, at the end of the president’s tenure the US GDP will not be vastly different, it’s not going to fall into South African levels. And similarly if you are Manchester United, your club is not going to become Red Bull.
I’d be remiss not to ask a journalism question or two of you and you hit on one earlier, the idea of access to players. What has been your experience with that and do you wish that working in Europe you had more access. Would it matter?
I used to think that it was this amazing thing, that you could speak to a player and it would unlock the secrets of the universe, and I think a lot of journalists think that. They have these mixed zones after the game for the World Cup, and the players take part. Hundreds of journalists press up against the rail and try to get the players to say a few words, usually senseless garbage. I will say I think US players are better about giving good answers than English soccer players. But I came to realize I didn’t want to be part of that, and they don’t add anything. I remember the ballet critic in the Financial Times who was this octogenarian. He said, what do I care about what the ballet dancers said. It’s not my job to assess what they say. It’s my job to assess their performance. I thought that was a very good insight. I was on my exercise machine the other day, and I put on this podcast of BBC Sport after England and Scotland had played. And John Terry came on and said, yeah well I was very pleased with the victory and hopefully next week we’ll win again, etcetera. And then the Scotland manager came on, and he said, yeah you know they shouldn’t have given them a penalty. And I had to switch it off because it was such a horrible insult to my or anybody else’s intelligence to listen to this stuff. So although it is enjoyable and interesting to interview a player when he actually able to say stuff, mostly it’s just not worth the effort. And the effort involved is enormous to get to them. I just don’t want to waste my time on that.
I think it’s also not just access. For me it’s more about time. If you can get real time, days, a few days over the course of months. Real time off the field so that you can tell a story beyond any politically correct soccer quotes, then you have something I can work with. Because I can’t blame the cliché, they don’t want to get in trouble. And now they can go right to the fan through their own websites and Twitter accounts and marketing machines to deliver news quotes and factoids and other tidbits. All that leaves a writer is the chance to spend real time to get a story no one else has. How do you see that relationship between journalist and athlete shaking out as we move on?
As you say there are these layers of protection now, so the effort to get to the participates is just not worth it. What we tried to do with this book is take it in a different direction. Which is to say there has been really good soccer books written in the last 20 years. And so much has been written that it’s only worth writing a new book if you are going to take a new approach. And what we tried to do was say OK let’s line up all of the clichés that exist in soccer and have a go at them. Because I didn’t want to add to the vast libraries of books about this glorious player or that glorious club or this strange season. Even an investigation of a country’s soccer culture has been done very well by many people. I just didn’t want to do another book. I wanted to write a different book. And a book that took the way soccer is discussed and said it’s wrong, let’s discuss soccer in a different way.