Against Determinism

The premise: Roma disappoints. However, Roma isn't disappointing the past 15 months because the club has an inherent right to be great, but because there's so little return to its spending.

Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski conducted a study on English football between 1978 and 1997, their conclusion being that in 92 percent of the time, clubs' final league table position had correlations to the amount of money spent on wages; "The team that pays most, wins". There's nothing to suggest this has in any way diminished in the time passed since: with bigger tv-deals and bigger sponsorship deals, big teams in fact have more money to spend on wages.

That Roma isn't challenging for the scudetto isn't surprising: Inter pays more than double that of Roma in wages (150 million to 69). Roma's nowhere near Milan or Juve either (125m, 115m respectively). But as distanced as Roma is from the big 3, she is from the contenders to the fourth spot, the magic ticket to CL qualification: Fiorentina and Genoa land on 40 and 38 million respectively. That puts them at a level less than 60% of Roma's expenditures, yet Roma was surpassed by both teams last year.

However, I object to the determinism implied in Kuper's thesis, I find it too simplistic. It assumes that teams are perfectly rational in managing their expenses; that they make correct decisions on what to spend their money on. But here Roma may serve as a good example. We may note, for instance, that Roma pays Julio Baptista 3.5 million in wages. While it's arguable whether he's worth it or not, in this case I choose to focus not on his merits as a player, but on the fact that he's virtually useless to Roma. He scored a handful of goals last year, but is now nothing more than an option of the bench, and it's anybody's guess how he can stake a claim to start when everybody's fit--that's a rather remarkable waste of finite resources, as Baptista is the club's third biggest earner. The trio of Perrotta, Taddei and Tonetto make up 5.5 million of the wage bill every year, yet them no longer being in Roma's books would likely have little to no impact on Roma's success on the pitch.  (Many would argue that the impact of their disappearance would in fact be a net positive; I would be one of those people)

Those 5.5 million could, with savvy scouting and management, pay for the services of Samp's success stories Pazzini and Mannini, as well as Viola's Vargas and Chievo's Pellissier. Using La Gazzetta dello Sport, we see the sort of impact that could be potentially had for exactly the same money: Pazzini has 6 goals in 9 games, and his grade average is the eight best among forwards. Mannini, a right wing, has an incredible 5 goals and 2 assists in 8 games, and is the best midfielder in the league so far according to the paper (Taddei, also a right wing, is ranked precisely 101st among midfielders). Vargas has an identical average as Mannini, but has scored fewer goals. Pellissier (4 goals in 9) is ranked fourth among attackers.

There are more examples of this resource waste, and it helps explain why Roma are under performing in relation to what the expenses would suggest. Clinging to players several years removed from their zenith, being locked to contracts handed out when they may in fact have been worth the outlay, means trouble as soon as the performances naturally decline. In looking at expenditures, we can't assume teams are rational and correct in the choices they make.

Having the ability to take on a heavy wage bill is undoubtedly a huge advantage. That Roma pushed Inter right to the death less than 18 months ago is even more impressive in light of the differences in pay between the teams, but clearly not something that happens very often. So the point? The point of all of this is a rejection of the determinism that too often is made the narrative in football discourse these days. When considering full seasons, as the Roma example shows; but particularly in single games where the ball is round and anything can happen.

The day that these examples not fitting into the mold happen any longer, the day that is becomes fully possible to predict a season in August based on money alone is the day one's fandom should be seriously reconsidered. Thank Totti we're not that there yet.