Saturday, November 9, 2013

FC Barcelona should sell Leo Messi NOW

OK, a more precise statement should be that it probably would maximize the long run probabilities of FC Barcelona winning games and titles to sell Leo Messi as soon as possible, but that I acknowledge that this will probably not happen and that broader lessons can be extracted from it. I am a Barça fan and an admirer of Messi, but professional sports’ players have an age profile such that they peak at some point between 25 and 30 years old and after this peak their performance decline (Messi will be 27 this season). Strikers that base their quality on speed, decline on average earlier than other players. That does not mean that after their peak they decline abruptly, but it may also happen. If you have an asset that is still highly valued by potential  buyers although it is about to decline in performance, the asset should be sold, because with the resources you could buy new assets that help you win more in the future: better scouts, new players, new facilities for the youth teams. That is more so if in your team you have another player that is going to be one of the best in the world in the next few years. In the player transfer market, like in auctions or takeovers, the selling parties usually have more bargaining power, and buyers in soccer tend to overpay for strikers. I would not wait to sell Messi after the next World Cup, which is played in Brasil, and the likelihood that Messi and Argentina will fulfill their exaggerated expectations is low. Most probably, Messi will lose value during the World Cup, even if he does not get injured again during it or just before it. Messi has won four times the Ballon d’Or, and has been free of injuries for four or five seasons. That will hardly happen again. Of course, all this is a prediction, and events may prove me wrong, but I try to stick to the rules of expert Nate Silver in making predictions: combine data, past experiences and informed intuitions. Also, it may happen that he is sold but that FC Barcelona runs into other problems (like not sacking other players that have their mind more in the gossip magazines than on the pitch) and stops winning for other reasons. However, FC Barcelona probably will not sell him, because of the confluence of the endowment effect and populism. Due to the endowment effect, a well-known bias in behavioral economics, economic agents overestimate the value of assets they possess relative to the same assets when they do not possess them. Populism is pervasive in modern soccer especially in large markets like Barcelona, where two sports newspapers and an army of talk shows and media journalists compete to keep lots of voting and influencing fans excited. In the direct democracy of the best European clubs, the short run passions of fans have more power than their long run interests (these not being to maximize profits, but the probabilities of winning in the future). Fans should be protected from their short run selves: that is the broader lesson.

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