The authors present plenty of statistical evidence that two-footedness earns players a premium. There are various estimates of the premium but the authors go with 18.6% in their summary. They also evidence of a premium for left-footedness – although the size of this premium varies with the way they perform their statistical analysis. They find the size of the left-footedness premium is greater with the European data set. Their explanation relates to scarcity. They argue that there are a greater proportion of left-footed players in Germany and, therefore, there is less of a premium. Bryson, Frick and Simmons also find that the premium for players depends on the position they play. Forwards have the largest premium, followed by midfielders, with defenders having the lowest premium.
One of the benefits of this type of research is that it provides statistical support (or not) for the beliefs of sports people. Most of the above findings are not likely to be controversial. This does not make them any less valuable. However, when statistical evidence supports what most people believe then it tends not to spark much debate. Therefore, it is worth looking at one part of the results that might spark a little controversy. It relates to the premium for being an international soccer player.
As a base for comparison the authors use Spanish players who are not internationals. This is their base category. All categories of international players are compared with this group. The authors find that there is a premium for an international player compared to these domestic Spanish players. If we consider these premiums as a measure of ability then what internationals should get the higher premiums? Considering the distribution of FIFA World Cups and UEFA European championships over the last 15 years then internationals from France, Italy, and Spain might be expected to command larger premiums. The results show that the largest premium goes to England internationals (157%). German internationals receive a premium of 114% while French and Italian internationals receive premiums of around 60%. South American internationals receive a premium of less than 50%.
Are these “international” results measures of ability or are they picking up something else? It is difficult to say. They seem a little strange given the performance of the respective international sides.