Market Failure? Football Edition

Jason Kottke links to a video analysis of Roger Federer's footwork, which I found interesting despite my otherwise complete lack of interest in tennis. Naturally, this made me think about football.*

If you don't follow the sport, you may be surprised to learn that David Beckham isn't actually that good a footballer. Writing in the context of the 2006 World Cup, Bryan Goff sums up his qualities (although maybe somewhat harshly):
Beckham's set piece and crossing abilities are legendary, scoring on two set plays during the [first three matches of the] World Cup (one counting as an own goal). On the other hand, during the run of play, he is deadweight on the right side of the field
Here's a somewhat repetitive compilation of Beckham free-kicks:

You get the idea.

Most of football is eminently complex, but set pieces are not because, well, the ball is resting and the situations we're talking about are fairly standardized. (The opposition players are always pretty exactly ten yards away from the ball.) If we were talking about 1950, I wouldn't be surprised if there were only a few specialists who are able to bend it like Beckham, but today you have video analysis and physicists who publish papers on Beckham's free-kicks**. What I'm trying to say is: It should be relatively easy to first analyse and then teach how to take free-kicks as well as, or almost as well as, Beckham. But it seems that, despite the high payoffs, this does not happen.

I say it's a market failure and chalk it up to the well-known relative lack of professionalism in football.

*". . . interesting . . . interest . . ." Yeah, I know, I just couldn't think of a proper substitute. "Absorbing"? No. "Juicy"? No. "Sapid"? No.

**This isn't the paper I was looking for, but it's close enough. I really don't feel like looking through all the 375 hits Google Scholar gives you when you search for
allintitle:Beckham. Most are along the lines of "David Beckham and the Changing Representations of British Masculinity" and you also get this world-class pun from the London School of Economics, once a reputable institution. I have a lot of time for puns, but this is taking things too far.


Steve Sailer said...

I don't know much about football, but Beckham strikes me as having the kind of skills that would make a good golfer, who have to learn to bend shots around trees and the like. It takes a huge amount of repetition to get really good at this. There are specialized driving ranges where golfers can practice for hours, but perhaps it's hard to find an empty football field to monopolize for your practice?

LemmusLemmus said...

You don't need a whole football field. You could go to the next park and set yourself the challenge to hit that branch of that tree - after bending it around that other tree in front of it (or some such thing).

But I was thinking more of the big football clubs, who spend millions a year on their youth teams. They could pick the most kids most talented in that area, make them practice free-kicks for an extra half hour each day after training and film them to see whether they should have bent their foot another 2.5 degrees to the right or whatever. A very simple thing to do (which I've never heard about) would be to paint the area of the ball your foot has to hit to produce a desired effect. If you start at age 10, you could realistically manage a thousand hours of practice by age 18. That should do for what is, after all, a very specialized practice.