Stefan Szymanski on Simon Kuper and Himself On Money

Co-author of the book behind the article that was the subject of yesterday’s post, Stefan Szymanski, has very kindly taken the time to expand on the subject for those of us yet to receive our copies of his and Simon’s new book. He did so in the comments to the original post, but I felt they deserved a post to themselves:

In the book we don’t explain this is much detail, but I have explained the methodology elsewhere in print- in academic articles and in my now ancient book Winner and Losers: the business strategy of football. Essentially the data is taken from the accounts of football clubs and consists of the total wage spend. So this includes all employees. However, we can be fairly sure that most of the wages of a club are paid to the players. The salaries of players are largely determined contractually before the start of the season- the bonus elements are quite small, especially for the players that cost the big bucks. I even co-authored a paper once that tested whether causality ran from wages to position or from position to wages- the evidence suggested that it went from wages to position.

The point people are making about the 8% is fair enough, but remember the 8% is distributed across all clubs. For example, if every club except one got exactly waht it paid for, then the 8% would all go to one club, whose managers would clearly be geniuses. But in reality most clubs are little above or below the performance line, and so no one is doing much better or worse than expected. I have examined these relationships for English leagues between 1970 and 2007 (before that wages did not explain the variation in performance very well, because the variation in wages was quite small) and the only manager who ever really stood out for me was Brian Clough. I agree that Wenger and Ferguson are great managers, but I think their skill lies in persuading the money men to back them and their investments, rather than getting better results than the resources would justify.

The real sticking point is whether the successful managers are paid so much that their wages are explainign the variation in position. I just don’t think this is credible- managers are generally paid less than the stars, and it is their wages that make up for most of the variation in club wage spending.

Stefan ends by saying that “This might give you more ammunition to disagree, but I hope it clarifies what’s been done”. As I said in my own comments, I myself am not equipped with the kind of statistical knowledge to do more than express a comparatively unfounded opinion, but I know that those of you who do have a command of this area will find this additional information well worth having.

Many thanks again, Professor Szymanski.


8 responses to “Stefan Szymanski on Simon Kuper and Himself On Money

  1. John Terry's mum

    Am about a third of the way through their “why England lose”, which I am enjoying.

    As they invoked Moneyball in the intro I have been wondering why their book feels so much lighter and lacking of the awseome power than Moneyball had for me ( despite my total non-interest in baseball).

    I think the lack of personalities / personal stories leaves a bit of a hole. Part of MoneyBall’s brilliance is that I got a feeling of what it was to be around in the back offices and training grounds where these decisions were being made.

  2. I guess you can’t write a classic twice. That “feeling of what it was to be around in the back offices and training grounds” is something I haven’t had from a book since Hunter Davies’ “Glory Game.”

  3. John Terry's mum

    Thanks for that ref — have just ordered “glory Game” off Amazon.

    Yes maybe unfair to compare WEL to MoneyBall, but I feel that despite wall-to-wall media coverage, life inside a top club is still very mysterious and distant and I would love a book or documentary to depict it with the depth and precision moneyball had.

  4. That said, I’m currently reading ”Pommies” by Will Buckland which should make any English cricket fan cry. It isn’t the Moneyball of cricket but is the best explanation as to why we lose at cricket I’ve seen.

  5. Ah, now THAT is not mysterious. I remember a Radio 2 cricket broadcast from a Test against the Windies at the end of the ’80s. England were batting, and doing well, and I remember Geoff Boycott saying – “That’s the way to bat against the West Indies! Wallop them for four, and then smash them for six!”

    He was right. But will England ever listen? All that wisdom and experience, gone to waste. No wonder we lose.

  6. Some of the revelations in Pommies are astonishing.

    1) ECB not at all interested in the idea of taking over the Olympic Stadium after the games. It is an oval shaped stadium so isn’t great for football and would have increased capacity in the city massively meaning ticket prices could be cut (meaning more people could see the game). Stadium economics suggests that the more use a stadium has and the bigger it is, the cheaper seats get (if you can fill it). The fact the government had built it, had no legacy plans etc make this criminal. The ECB could have got it for a song and opened up cricket to a new market.

    2) Australia has 5 stadiums with capacities over 30,000. England has none. Less people in a more populated country can see the game here (and this is compounded by the fact that we can’t watch it for free anymore!)

    3) No England bowler has taken 250 Test Wickets since Botham. Australia have had Warne (708), McGrath (563), Lee (310), Gillespie (259). Their second choice spinner for most of the last ten years (Macgill) has 15 less than Harmison in 18 less games. Since Botham retired 16 other bowlers have reached 250. Not one of them has been English. Isn’t that odd? Why? Is it because of lack of talent? Burnout? Selection?

    4) Since 1877, Australia have fielded 398 players in Test Cricket. England have fielded 638 (correct as of 2008). For many, many years England have tested out too many players and only given them a short-run.

    5) When was the last-time England fielded a wrist-spinner of any note?

  7. This is staggeringly depressing stuff. In a way, it’s old-style keep-the-proles-out type management reminscent of 1890s Rugby Union. About a year ago, I pondered writing a satirical post that would put the failures of the English football team down to the Association game not attracting “enough men from our best families.” The plan was to use the 2005 Ashes winners as a counterpoint. But the Ashes winners turn out to have been state-educated almost to a man. Goodbye satirical post, hello much pondering on the relative states of cricket coaching in England – and the apparent end of public school advantage in favour of certain state schools and one or two of the better counties.

    Some – even a lot – of creative destruction is clearly called for in English cricket. (They can start by NOT dropping Bell or Bopara IMHO..) Incredible that the old County format lingers on, even in 2-division form. But is that even remotely likely?

  8. Pommies is a fantastic book, if more people inside cricket had read it, things might be better.

    He even analyses quite deeply the way English fast bowlers typically spend half their prime injured and makes some suggestions as to why this is… basically he hits the nub of the problem right there in the book.

    That’s more than half the answer to Rob Marrs point 3, injuries are the biggest reason we have so few big wicket takers, the other part being of course the criminal lack of infrastructure for nurturing spinners.