Times are hard, we are told. Even in the supposedly inflation-free world of football. Liverpool is for sale, Manchester United has huge debts, Portsmouth hover close to bankruptcy. But none of this seems to apply to Manchester City. This is a club that has just signed Yaya Touré on a wage of, it is said, £221,000 a week. I'll just repeat that. 221,000. Pounds. A. Week. Or £11m in wages every year. Clearly this is not enough for Touré, because there is more.
Much more. He apparently gets £823,000 as a bonus if Manchester City qualify for the Champions League, and £412,000 if they win it, plus £1.65m annually for his "image rights". Oh, and City also paid Barcelona £24m.
Now, Touré is quite a good player. Not bad. He is 27-years-old and he has played 94 times for Barcelona in three seasons, scoring a grand total of four goals in that time. Last season he was not even a first-team regular. He only started 13 games for the Catalan club. Before that, he played, for a bit, for some other clubs – not great clubs, minor clubs. But he is now, officially, the highest-paid player in the Premier League.
During the global financial crisis, quite rightly, a lot of people got very angry about the amount of money earned by bankers. There was a moral outcry. People were up in arms. The government threatened to step in. But it seems that football lives in a kind of alternative world, cut off from the realities of society, cuts in public services, banking meltdown and belt-tightening.
In football, the sky is the limit. When Bryan Robson became the first £1,000-a-week footballer in 1981, there was outrage in the land. I remember fans singing "what a waste of money" at Robson during games. Now, nobody even notices.
There are two possible reactions to the news of Touré's contract. One is simply to shrug your shoulders and say: "That's how the market works." The other is disbelief. An average player on £221,000 a week! Football has clearly gone mad, and nobody is doing anything to stop this madness.
Football has no wage cap, unlike the wealthiest sports in the US. Clubs can pay what they like, buy who they like, sell who they like. In Italy they have a name for this. Financial doping. But Touré's wages also pose a moral dilemma for all of us. How can such excess ever be justified in the name of football? Should we not feel ashamed to even watch football next season, as schools and hospitals close down and students are denied university places?
Yet there is very little we can do about this madness. Even if every fan in the UK were to tear up their season tickets, or stop watching Sky, it wouldn't make any difference to Manchester City's finances, which are totally unconnected with the sport, or its supporters. Football is a global phenomenon, where the game itself counts for little or nothing. The Premier League's bloated stars have almost all been flops at the World Cup, but their wages will remain at their current, absurd levels. Football, as it once was, is dead, but the show goes on, and on.
Some professional European football players are earning jaw-dropping salaries while other athletes on the same football pitch earn much less. This may lead many football fans, wondering if these athletes are worth such high paychecks. For example, FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi earns some hundreds of thousands more than other players.
In a recent study published in the International Journal of Computer Science in Sport, computer scientists Lara Yaldo and Lior Shamir from Lawrence Technological University in Michigan used machine learning and data science to analyze the salaries of 6,082 professional European football players. The salary of each player during the 2016-2017 season was compared to a comprehensive set of 55 attributes that reflect each player's skillset. These attributes include measurements related to performance (such as scoring and passing accuracy), behavior (such as aggression and vision), and abilities (such as speed, acceleration, and ball control). The salaries and 55 attributes were combined into a single computational model that allowed the researchers to compute the salary of each player based on his skills, in comparison to the skills of all other players in the same field position.
The model showed that based on skills alone, Lionel Messi should be the world's highest paid football player, followed by Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Neymar, David De Gea, and Mesut Oezil. However, the model estimated Messi's salary at about €235,000, less than half his actual weekly wage. That gap made Messi the world's most overpaid football player in comparison to his colleagues. Following Messi in the list of most overpaid players in 2016-2017 are Angel Di Maria, Robin Van Persie, Ivan Rakitic, and Nicolas Otamendi.
The study notes that the model is based on skills and performance on the field, and does not consider many other financial aspects affecting players' salaries such as broadcasting rights and merchandise sales. These aspects can dramatically motivate teams to compete for the services of star players, thus compensating them more generously.
The same computational model also showed that some players were fundamentally underpaid. Leading the list is Bernardo Silva, with over €100,000 difference between the salary computed by the model and his actual wage in Monaco during the season, before signing a new contract with Manchester City. Following Silva as most underpaid players during the 2016-2017 season are Harry Kane, Granit Xhaka, Timo Horn, and Paco Alcacer.
Observing the skills of the 100 most overpaid and underpaid players showed that underpaid players are superior to overpaid players in their agility, acceleration, speed, balance, and their ability to track the position of the other players. On the other hand, the only advantage of the overpaid players compared to the underpaid players was their strength, showing that stronger players tend to be overpaid in comparison to their skills.
The study also showed that different leagues appreciate different skills. For instance, the time required for the player to respond to an event has a strong correlation with the salary in all major European leagues, but penalties and vision are more respected in the Bundesliga, and the preferred foot is a matter of higher concern in England and France compared to other leagues. Players with superior finishing and volleys abilities are more appreciated in the Spanish La Liga, and the ability to perform a sliding tackle will generally lead to a higher salary in the Italian Serie A.
In all leagues, the model had a strong link between the skills and salaries, showing that in most cases better skills lead to higher compensation to the athlete. The only exception was the Ekstraklasa (the first football division in Poland), in which the link between skills and salary is significantly weaker, and the highest impact on the salary is in fact the team in which the footballer plays.
While the "superstar effect" of highly paid players bring in the fans and contributes to the financial success of the team, increasing salary inequality is shown to have a negative effect on players' performances. The research suggests that if an objective quantitative method is used as a baseline and players know that the key for determining salaries is equal for everyone, it may have an impact on their performance. These methods may also help simplify the negotiation process and determine a uniform salary scale.
Materials provided by Lawrence Technological University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
- L. Yaldo, L. Shamir. Computational Estimation of Football Player Wages. International Journal of Computer Science in Sport, 2017; 16 (1) DOI: 10.1515/ijcss-2017-0002
Cite This Page:
Lawrence Technological University. "Are the world's highest paid football players overpaid? Big data says yes: Computational model shows Lionel Messi is the world's most overpaid football player." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 July 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170731095413.htm>.
Lawrence Technological University. (2017, July 31). Are the world's highest paid football players overpaid? Big data says yes: Computational model shows Lionel Messi is the world's most overpaid football player. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 13, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170731095413.htm
Lawrence Technological University. "Are the world's highest paid football players overpaid? Big data says yes: Computational model shows Lionel Messi is the world's most overpaid football player." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170731095413.htm (accessed March 13, 2018).