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An in-depth examination of the rise of analytics in soccer and the wild experiments unfolding around the world in the beautiful game from ESPN staff writer and Infinite Football podcast host Ryan O’Hanlon.
Net Gains: Inside the Beautiful Game’s Analytics Revolution takes readers on a tour across the world and throughout soccer history, introducing the many people who have attempted to shine a light onto and innovate a sport that, in many ways, is still stuck in the Dark Ages. This deep dive into the rise of analytics in soccer—a sport where tradition reigns supreme—shows how revolutionary tactics and underexplored metrics are breaking the beautiful game wide open.
By exploring how massive institutions built on billions of dollars can function for so long without any kind of introspection—and what happens when people from the outside attempt to question the status quo—author Ryan O’Hanlon shows how time and again experts, managers, coaches, players, and fans feel they know the best approach for any given team or player, and yet get undermined by the complexity of the game—and human behavior.
To tell this globe-trekking story, O’Hanlon takes readers inside the front offices and analytics departments of the top professional leagues’ most cutting-edge clubs and profiles a misfit cast of number-crunchers, behavioral economists, tech insiders, and managers all working to move beyond the philosophical side of soccer and uncover the hard truths behind possession, goals, and developing talent.
“Ryan O’Hanlon pulls off a remarkable trick in Net Gains: he writes about the evolution of soccer in a way that somehow feels both romantic without being blind and analytical without being cold.” —#1 New York Times bestselling author Shea Serrano
About the Author
Ryan O’Hanlon is a staff writer at ESPN. His writing has appeared in FiveThirtyEight, the New York Times, and GQ, among other publications. He lives in Los Angeles, California.
"Ryan O'Hanlon pulls off a remarkable trick in Net Gains: he writes about the evolution of soccer in a way that somehow feels both romantic without being blind and analytical without being cold. It's exactly what I was hoping for from a structure standpoint, and even better than I was hoping for from an execution standpoint. I already can't wait for his next book." — Shea Serrano, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"In his terrific book, Ryan O'Hanlon pulls off a genuine feat: describing the latest ideas, approaches, and purveyors of soccer data analysis in a way that appeals to both wonks and everyday fans. I follow these topics with regularity, and I learned a heap of new things about the sport we love." — Grant Wahl, CBS Sports soccer analyst and author of Masters of Modern Soccer
''An extremely well-written look at football's statistical development in recent years, with some intriguing predictions for the future of the sport." — Michael Cox, The Athletic UK
"O'Hanlon offers a thorough history of soccer analytics, managing to paint compelling pictures of the characters who drive the field while at the same time explaining often complicated or counterintuitive concepts in a way that is accessible and entertaining. This makes the book hugely readable even for someone with no prior knowledge of analytics or even the sport. At its heart, it's about ingenuity and thinking creatively about data to better understand what our eyes and brains tell us. O'Hanlon understands this and skillfully illustrates how we got to where we are. His broad knowledge dips into other sports as well, recognizing the common ground while, at the same time, doing a fine job of explaining just why the random, organized chaos of soccer make it so unique and, in many ways, so hard to chronicle from a data/analytics perspective. All this written in a breezy-but intelligent-way that make this a very rewarding book." — Gabriele Marcotti, Senior Writer, ESPN FC