Book Review

‘Soccernomics’. Why football is bad business


It is that season again: it is the World Cup! Such a delightful indulgence for billions of soccer-loving fans all around the globe.

Devotees, like worshippers of a religion, all staring at the screens of their phones, tablets and television screens as projected by satellites from the grounds of Russia. Radio and online commentaries with galleries, upon galleries of professional photographs and fan art to enjoy.

In 2009, renowned Financial Times soccer writer Simon Kuper teamed up with University of Michigan sports professor Stefan Szymanski to publish the book “Soccernomics”, a collection of observations, reflections targeted at helping the reader understand the intricacies of one of the world’s most beloved games, as well as the business sense of why some teams are more successful than others.

Kuper and Symanski are both of the opinion that soccer is bad business. Never mind a recent CNBC report indicating “FIFA is expected to rake in about $6 billion in revenue from the 2018 World Cup, up 25 per cent from the previous tournament.” Although the statistics back the Soccernomics writers, they equally admit most soccer clubs focus on big wins, and not necessarily the financial bottom line.

The soccer club manager doesn’t matter, neither do the players, for like fruits and vegetables, they’re perishables. Most of the said managers are lacklustre. You think of your favourite football team’s manager as a good one, mostly because you’re invested. But why is there an improvement in performance after a new coach is appointed? Is it because of the transfers?


Football stars are in a sense overvalued sportsmen. They’re traded for fashion, not always for value or instinct. Few talented teens of today become tomorrow’s world class players. Why is this so? In 2013, FIFA data shows players aged between 20 and 22 were cheaper by 18 per cent compared to their 23-28 year-old colleagues. The higher the pay the better the performance, for example, Real Madrid’s Ronaldo. We all can agree he’s a fantastic footballer to watch in play.

Transfer spending and performance are analysed keenly in Soccernomics. There’s a direct relationship between wage bill and performance as seen in the 2017 analysis of England’s top two divisions from 2007—2016. Factors such as spending on wages accounts for a team’s success, as does the data collected by analysts, even though the data isn’t not always implemented.

Another disturbing observation in the book is richer countries are better sports players than their contemporaries from the poorer states.

Soccernomics will not just inspire you to knowledge of this popular sport, but also help you understand the behind-the-scenes operations of football clubs, national teams and its universality. Soccernomics is an apt read especially given its World Cup season. May the best team win!