Monday, February 01, 2010

Dear Cesc Fabregas

You can get with this:

Or you can get with that:

Hugs and kisses,
Pep Guardiola


Stephen said...

Yeah, so remember your "Barca doesn't equal The Yankees so I still don't feel like a complete hypocrite" post...


"Hey Mark Texiera... you can get with this or that..."

On a random note, my word verification word is "Braship." Awesome.

Stephen said...

I decided that maybe a response to your old arguments was warranted:

Full disclosure: I'm an Arsenal fan, hence the ire provoked by this post.

Your old arguments:

1) Barca youth system:

This might be a good argument in a vacuum or an expansion league. Unfortunately, footy is neither. Barca attracts the best possible youth talent because of their legacy and resources (and note the complimentarities between the two). Their prominence as one of the best of the best means that youth talent sign onto their system. They also have hoards more for scouting and for coaching these youth. Your characterization of the youth system as one in which the pure Barca goodness at identifying talent is what allows them to find gems, train them, and then have them perform at the top level. That is probably more rosy-glasses than reality.

2) Other European clubs spend a lot, too:

In debate terms, this is a purely defensive argument. It says "What Barca does isn't really that bad because other people do it, too." "Billy was smoking, too!" didn't work when my mom caught me with that pack of Reds in 4th grade either.

Also, this is a claim without a warrant. I'd have to see the numbers to believe whether or not spending across leagues was comparable.

3) Formation/Coaching:

Let's accept the premise that coaching someone into Barca's magical formation is the difference maker:

I don't understand why you think that the transfer market functions, yet the coaching market does not. I think the money-legacy feedback accounts for Barca's ability to attract better coaches.

I also simply think that the premise of this argument is false- I think coaching makes a pretty marginal difference in top level football. I really have yet to see evidence to the contrary.

You want to know what I think explains variation in football success at the top level: injuries.

I wish I could find it, but there was an awesome blog article on the power of injuries in predicting NFL success (football outsiders maybe?). I suspect that the same holds true in footy, although I bet it's even more pronounced because players play both sides of the ball, squads are smaller, and teams are more superstar reliant.

Once we both accept that we root for the evil empires, we can buy our Hull City kits and root for Dax McCarthy this summer when Michael Bradley gets injured. We'll lose and be sad, but damnit, we'll be supporting the downtrodden!

Michael said...

Mark Teixeira isn't the NY equivalent of a Catalan from the Barca farm system. Put another way, he isn't an extra from "Jersey Shore" who was signed away from the Yankees farm system, nor are his parents Yankee season ticket holders. The reason why Barca wants Cesc is because of his connections to the club and the region. This is not simply an act of economic domination.

Onto the line by line:

1. If Barca were signing players from all over the world for their youth system (like, say, Arsenal), then you might have an argument. That's not the case. Xavi, Puyol, Pique, Busquets, and Bojan are all Catalan. Iniesta is from Zaragoza. (Pedro I'm not sure about.) Messi is from Argentina, but Barca were the one club that saw past his growth disorder. The success of the farm system is not about spending more on scouting. It's about taking mostly local players and teaching them to play great football together.

Moreover, even if La Masia's success were down to spending on scouting and coaching, that is still preferable to parasite clubs that produce nothing from their youth teams. The former contribute to world football by developing players who are fun to watch. The latter prosper based on the good work of the former.

2. Look at revenues. Barca are big, but there are a number of clubs in the same ballpark. There are no teams in the Yankees' ballpark in terms of payroll or revenue. The only factor keeping check on the Yankees in baseball is the lottery that is the playoffs.

3. Barca's current coach is a former player who had no significant coaching experience before he got the job. His predecessor had little top level experience outside of a short time with the Dutch national team. It's not as if Barca have spent a ton on coaches. They've picked guys who understand the Cruyff way of playing that has defined the club for two decades. It's not as if they have hired mercenaries like Mourinho. In fact, Jose wanted to come and Laporta and Beguiristain were not interested in him.

By the way, the Saints were one of the least lucky teams this year in terms of injuries. The Colts were not very healthy, either. That said, I'll acknowledge that Barca have been fortunate in terms of their health for the past two seasons.

Stephen said...

Fair and well put points all around, however:

1) I'm not convinced on the Barca youth system's production of talent being a result of some magical formula that they and only they have discovered. Your list of examples from the last squad also constitute most of the list of "Barca youth product megastars" so I'm worried that that is a sample size issue. I think it's entirely possible that Barca have gotten really lucky with their admirable, recently maturing crop.

I agree with your "even if" synthesis on this argument. But your fallback point essentially says "At least we aren't Madrid or Chelski."

2) I'll table the numbers game because it doesn't look like either of us are into this debate enough to actually do the research. We'd need some figures on this to settle it. I don't really have any priors on how it would go, but I'd imagine that Barca/RM are equivalently far outliers as the Yankees.

As for "the playoff lottery," there is also the salary cap tax that affects the Yankees. They have to pay to go over the cap, whereas Barca faces no such constraint. Similarly, what is it that constrains Barca revenues? The structural advantages that keep top Euro clubs on top (like the Champions League) are tremendous advantages. Making it to the Champions League group stages produces revenues that would essentially pay the team payrolls of many a club for a year. Look at the articles on Liverpool's current debt situation- they almost always say something like "Aaaandd LFC might not make the CL next year, which would really screw them."

And the other Euro teams that are in Barca's ballpark do not affect their domestic structural advantages. It isn't like Man City's spending spree affects Barca's ability to win one more Copa round match, get the additional revenues, and then pour that money into being able to win more Copa matches next year.

3) I think I am losing on the specifics of this point, because I don't really know much about the history of coaches. However, I think I have a pretty strong broad point-- Either:

a) Coaches don't really matter (which I still believe to be the honest truth, although I will admit that coaches are kinda like "conspicuous consumption" where players say "Man, [club] just bought [high profile coach]. I've always wanted to play for [coach] so I'll go to [club].

b) They do matter and good clubs should be able to use money to attract the best ones.

I agree that Tex isn't as good of an example as I'd like. However, I think once you reach Tex's point on your income curve, I think your marginal value of money is pretty low compared to the marginal value of winning a championship. Even if Seville offered Cesc the same amount of money (and all else equal), he'd still prefer Barca because of their potential to win championships and because of the club's stature.

I have nothing against Barca. I love the "Mas que club" ethos and the shirt sponsor donations. I wash Puyol's hair before pissing on a flaming Ronaldo. I love that Barca prefer locally rooted players. That said, it takes a lot of buying into that stuff to think that the structural/self-perpetuating advantages of being a top club do not have a lot to do with their success.

Re Saints/Colts: Sample size.

On a more productive note, what do you think would constitute good evidence that coaches matter? We have "natural experiments" like crazy owners-- for instance, City's recent managerial turnover hasn't really resulted in an improvement of form. And variation in coaches there is also still really endogenous to their performance.

Know of any coaches who died unexpectedly?

I'll keep googling for the Am. football injuries article, but I'd imagine that similar things would hold if applied to footy. Although, I have some bias in that guess because of Arsenal's last two seasons.

Stephen said...

Found it!

Here's the NYT summary of the Football Outsider's report.