In the head, not on it

“Expected Goals” explains how data changed football

Data led to the rise of the “long-ball” game, then to its demise

Expected Goals. By Rory Smith. Mudlark; 304 pages; £20

THE MOST coveted figure in this summer’s European football-transfer window was neither a superstar player nor a feted coach. He was a data analyst. In just over a decade at Liverpool, Michael Edwards helped revitalise an underperforming giant of English football. When he left the club in May, a flurry of rivals tried unsuccessfully to sign him. His ascent is also the story of how football, long an anti-intellectual sport, finally realised that numbers could sharpen a competitive edge.

Mr Edwards was not the first to study English football through data. In the 1950s an accountant called Charles Reep began tallying passes, crosses and shots, annotating over 2,000…