Is England better than people think in football (soccer)?

I’m a sucker for counter intuitive arguments. The book Soccernomics makes several. Here are couple of my favorites.

The first argument addresses conventional wisdom that England hasn’t fared well in international competition of late because so many internationals play in the English Premier League, taking valuable development time away from England’s top players.

The same type of thinking is behind the MLS limiting international roster spots, with the idea of the  MLS becoming the garden to grow USMNT players.

Here are the authors of Soccernomics regarding England’s situation in their 2014 edition:

You could argue that English players account for “only” 32 percent of starting players in the Premier League. Or you could argue they account for a massive 32 percent of starting players, more than any other nationality in what is now the world’s toughest league.

Indeed, since the Premier League has become more international, England’s performances have improved. [As measured by percentage of times they reached the quarter finals of international tournaments].

I’ll be interested to see if that holds in their most recent edition.

That’s an interesting argument for the MLS to consider.

Pay-to-play in the U.S. vs. “Crowding out the middle class” in the England

Many blame ‘pay-to-play’ for limiting the talent pool in the U.S. to the softies in suburbia.

The authors of Soccernomics contend the reverse is true in England. England’s soccer culture is unwelcoming of middle class players, so many don’t bother. Many of England’s greats have come from the working class.

As England has become more prosperous, its middle class has grown and working class has shrunk. This cultural barrier has limited the talent pool to a shrinking part of the population.

Check your expectations

Another argument made in Soccernomics is that England’s expectations are too high. Anything short of World Cup champs is considered failure.

They lend some credence to this argument by regression. In other words, they controlled for some important factors, like population, experience on the world stage and resources.

They then rank the top countries based their performance after normalizing for these factors. England outperformed and ranked in the top 10.

That means England has something going for it. Likely, that’s the strength of England’s soccer culture compared to the rest of the world.

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Mini pitches in Iceland

A piece of info that I didn’t know about Iceland’s rise in the soccer world was the mini-pitches they installed at 111 elementary schools around the country.

From the Men in Blazers, I heard about the high number of UEFA licensed coaches and the large indoor football halls they built so they could play year-round.

I had not heard about the mini-pitches at schools until I read about it in the book, Soccernomics.

Mini-pitches at schools was also part of the German soccer revival.

Germany won the 2014 World Cup. Iceland, a country with the population the size of some U.S. suburbs, qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

In this post, I contrasted the typical U.S. soccer field with street soccer courts in Brazil (which are Brazil’s version of mini-pitches).