For my course on the Economics of Sports at the Bader Int'l Study Centre (Herstmonceux Castle), my students are reading Why England Lose by Kuper and Szymanski. As part of the programme here, every course has at least one field trip. For this course, our first field trip last night was to the Eastbourne Football Club to watch England play Algeria in a World Cup football/soccer match. It was a great, boisterous atmosphere, but still sufficiently safe that I felt okay taking the students there. Four years ago when I was here, I went to some pretty rowdy pubs to watch World Cup matches, places I would rather not go with students.
One of the assertions of the K&S book is the "geographic rule": teams from western Europe dominate, especially in the early rounds of international play. While that conclusion has been borne out on average so far, the recent defeats of France by Mexico and of Germany by Serbia do not support the conclusion. The students have taken great delight in pointing out these exceptions.
Further some (albeit weak) empirical results from the book conclude that teams with more international experience and from larger countries with higher GDP per capita will tend to score more goals. And of course the students pointed out that Slovenia's tie with (and near defeat of) the US, and Algeria's tie with England last night are not consistent with those empirical results.
England play again on Wednesday at 3pm our time against Slovenia, the only team in Group C to have won a match. What a co-incidence.... that just happens to be when our sports economics course meets on Wednesday. But because the castle admins won't open the castle pub to show the match, we may have to re-schedule the class for that evening and may a trek up to the local village for yet another field trip....
Interesting.... this book is not available in the US.
Addenda: Two points I forgot to include in the original posting:
- Kuper and Szymanski had cautious optimism about the team's performance under coach Capello. However, they also pointed out that the team still struggle against strong opposition.
- My answer to Why England Lose: they just aren't good enough. It's not a lack of heart or drive or spirit. And it is not necessarily the money they make in the EPL; after all other countries have many players who earn big bucks in major football leagues. If money were the explanation, we should be able to find a negative correlation between the goal differentials and teams' players' professional salaries. I do not have the data to examine this possibility, but it might yield interesting results.
On the field during the World Cup, England just don't look any better than the teams with whom they have drawn so far.