Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The 2014 World Cup

Economic success

Is it conceivable that the characteristics which affect the success or under-achievement of national economies could be reflected in the performance their national football teams?

Could it be that the real reason that Germany won the World Cup was that the philosophy that has thrust the country as the powerhouse economy of Europe has been adapted to the benefit of its world-beating football team?

The odds, before the first ball was even kicked, would have scorned such a proposition.  The fact is that no European team has ever won the World Cup anywhere in the Americas.

European conquistadors

If any team were to achieve such an unlikely feat, then the principal candidate would surely have to be Spain.   
Spain, after all, qualified for these finals as reigning champions of the world.  Not content with one title, they sandwiched the global accolade between victories in the European championship on the two last occasions, a unique treble.   
And as if to emphasise Spanish dominance, two teams from Madrid had contested the recent final of Europe’s club teams, the Champions League.

If there were to be a rival European invader who might lift the global title, that could be the hosts’ own fatherland country, Portugal.  After all, their captain is the multiple-award-winning star and 2014 world player of the year, Christiano Ronaldo.

One of the many shocks of this year’s competition, however, was that the two European countries with the closest cultural and linguistic connections with South America were eliminated in the preliminary round.  
What made the Iberian nations’ failure incomprehensible was their record of proven success coupled with the galactic renown of key players.

Before long, however, it became apparent that the countries with the world’s cash-richest leagues would fare badly in this competition.  
England, Italy and Spain were knocked out because of poor results in the first round of competition. 

Consequent questions arise about the management and business models of their domestic leagues, normally held up to be the best in the world.

Business model in Europe

The norm is that success breeds success.  Because of their star quality, these three leagues attract huge revenues from television and other endorsements.   
Their top clubs pay enormous transfer fees and pay extraordinary wages to attract what are considered to be the best footballers from all over the world.   
These teams tend to be owned by large business interests, often from abroad.

In England, prescient fans express disquiet about the prospect of their beloved clubs being saddled with foreign corporate debt.   
Many are unhappy about having to pay high prices for supporters’ essentials like season tickets and club jerseys.   
In the light of England’s early departure from the tournament in Brazil, their long-suffering fans are feeling increasingly indignant at what they refer to as “forty-eight years of hurt.”

Will these hapless football fans start to ask searching questions such as: - 

·        Has the extravagance of the salary structure in the modestly entitled Premier League reduced the motivation of players to perform for their country?

·        Do huge pay cheques motivate these international players perform better?

·         Is the influx of foreign stars reducing the opportunities for up and coming local talent to emerge in the country’s domestic league?

·         Whereas England at least qualified for the finals in Brazil, could this crowding out in the Premier League also explain the continued failure of players from Scotland, Wales and the two Irish teams to compete on the biggest stage?
Prior to the establishment of the Premier League, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish players were more prominent in the top flight of English league football.  Nowadays, it would be unusual for Northern Ireland to field more than 3 Premier League players in an international match. 

·         Is the cost of hosting a glamorous, entertaining and world-leading domestic league worth it if it is proven to be to the detriment of the national teams of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?

·         Could this model of free market economics be harming football in its birthplace?

The World Cup’s top three highest paid coaches – Fabio Capello (Russia), Roy Hodgson (England) and Cesari Prandelli (Italy) –.all failed to reach the knock-out stage.   
In contrast, the lowest paid Miguel Herrera took unfancied Mexico through to the knock-out stages[1].

The German approach

Compare and contrast all of these issues with the German philosophy.   
The economics and management of football in Germany are implemented on a bottom-up approach, a community ethos.  
Clubs are controlled by fans.  Important decisions have to be made by their members to be carried by a majority of at least 50% plus one of supporters.

Rapacious greed seems to be eschewed.  There is a commitment to having plentiful cheap tickets.  Club Presidents are accountable to the members and can be voted out by them.

