EMRE DELİVELİ >Economists can’t forecast (football)

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Ihad no idea European football (that’s soccer for you Yanks) championship kickoffwas today (Friday) until I read themorning papers before starting with this column. 

Honestly,I couldn’t care less: My belovedBeşiktaş would have won itsfirst basketball championship since 1975, a few months before I was born,if it had beat Anadolu Efes in the fifth game of the playoff series,which was an hour after the inauguration game between Greece and co-hostPoland. 

Inthe new edition of their widely-popular book Soccernomics,journalist Simon Kuper and sports economist Stefan Szymanski argue that match-fixingdecreases the public’s interest in football as well as match attendance. Somaybe I am simply responding to the rigging scandal that has shocked Turkishfootball- except that Ihave yet to see solid evidence on “şike”. 

Besides,givenBeşiktaş’s woes, I am more interested in the European crisis than footballthese days, but arecent report by ABN Amro has linked the two. According to the bank,victory by one of the core Eurozone countries would increase confidence in themonetary union, whereas the triumph of “one of the euro opt-outs” (Denmark, Swedenand England) “would only encourage the euroskeptics”. Since France is arguablythe riskiest core country, its victory would be ideal.

Giventhe reluctance of European officials to step in, the beautiful game may indeedbe our last hope. However, it is also worth mentioning that the last twoEuropean champions were Spain (2008), where banksare bankrupt, and Greece (2004), where thewhole country is bankrupt. Then, maybe no Eurozone country should be tooeager to take home the trophy. Or if the direction of causality is the opposite,Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are all good championship candidates. 

Amongthese, Spain looks best-poised: A research note by UniCredit argues that themost valuable team has the best chance of winning the championship. Spainsimply blows away the competition on this measure: The 23 players on its squadhave a combined worth of €650 million, more than 40 percent more than Germany’s,the next more valuable squad.

Spain’sbudget minister Cristóbal Montoro recentlyremarked that the country is shut off from credit markets, but bettingmarkets are on the country’s side: Spain’s odds of winning at online bookie bet365 are at 3.75, trailedclosely by Germany’s at 4, with Holland and France far behind. Interestinglyenough, the same odds were 3.5 and 4.5 two weeks ago, implying that markets arenow expecting a closer competition. 

Onthe other hand, ABN Amro argues that the German team is younger and hungrierfor glory, compared to an aging Spanish squad that may have reached its“saturation point”. By looking at the recent form of all the teams as well,they pick Germany. In fact, all the research reports I have seen are predictinga German or Spanish victory. 

Butthis game is beautiful precisely because it is unpredictable. Who would haveforeseen the Greek win, not to mention the 1992 Danish shocker? Or thecredit crunch for that matter? Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if thetournament demonstrates, once again, that economists can’t forecast.


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