Book thirteen: How to Score by Ken Bray

Haha! Another week, another book. I've now reached the halfway mark and I'm only two weeks behind schedule. You won't be surprised to learn that it was the World Cup that prompted me to read How to Score. Specifically, the book came up during a conversation about penalty shoot-outs and somebody quoted some statistics from Bray. But I'll get to that in a moment.

Bray is a theoretical physicist. If he works hard, he may one day be an actual physicist. I'll bet he never hears that joke.

Anyway, his passion for football has led him to specialise in sport science and this book is an overview of the ways in which scientific thinking has changed the beautiful game. Starting with the history of the game, Bray goes on to cover formations, set pieces, psychology and ball physics before concluding with a series of predictions.

The penalties section I mentioned above is a prime example. Bray covers some basic statistics - 28 per cent of the goal is unreachable for the keeper from a standing start, the striker's standing foot points in the direction of the shot 85 per cent of the time - before analysing England's 2004 penalty shoot-out against Portugal.

England lost the shoot-out 6-5, an altogether better showing than they managed against Portugal last month, but deeper analysis shows the true difference between the two sides. Of Portugal's seven penalties, one missed entirely and another was chipped straight down the middle. The remaining five, however, were all placed in the unsaveable zone.

For England there was also one complete miss and five shots that were well within the saveable zone. Two players, Michael Owen and Frank 'world-class midfielder' Lampard, put their shots straight down the middle and got away with it. Only one player put his shot in the unsaveable zone: Owen Hargreaves.

In the 2006 shoot-out, Hargreaves was the only England player to score his penalty.

Bray has advice that Steve McLaren would do well to heed:

One of the simplest playing statistics to determine is individual players' conversion rates in penalty kicks, a figure that should be known from careful assessment in training. The ball should always go to the current most successful player, injury not-withstanding, and not simply to the regular penalty-taker. Equally baffling is the fact that, with a shoot-out imminent, team coaches sometimes have to wander around cajoling players into taking penalties. What better indication of a player's mental state is there than reluctance to volunteer for a penalty? The remedy is practice under as realistic conditions as possible so that spot kicks become a repetition of a familiar skill and not an optimistic punt.

This book is not for everyone. Clearly you have to be interested in football to want to read this and it helps to have more than a passing interest in science. For football fans who do perservere however, there are numerous passages that will shed light on the modern game.