Germany’s domestic league, the Bundesliga, appears to be less awash with foreign investment.  
Bayern Munich is the country’s richest and most successful club.  Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkeusen are exceptional being owned by Volkswagen and the chemicals corporation Bayer (both German companies).  But no club is foreign-owned[2].

The Bundesliga attracts foreign talent, but not on a scale with that of Spain Italy or England.  German players, for the most part, play in Germany.  
In 2012, 60% of the Bundesliga’s players were German; in the Premier League the equivalent figure for English players was 39%.  Season tickets in Germany are affordable and families are essential to their support.

All in all, the German business model appears to regulate the forces of the free market.  
And it does so in a way which results in less grasping greed, coupled with a recipe for international success.

What happened at Cardiff City in the season just past could not happen in Germany.  Promoted to the top flight after a 50 year absence and backed by new Malaysian financial muscle, initial joy and optimism eroded.   
The new owners irritated fans by sacking the club’s popular manager and even changed the club’s colours from blue to red.  
The end of season result - relegation from the Premier League.

Host nation humbled

The major shock of the 2014 World Cup was the failure of the host nation Brazil to enthral us as they have done in the past.  
A series of uninspiring performances culminated in the embarrassing and record-breaking 7-1 defeat in the semi-final by Germany, followed by the 3-1 defeat in the losers’ play-off match to the Netherlands. 

What makes the Brazilian downfall sadder is the realisation that the sporting cliché about form being temporary and class being permanent might not even apply.

Brazil of old never used to play the style of football witnessed in this tournament.  
It was never their style to play petulantly, falling over with grossly exaggerated effect when tackled, feigning and exaggerating injury.  
Football authorities have an offence termed “bringing the game into disrepute.”  Maybe they could do more to control fakery.   
The paying public are alienated by this type of behaviour, as exemplified by the Italy Uruguay match.  It is the antithesis of sport and sportsmanship.

Brazil’s top players are purchased by the European leagues’ richest clubs.  
Perhaps that is where they have learned bad habits.  
Perhaps that is also where standardised coaching methods have helped them to unlearn and abandon their natural footballing skills.   

Speaking after their elimination the great Brazilian wizard Jairzinho, a member of the 1970 winning team, blamed the country’s decline on the exodus abroad.

There were ominous signals of national unease in the run-up to the finals.  Demonstrators protested loudly and clearly about the scale of expenditure being made, estimated to have been £6.5 billion.   

A month before the tournament began a newspaper headline[3] – Let them eat football - summed up the country’s debate about poverty at the expense of football.

Paulo Ito's mural of a hungry child being served a football (reproduced from G2 Guardian 10 06 2014)

Economists refer to Brazil as one of the developing world’s emerging growth nations, the so-called BRIC countries - Brazil Russia India and China – as potential rivals to the G7.   

Writing about the acronym he coined in 2001, its author reports that plans have been announced[4] to establish a new BRIC development bank.   
He adds, significantly, that all four economies are now much bigger than he forecast thirteen years ago.

Action points

It seems ironic to witness Brazil’s continuing rise as an economic power coinciding with its decline as a footballing power.

In which case, could there actually be merit in politely suggesting that Brazil (and perhaps others) might consider Germany’s community-based business model – if only to keep its public on-side?

Is the free market serving “the beautiful game” satisfactorily?  What do you think?

©Michael McSorley 2014

[1] Observer David Hills 13 July 2014 “The Final Verdict”
[2] Observer David Conn 2 December 2012 “German model bangs the drum for club country and the people’s game”
[3] Guardian 10 June 2014 Jonathan Jones “Win Lose or Draw”
[4] Daily Telegraph Jim O’Neill 26 July 2014 “The Brics have a $100b bank. Can the West start taking them seriously now?”

1 comment:

  1. This article (link below) in the Observer 24 August 2014 by author David Goldblatt - "Football is the peoples game and it's time we tackled its excesses" reflects more expertly what my blog above is saying, namely that issues like greed and debt are affecting the performance of national teams.