When England lose

After England’s World Cup débacle it seems a good moment to be reading Why England Lose, by the journalist Simon Kuper and economist Stefan Szymanski. It turns out that there are only three factors which explain international footballing success:

  • Size of population
  • National income
  • Experience of playing internationals

In general, England have outperformed those factors, a bit; but in terms of overall results there’s no quick way of changing the odds. (Population and national income changes slowly; international experience increases, but so does that of other countries). Well, almost no quick way; it seems it is possible to amplify experience by hiring in know-how, which is why there is a thriving international market in coaches with experience of managing sides in the Champions’ League.

That at least, was the theory of England’s hiring foreign coaches in the last decade. The book – which seems to have been updated for its recent paperback publiction – is  enthusiastic about Capello’s record, but at least offers the caveat that his England defeats have come against ‘big teams’; England has always managed to do well against the ‘minnows’.

So perhaps ‘know-how’ needs to be understood more broadly, and here the wider differences in expertise between England and its bigger competitors was noted this week by Paul Hayward:

Spain, the European champions, have 750 Grade A Uefa-trained coaches, compared to under 150 in England. All those English tutors instruct fully-grown men while in Spain 640 of the 750 teach five-year-olds and up. A Spanish cultural revolution 15 years ago has transformed the national team.

Can England win it again? It turns out that home advantage is worth ⅔ of goal per game, which is why South Korea reached the semi-finals in 2002, Sweden reached the final of the World Cup in 1958 and and six countries – Uruguay, Italy, England, West Germany and Argentina and France – have won the competition at home, in eighteen World Cups.

I took the picture at the top of the post. It’s is published here under a Creative Commons licence.


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