The value of a World Cup goal
As James Rodriguez’s volleyed shot flew past Fernando Muslera in the Uruguay goal four years ago, the football world instinctively knew he had earned a move to one of Europe’s superclubs. Barely three weeks later, James was unveiled as a Real Madrid player, for a cost of €76m before his first pay cheque.
We all know what a World Cup can do for reputations. But are those reputations earned? Muslera got fingertips on the shot – but what if he had been half a foot deeper and completed the save? Would James have still secured the move? More importantly – would that have changed how good a player James was, and how valuable he could be to a team like Real Madrid?
We believe not – but the transfer market often does. As a result, we often see grossly inflated values on players who perform well in tournaments like the World Cup. Our research suggests that while each additional league goal adds about 3% to a player’s value, each additional World Cup goal has historically added about 15% to a player’s value. World Cup goals are often scored against weaker opponents and in totally different contexts to those in the league, yet command five times the value.
It wouldn’t be surprising, for example, to see Denis Cheryshev or Artem Dzyuba be sold this summer for fees way beyond what we would normally expect for 27 or 29 year olds playing at their respective levels in domestic football. While their World Cup performances to date have been impressive, should this really outweigh a body of evidence from league form?
This analysis needn’t be confined to the World Cup either. It’s easy to be swung by a small number of performances at any level. Perhaps we overvalue a player because he played well against our own team? Or that he scored a wondergoal in an important and televised match?
Sometimes finding undervalued talent is about avoiding overvalued talent. Whether it’s the World Cup or any other game we happen to be watching, it’s important to ask whether the change in price from a performance is really reflected in a change in value to our team.