An excellent article in today's Financial Times (subscription required)
examines the degree to which the football labour market is truly global, yet its product market is mainly domestically-oriented. Although the article did not do so, I believe it could have gone on to examine whether this may help to explain why the England team tends to flatter to deceive.
Visa requirements aside, football skills are extremely mobile. There are not many high-paying jobs in the world where one can excel in a foreign country without in theory speaking a word of the local language for example. And like any efficient labour market, the best 'workers' migrate to the countries where their skills will be best paid for. In the case of the football industry, this particularly includes England, Spain, and Italy, and to a lesser extent France, Portugal, Germany and Holland. Champions League runners-up Arsenal may be based in Islington and be followed almost entirely by English fans, but their team is truly global. According to the article, the accounting firm Deloitte
calculated that just £28m was paid in transfer fees by the Premiership clubs to their lower league counterparts, compared to fully £500m paid net to foreign clubs.
In theory, this flow of talent into the English game should have reinforced the Premiership's reputation as the 'greatest League in the world,' and yet at the start of next season just four teams will have any realistic chance of claiming the title. Some of the best players in the world do indeed play in England, they just all end up at the same subset of clubs. The situation is no rosier in Spain or Italy: since 1945, Real Madrid have won La Liga 27 times and Barcelona 17 times, whilst Juventus have won Serie A 22 times and AC Milan 14 times. The article even compares this lack of competitiveness with the National Football League (NFL) here in the US which uses paycaps and income redistribution to ensure a more even playing field.
It is not surprising therefore that the G14 clubs want to extend the Champions League even further to 48 clubs. Surprisingly maybe most domestic fans don't concur with this view - it is easier to procure a ticket for Chelsea or Man Utd if the opposition is Benfica rather than Bolton. However the big clubs are looking further afield than their locally-based fans - it is not inconceivable that in less than a generation, admission prices may be zero in order to ensure a full house and an exciting atmosphere for the billions watching on TV in Asia and beyond. And of course those fans would rather watch the best European (and even global) clubs go head-to-head every weekend than worry about petty local rivalries in a country they might never visit.
it is pretty clear who will be the biggest losers if these trends continue: medium-sized clubs like Charlton, and perhaps somewhat paradoxically the national sides of the countries that host the most lucrative Leagues (or more pertinently, clubs). Watching England's sluggish and uninspiring performance against Paraguay was worrying enough, but the more dynamic performances from their key rivals (notably Holland and Czech Republic) added to my view that the St George's flag-waving masses are all prone to 'positive outcome bias'
(the tendency to overestimate the probability of good things happening).
If you are an English footballer good enough to play for your national side, then it is highly likely that you will be able to earn an extremely comfortable living playing regularly for a Premiership club (unless of course your name is Theo Walcott). Hence unless you had a particular inclination to explore foreign living, it is clearly more attractive to the typical intellectually-challenged English footballer to keep their bling at home. It is notable that just three of England's squad have had any experience of playing abroad at any time
(and one of those is Owen Hargreaves). Meanwhile hot favourites Brazil have just three players who don't
ply their trade abroad.
Playing abroad must surely improve you as a person and a footballer. It exposes you to different styles of play and different training techniques, whilst forcing you to mature and blend into a foreign lifestyle. This has to be a benefit when playing in the World Cup. I wonder if the over-paid, but underperforming Italian and Spanish homebirds suffer from the same malaise?
Likewise, I am concerned that the country's belief that we are genuine second favourites for the tournament stems less from an impartial appraisal of our team's qualities, but more from an overestimation of our key players based upon the world class (and foreign) teammates they play alongside each week in the affluent Premiership.
I personally believe we only have two genuinely world-class players (Rooney and Gerrard), and just a handful of very good ones around them. Unfortunately the the whole is not made greater than the sum-of-the-parts because of Sven's lack of 'value added'. I don't mean to pick on Frank Lampard or Joe Cole because they are capable players, but would we be feting them as potential members of a World Cup-winning midfield if they weren't playing alongside the likes of the outstanding Robben, the tenacious Makelele or the energetic Essien?
Perhaps in light of the mobile labour force, we can't have a high-quality League and
a successful national side? It's just fortunate that I at least don't care too much about the latter.