Sunday, August 23, 2020

Soccer populism

 Are there any lessons to draw from soccer populism to political populism? By soccer populism, I mean making decisions to satisfy the short run pressure of fans to the detriment of the long run interests of the same fans, sometimes to the advantage of those making the decisions. Increased managerial turnover is one of the manifestations of soccer populism, but it is not the only one. Another one is rushed use of the transfer market when there is windfall money available from unexpected sales (the money from selling Figo, or the money from selling Neymar, using the history of my team as a case study). Managerial turnover is usually accompanied by massive use of the transfer market to satisfy the wishes of the new manager, once and again. Soccer populism is a massive phenomenon because fans have a lot of political power, sometimes directly or sometimes through media outlets that appeal to their instincts. One would expect that with empty stadiums, club officials may take decisions without the immediate pressure of fans, but it is too soon to tell, because traditional media and social media are far from deactivated when spectators are not allowed into the stadiums. The victory of Seville in the Europa League for the sixth time may provide some hope that a club managed in the long run interest of fans is not only a viable financial proposition, but also a successful formula on the pitch. Some experts say that the type of smart use of the transfer market mastered by clubs like Seville (the Oakland A's of soccer, for those who are familar witht the movie and book "Moneyball"), is not feasible in big clubs such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, precisely because of fan pressure. But the two Spanish giants this season have not made it into the semifinals of the Champions League, and have been falling behind other top European teams at least in the last two seasons. So they might as well try something new. Other teams in Europe, such as Liverpool, Bayern Munich or Leipzig, have followed a more scientific approach, from what I gather from dispersed and casual reading. Perhaps the top Spanish clubs could try a more consistent long run approach. In the case of Barça (my team) there is some consensus that the time has come to rejuvenate the roster. But how will this be done? One temptation is surely to keep those experienced players that are more popular in the media, and instead say good-bye to players that are less popular but perhaps have had a more honest career. Will the new manager (Ronald Koeman) be as tough in his decisions as when he was a player? Are there any lessons from this for politics? Probably the main lesson has to do with commitment. Managerial stability, long-run development of credible club cultures and styles (as Barça used to have) have analogies with credible policies. But of course these need to be explained to the electorate, and politically managed (sometimes making concessions), which means that good politicians and good political organizations are needed. Sometimes populist club leaders use their high profile in the sports industry to launch their political careers. Of course, some populist politicians try to use sport to their political advantage. Perhaps one lesson is that sports executives and officials should stay away from politics, and that politicians should stay away from sports. 

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