The 2014 soccer world cup opens in Brazil this coming Thursday with the bookies’ favorite (the home team) playing Croatia. Argentina is currently tipped to be the other finalist, with Germany and Spain (the defending champion) trailing these two by considerable margins.
In a paper just published in a German sociology journal, and (save the abstract) unfortunately in German, Gerhards, Mutz, & Wagner explore how marketization and globalization have changed professional soccer and the composition of teams. The authors conjecture that success of soccer teams in their national leagues is essentially determined by their market values. (Market value of teams was computed as average of the market values of all players on the roster at the beginning of a season.)
The authors control for inequality within the team, the cultural diversity of the team, and the degree of turnover among team members which have been proposed as important determinants in other studies (and for other sports). Curiously, the authors do not control for the market value of the coach(ing staff). Klopp will not be amused.
Drawing on the top twelve European soccer leagues (according to the UEFA- ranking 2012: England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France, Russia, Netherlands, Ukraine, Greece, Turkey, and Belgium) and using data for the 2012/2013 season, the authors find that the key predictor of a team’s success is indeed the market value: In eight of the twelve leagues the team with the highest market value finished as national champion. In three leagues it was the team with the second-highest value and the remaining team started the season with the third highest market value.
This simple heuristic (which, however, required considerable data sleuthing by research assistants) also worked well for the European qualifiers to the 2014 world cup in Brazil. With the exception of Russia (whose market value was second to Portugal) all winning teams in the qualifiers (Belgium, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, England, and Spain) were also the ones with the highest market value.
Inequality within the team, the cultural diversity of the team, and the degree of turnover among team members essentially don’t matter.
In short, money shoots the goals.
The findings entail a testable hypothesis for the upcoming soccer world championships. Given my background, I like the prediction for the configuration of the final (Spain vs. Germany) but not the prediction for the outcome.
Fortunately, I can think of many cases where the team with the higher market value has lost to the team with the lower market value 😉 So, there …