A brilliant new book lays bare the idiocies of the beautiful gameby David Goldblatt / September 30, 2009 / Leave a comment
Why England Lose and Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained By Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski (Harper Collins, £15.99)
“Anyone who spends any time inside football soon discovers that just as oil is part of the oil business, stupidity is part of the football business.” Well, football may not spend billions of pounds actively seeking out stupidity, piping, refining and selling it, but as Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski demonstrate over and over again in Why England Lose, it is certainly swimming in the stuff.
For starters, take the case of the striker Nicolas Anelka, whom Real Madrid purchased from Arsenal for £22.3m. Multinational companies, like football clubs, spend a great deal of time locating and then transferring key personnel to foreign postings. When they do, they also spend a great deal of time and money making that reallocation as easy as possible: finding their staff housing, schools for their kids, and providing a variety of services to acclimatise them to new cultures and ways of working—on the grounds, not unreasonably, that they want them to focus on their job.
When you are moving young, often poorly educated, shy and emotionally fragile, inexperienced, young men who happen to play football very well, you might think this a useful model; not as an act of kindness or generosity, lord forbid, but because it makes economic sense. This of course is not the case in football. Anelka was left to rot at Real Madrid: for all the money thrown at him, when he arrived they failed to give him a locker, any assistance with housing, let alone any formal introductions to the team he was to be working with. Unsurprisingly, his performance at Real was disappointing. Didier Drogba spent months in a hotel looking for somewhere to live after training with Chelsea: one wonders how much faster he would have assumed his current form if his move, five years ago, had been better managed. The list goes on. In fact, the situation is so bad that Nike, a real business, employs minders to look after its transferred football stars, well aware that left to the clubs their brand ambassadors are likely to suffer a calamitous decline in form and thus value.
Economic rationality is just not football’s strong suit, and nor is emotional intelligence. As Kuper and Syzmanski demonstrate, the transfer market is full of obvious irrationalities. For example, scouts over-report blonde players—who…