In football, the market for goalkeepers is exclusive. Recruiters tend not to invest equivalent transfer fees on goalkeepers relative to other positions and goalkeepers are also paid less than outfield players. But a relatively undisputed view is that first-rate goalkeepers are critical to team success - it seems paradoxical that fewer financial resources are dedicated to the position.
With colleagues internationally, we have begun to consider these issues and last week published a new paper on ‘Salary determination in professional football: empirical evidence from goalkeepers’ in the European Sport Management Quarterly.
In this paper, we test the determinants of goalkeeper pay and discuss if football clubs effectively separate goalkeeper performances from outfield players. Goalkeepers after all should be evaluated on their own performance, not on that of those around them.
We use a new goalkeeper salary dataset from Capology and match this with basic and advanced performance measures produced by Statsbomb.
What do we find? Clubs use primitive defensive statistics to determine goalkeeper pay. Counter-intuitively, we fail to find evidence that goalkeepers who save more shots get paid more and goalkeepers are not remunerated for their direct defensive contributions. Team outcomes rather than goalkeeper performance seems to be critical to their pay, despite the presence of advanced stats that allow goalkeepers ability to be individually appraised such as post shot expected goals.
Maybe the most interesting result is the importance of goalkeeper’s passing success for salary determination. The labour market rewards goalkeepers who are better than others at contributing to their team’s offensive moves – modern goalkeepers are now the first line of attack!