Kuper and Szymanski believe that economics and soccer are correlated. For example, as Turkey’s population mushroomed and its economy grew, the national team kept getting better. In the 2002 World Cup Turkey placed third. The country had not even played in a World Cup since 1954. The authors believe that a country’s success in soccer correlates strongly with three variables: its population, its income per ca and its experience in soccer. For Turkey as for many other emerging countries, all three variables have been improving for a long time. The authors think that Turkey went from being a pathetic soccer team to one of the best in Europe at the same time as it grew from a midsize European State into the continent’s third most populous nation. While Turkey’s population grows, most European countries are losing people.
As Turkey’s economy began to boom, it began using some of its new money to import soccer knowledge. In the early chapters of the book, the authors measure a country’s soccer experience by how many matches its national team has played. However there is a shortcut to gaining experience: Import it. This process began for Turkey in June 1984, when West Germany got knocked out of the European Championship. The Germans sacked their coach, Jupp Derwall. That year he joined Galatasaray and began to import the continental European style of soccer into Turkey.
Derwall and other German coaches, as well as the Englishman Gordon Milne at Beşiktaş, got Turkish players actually working. They also introduced the concept of passing. Before Derwall’s arrival, the average Turkish player had been a tiny, selfish dribbler. Derwall shipped German-born Turks to join Galatasaray. The German Turks were bigger than Turkish Turks thanks to a better diet, and they trained like Germans.
In short, the authors write, globalization saved Turkish soccer. There is only one way to play good soccer -- the global and hybrid way. You combine Italian defending with the German work ethic and Dutch passing into a European style. In soccer, culture doesn’t matter much. Former French President Giscard d’Estaing said Turkey had a different culture, different approach, a different way of life than European countries. But this didn’t stop Turks in soccer, in the economy and in international politics in the last decade. When they have an incentive to change -- like the prospect of winning more soccer matches, or perhaps the prospect of getting richer -- people can change.
Turkey was one of the first countries brave enough to change its traditional soccer culture. Most countries on the fringes of Europe had dysfunctional local playing styles. One on the southern fringe -- Greece -- favored pointless dribbling, while the British and Scandinavians played kick and rush. In 2002, Greece gave up on the Greek style and imported a vast chunk of experience in the person of an aging German manager, Otto Rehhagel. In Euro 2004 in Portugal, Rehhagel said, “Man needs nothing more than other people.” He was underlining the importance of collective effort. In fact, Greece had made the same journey as Turkey: from dribblers to boring European soccer thanks to German coaching.
It looks like the soccer game is a very good indicator of one country’s performance and capability to adapt in a globalized world. The rich get richer and poor get poorer. But if one country can find the way to get richer, in the meantime they can get better in soccer.