WC10 So Far – Buyers and Sellers

I won’t recap the plentiful sources who report the WC10 news and give play-by-play of the matches, the one I like best include, The NY Times, the Groniad, ESPN, and bigsoccer. And Soccer Power Index from the brilliant Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, the guy who brought us the victory of President Obama, poll by poll and state by state. If you ever want to know who is going to win a tight contest, this is the place to visit. It’s better than FIFA’s ranking system. The best schedule is from Spain. Gracias, Marca! The Google Football Gadget is the best way to find out what time the game is in your time zone. I don’t know if there is a link to it, but you can find it on iGoogle.

now to some opinion:

Eight groups have played six games each, 48 total.

Thirty-two teams came to South Africa, sixteen remain. Putting aside the ceremonial Third-place match, there are fifteen more matches to play and each one eliminates a team. What can we say about the tournament so far? I see three themes, the first of which is:

1. Buyers and Sellers: Books like Soccernomics detail how there is a huge trade in

In London, Togo (Adebayor) scores against US (McBride), Korea (Ki-Hyeon), Ireland (Hughes) and Finland (GK Niemi)

football players. Like a crop of coffee, clubs in the southern hemisphere grow footballers under their warm blue skies, harvest them via the process of scouting and signing youth players, and sell them profitably to the big leagues: the highest division in Italy (Serie A), England (Premier League), Spain (La liga) and Germany (Bundesliga). And as with produce, the product that isn’t “Grade A” is sold to inferior markets; for football that’s the second divisions or other countries like Turkey, Greece, Scotland, France and Portugal.

In this cup we are seeing a continuation of the trend where two different types of top footballing countries are having disparate results. The nations with the best leagues are struggling. The nations that furnish the players who play in the best leagues are thriving.

It used to be that the top clubs in the top leagues bought one or two foreign players to supplement their home-grown squad. Now, teams like Arsenal and Man. U have fielded complete sides without a single English player, as occurred in this match.

Are there any exceptions to this make or buy division? Well, Spain still makes their own. Barcelona, to be precise. When you watch Spain play you are basically seeing Barcelona without Messi, plus a couple from Real Madrid.

Clairefontaine, France was the famous example of a youth academy but you couldn’t tell from this year’s French team.

The NYT wrote about multiculturalism in the teams of Germany and France, how it’s working for the Germans and not for the French. Immigration is one way a “buying” country can have players from “selling” countries — Zidane is the best example that comes to mind. He could’ve played for Algeria but chose France instead.

This all comes together in a bizarre form of outsourcing, where football entertainment is provided by players from offshore countries who are brought in to perform for wealthy fans. Native-born players struggle to get a game at the highest level as clubs lose faith in the local boys.

Workers from Italy, Spain, and England celebrate.

Looking at it this way, is it still a surprise that France and Italy were embarrassments, England is sputtering, Spain performs while Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay are rocking it?

p.s. Great NYT article here on Europe’s descent.

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4 Responses to WC10 So Far – Buyers and Sellers

  1. Fran says:

    Interesting observation. In the same vein, we in the US probably worry too much about whether MLS will ever rise to the level of the EPL or La Lige. Maybe we should instead appreciate MLS’s value in identifying and developing young talent, and acknowledge that the national team (and players) will benefit even if MLS remains a stepping stone to a stint at “finishing school” abroad (Mr. Donovan notwithstanding, of course).

  2. jimsakeeper1 says:

    thanks Fran, I love it when people write a comment!

    I think everyone sees how Landon’s stint at Everton made him better, more confident. Some say he’ll go back there and not just as a temp job.

    It is unusual that the US, with its GNP and prosperity, doesn’t buy players from abroad. We sort of recycle the famous ones after they’re effectively finished (Beckham, Ljungberg, Henry, and in the past George Best, Pele and Beckenbauer) but there isn’t enough passion among the fans to create the amount of money required to buy the best.

    So our best players will continue to dream of signing in Europe. I’m thrilled that we have so many who can do it right now.

  3. Joanna says:

    Great post, Jim. I’m wanting to learn more about the cultural and economic relationships in this vein between Spain and Portugal as European football powers and the Latin American countries. When they were poorer, and sources of immigrant labor elsewhere, were Spain and Portugal “feeder countries” to richer European countries in football as well?
    I have another question: How much does height or size factor in as a competitive element, do you think? Watching Brazil play Chile today, there seemed to be moments when it did.

  4. jimsakeeper1 says:

    I think it was rare for a Spanish or Portuguese player to go abroad until the last ten years. Barca and Real Madrid had the best players and kept them. Athletico Bilbao and Real Sociedad had their “cantera” system where all their players were local Basques.

    The Iberian players did not stand out for quality in those days as much as they seem to now.

    Perhaps one of the changes that unlocked the market was the rise of the Spanish and Portuguese coach abroad. Benitez went to Liverpool, Mourinho to Chelsea and they signed players they knew at good prices. Torres, Arbeloa, Reina came to Liverpool. Chelsea saw Carvalho and Deco.

    As for size, it is a factor but so is quickness and they are usually inversely related. A typical team will have bigger defenders and GK, small midfielders and a mix up front. Messi is tiny, about 5’6″, as are many of his Spanish teammates. Maradona, Pele were no more than 5’8″ but the best defenders are over 6’0″ and 180 lbs.

    It’s kind of like asking which is a better car, a Mini Cooper or Minivan . . .

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