By Robbie Butler
Robert Redmond had a thought-provoking piece in the Guardian last week which is certainly worth a read. The piece, entitled Why are there so few Irish players in the Premier League? attempts to explain the current dearth of Irish talent among the top clubs in England when compared to past generations.
The article states that this season less than 5% of registered EPL players are Irish. This is down from previous years. Various hypotheses are proposed for this drop. A lack of sufficiently qualified coaches, archaic tactics and shortsightedness of underage managers, the attraction of other sports, and the policies of the Football Association of Ireland are all suggested as possible causal factors in this decline.
I’d like to add two economic hypotheses.
A transaction cost is the cost borne by an individual when making an economic exchange and was introduced to the field by institutional economist John R. Commons. Part of this cost is the searching required to make an informed decision. Historically, football talent has been searched or ‘scouted’ by individuals employed by top clubs, who physically travelled around and watched players play. From the late 1800s until the early 1990s this model was relatively static. Acquiring information on players required an extensive network of people based in various locations. Due to a (un)happy accident of nature, Ireland is separated from Great Britain by less than 130km. As a consequence, acquiring information on Irish players has been historically much easier for English clubs because transaction costs are lower when compared to the rest of the world. In effect, Irish talent was competing against the best players across the United Kingdom.
Technological progress has changed this. The internet and the 'football television revolution' have virtually eliminated search costs. Now any player anywhere in the world can be watched by an English club. Signing a player from Ghana or Germany, South Korea or Spain is now possible for all top clubs. Information on players can be gathered quickly and cheaply. In effect, young Irish players are now competing against the best young players in the world.
Added to the highly competitive environment facing young Irish players, the labour market in Europe has changed dramatically over the course of the past two decades. Deeper integration of the European Union and the establishment of the ‘common market’ in 1994 have made is much easier for players to move. The Bosman Ruling further enhanced player mobility, and utterly changed the power-base between clubs and players.
Combined with the virtually elimination of search costs it is easy to see why there are less Irish players now playing for top clubs. They just don’t get the same opportunity that they used to get. This isn't the fault of domestic coaches, the GAA or IRFU, or the FAI. It’s simply down to the relentless march of technological progress and globalisation, of which Irish football has become another victim.
By Robbie Butler
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