The Lead

As relatively recently-gentrified English football flirts with a variety of related fields in the ever-widening academic discourse—sociology, statistical science, and economics—experts from various academic disciplines who take the first plunge into the sport tend to earn a disproportionate amount of public favour.

I can think of no better example than Stefan Szymanksi, who joined up with Simon Kuper to write Soccernomics, a book that looks at how economics and statistics skews some our commonly held assumptions about how football works exactly. Szymanksi is no newcomer to football economics; his interest in the field stretches back to 1989. As his biography states at the Soccernomics Agency website, “He has also acted as consultant to sport governing bodies and national governments, and has appeared in court as an expert witness on the economics of sport.” People take his opinion seriously, and why not? It’s one of the only visible opinions on the subject.

It’s therefore a bit intimidating to challenge the professor’s pervailing views on the economics of football, not least on his assertion as relayed in the Times of London that the break-even provision of Financial Fair Play will restrict competition, rather than enhance it.

Szymanksi and others have long argued that FFP is a chimera, a fruitless denial of the economic truth that clubs which spend the most on players compete for the most trophies. To which any red-blooded football fan would simply say, “duh.” This is the stick often used to beat Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, and Simon Kuper wielded it last Friday in the Financial Times. Kuper writes:

Some think a prince is now riding in to prove Wenger’s conservative strategy right after all: “financial fair play”, as Uefa’s new policy is called. It essentially requires European clubs to stop spending more money than they have. The Premier League is considering similar rules for England. The European FFP “rules” are full of loopholes and, even when they take full effect in 2018, may not require clubs to break even but FFP does already seem to be limiting clubs’ spending slightly. Spending on transfers by Premier League clubs dropped 23 per cent from 2011 to 2012 to £550m, says Deloitte.

But it is unlikely that FFP will transform football. More probably, says Szymanski, clubs and Uefa will both give a bit. Uefa’s main concern will be to stop penniless clubs becoming insolvent. Clubs with sugar daddies, such as Chelsea and Manchester City, who face less risk, may be cut more slack. In any case, some clubs are already finding ways around FFP. City have signed a 10-year deal believed to be worth £350m with Etihad Airways for stadium naming rights and shirt sponsorship – a flabbergasting sum.

This will provide more intellectual fuel for Alisher Usmanov, who continues to make overtures to outright ownership of the club, and a future spending spree to put Arsenal back on par with their English rivals. Usmanov and aggrieved Arsenal supporters will no doubt look to Szymanksi to back up their claims that Wenger’s austerity is destroying Arsenal.

Meanwhile, the break-even license requirements in the Bundesliga, or the rise of Spurs who’ve hovered at or near the break-even mark for the last couple of seasons, go unreported—or at least under-analysed. Nor is the notion that break-even requirements may lower over-all transfer prices, or lead to a reinvestment of profits into better scouting techniques or academy sides.

Yes, breaking into the elite under FFP may become more difficult, but not impossible. But the core idea here is that Szymanksi’s seemingly a priori belief that spending precedes all in the trophy race may not necessarily apply in a post-FFP universe.


Why Dwayne de Rosario won’t quit the national team.


West Brom reject modified QPR bid for Odemwingie.

Oldham’s manager safe for now, after beating Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Everton has agreed to sing Dutch midfielder Leroy Fer.


Roma’s sporting director ponders sacking Zeman.

“As far as we are concerned I think he is still a Manchester City player. I don’t think there is anything going to happen.” -Platt on Balotelli transfer rumours.

La Liga

Messi surpasses 200 goals in La Liga.

Negotiations over Kaka continue.


Sammer says he won’t tolerate egos at Bayern.

Hannover’s Pocognoli banned for three matches.

Bit and Bobs

Drogba in talks with Turkish side Galatasaray.

Fans of Israeli side Beitar protest the addition of Muslim players.

A UAE team completes 18 consecutive passes before scoring a goal.

Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.