Friday, June 27, 2008

The Economics of Soccer: Euro 2008

Perhaps it is a stretch to try and justify the amount of time I have spent (late at night with my DVR after shielding myself from news reports all day) watching Euro 2008 matches by trying to do an economic analysis. But here goes.

It has been a great tournament, and I think what it has represented is a pretty dramatic change for the usually stultifying international tournament fare. Why this is, in my opinion is the lack of risk-aversion that usually dominates strategies in such tournaments. There is obviously a reason for this - it is usually quites successful. But many teams at Euro 2008 were relatively young and inexperienced either due to the overall pool of players or due to some untimely injuries. I think the fact that inexperience means you can't play the strict, organized defense necessary to pull off the risk-averse strategy, liberated the tournament from such teams. In any event, young attacking teams like the Netherlands, Turkey, Russia were a delight to watch. Even the Germans, who are usually masters of such a strategy, realized a couple of years ago that they could no longer rely on defense and have opened up. Italy still got very far employing such a strategy, but ultimately fell to a superior Spanish side.

The surprise of the tournament, and until yesterday the Cinderella story, was the young Russian team who (after a terrible opening performance against Spain) seemed to throw caution to the wind, play open, inventive attacking soccer and were rewarded by some marvelous results. None more so than the brilliant display against the Dutch who were deservedly beaten. They were a revelation and a delight - and given their age should be a force at the next World Cup.

The Dutch themselves were open, inventive, shockingly fast and beautiful to watch in the group stage (where the pressure is diminished), but seemed to wilt under the pressure of the knock-out stages and seemed lost and rudderless against the Russians who ran circles around them.

The aforementioned German team have been over-achievers in my opinion. Typically well-organized (insert your own Teutonic quip here), the German team have been able to be attacking without throwing caution to the wind. The semi-final game against Turkey, where three goals were scored in the dying moments of the game to thrice alter the fortunes of the two teams, was the game of the tournament. [Unfortunately, most of the world could not watch the events live as lightening knocked out the international feed] Philipp Lahm's final seconds goal (a beauty - above) , atoned for a Turkish goal, minutes earlier that was the result of a Lahm blunder. This is why this is the beautiful game!

I am feeling pretty smug now, as my Spain prediction is looking very good at the moment. Thanks mostly, in my unbiased opinion, to ARSENAL midfield magician Cesc Fabregas who came in for an injured David Villa and changed the entire game. Will he get a well-deserved start in the final game? He should.

So what we have on tap Sunday's final is a neutral's delight: a young German team playing more open and attacking football, but still keeping amazingly well-organized versus a Spanish team that in renowned for folding under pressure yet who delight in picking teams apart with intricate and inventive passing - in the highest pressure situation of most of these player's lives. Should be a great game. I am sticking with my prediction: Spain 2 - Germany 1.

1 comment:

Jeff Alworth said...

Your insight into European soccer is now established.

Q: how would Spain do against the originators of the beautiful game?

Q2: Is there an analogue here with respect to markets? I was thinking of how businesses that establish themselves generally do it through innovation. But then as they grow, they slide into a German-soccer-like defensive crouch. Microsoft's early raison d'etra was to beat staid IBM, but eventually, Microsoft became IBM. Apple, which went from innovation to stasis, could only survive by becoming innovative again.