Capitalist Soccer and Socialist Football
by Sergei Boukhonine
by Sergei Boukhonine
and star quarterback Jack
Kemp once said that "…a distinction should be made that
football is democratic, capitalist, whereas soccer is a European
socialist sport," in a
June 19, 2006 column Kemp recanted (well, sort of). His new
view is that "…I love soccer, but it’s still boring. Oops,
there I go again." In actuality, I rather liked Kemp’s column.
It’s witty in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. But is there a kernel
of truth in his musings (both old and new)?
the economic issues first. Granted, Europe is generally more socialistic
than America, but it is not the case in professional team sports.
Here are just a few distinctions:
sharing and salary caps. Both are essentially wealth redistribution
programs aimed at guaranteeing similar outcomes. Imagine Toyota
and GM sharing revenues with Ford and Nissan! The latter example
would be unthinkable in most industries yet it is the norm in
football. On the other hand, there is no revenue sharing in European
soccer. The most profitable soccer teams in the world, such as
Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Milan, do not share revenues
with soccer minnows. Nor are there any salary or spending caps.
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea, a middle
of the road English soccer club, and proceeded to turn it into
a European powerhouse by spending prodigious amounts of money
on star players such as Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba of Ivory
Coast, Michael Ballack of Germany, and Andei Shevchenko of Ukraine.
Many in England complained bitterly and still do, but as long
as Mr. Abramovich has cash to spend no one can do anything to
Another program aimed at equalizing outcomes. In football, as
well as in other American team sports, weaker teams are subsidized
by allowing them to sign up the best young players at below market
prices. Think Vince Young, LeBron James, etc. There is no draft
in soccer. Any club is welcome to join in the bidding for any
player it wants and jack up the price – the sky is the limit.
Not so in American sports. Consider the following example: It
is reported that Cleveland is prepared to offer LeBron 75 million
dollars for five years, which is the maximum allowed amount. Just
imagine if there were no salary caps and any team could offer
LeBron any amount it saw fit. A hundred million, anyone? Two hundred
perhaps? Instead, the current system subsidizes team owners at
the players’ expense (yes, I know that LeBron plays basketball,
not football, but the system is similar).
Team owners in the NFL belong to a very exclusive, private club.
To gain entry, one must not only be very rich but get the members’
consent as well. It is much easier to become a team owner in soccer.
First, since there is no revenue sharing, small market teams cost
many times less than big market ones. Second, there is the promotion/relegation
mechanism. This is how it works. There is usually more than one
soccer league in any country (there are four in England). Every
year, a few top lower-league teams (usually two) are promoted
to a higher-league, while the same number of bottom higher-league
teams are relegated to the lower-league. Lower-league teams are
much, much cheaper than higher-league teams. One can buy a lower-league
team, hire a good coach, invest money and eventually see it promoted
to the top league. Since it is easier to become an owner of a
soccer team, there is more competition than in football – does
this sound socialist to you?
is a European sport. Soccer is not just European. The top
dog in soccer is Brazil. Soccer has been the sport of Latin America
for a long time. It is also the top sport in Africa. Ghana just
beat the Czech Republic and the U.S. at the 2006 World Cup in
Germany. The African dream nowadays is to become a star soccer
player, move to Europe and make a lot of money. Many fine African
players now star at top clubs in England, Spain, France, Italy,
and virtually everywhere else in Europe. Soccer is on the rise
in Asia and even the U.S. It is the only true world team sport.
is a democratic sport. First, there is much coaching in football
during games. Since offence and defense are played by different
players, coaches have many chances to direct the game. Soccer
is more fluid. Coaches have fewer chances to influence the game.
There is only one break and the game has no long pauses. Second,
a quarterback calls every offensive play in football. There is
no such top-down management in soccer.
is boring. I agree with Jack Kemp up to a point. Yes, soccer
is boring to a novice since it is indeed a slow and low-scoring
game. But, to an avid fan, there are many other things worth looking
at. On-the-ball skills, dribbling, deft passing, fearless tackling,
movement of players without the ball – a thousand little things.
Soccer is boring to many Americans for the simple reason – lack
of understanding of subtleties. If you invest time and effort
in figuring out these little things, soccer will amply reward
Boukhonine [send him mail]
is a native of Ukraine. After getting an MBA from the Rochester
Institute of Technology, he worked as a CFO in Moscow for seven
years. Currently, he is a PhD candidate at the University of Houston
in management information systems.
© 2006 LewRockwell.com