Could a salary cap help European football to become less predictable?

After analyzing 26 years of European football matches, scientists have determined that matches have become more predictable over time and home ground advantage has waned.

Victor Martins Maimone and Taha Yasseri, Football becomes more predictable; Network analysis of 88,000 games in 11 major leagues

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Some of the sport’s biggest moments have been when an underdog comes out triumphant, like when the American hockey team beat the favorite, the Soviet Union, at the 1980 Winter Olympics.


AL MICHAELS: Do you believe in miracles? Yes.


KEN DRYDEN: Unbelievable.


Well we have some bad news for football fans today. New research from the Royal Society indicates that these underdog miracles could evaporate from European football leagues.

TAHA YASSERI: Something happened that made the leagues more predictable.

CORNISH: Taha Yasseri, from University College Dublin, is a social scientist in computer science.

YASSERI: I happen to be a soccer fan as well, so I realized that maybe I could use network science and network analysis methods to make predictions about soccer match results.

KELLY: So Yasseri built a computer model. He analyzed 26 years of matches in 11 major European football leagues. This represents almost 88,000 matches. And what he found was that the stronger teams beat their weaker rivals more often over the years.

YASSERI: This is exactly why football is so exciting because, you know, there is always an opportunity for individual teams to win. But then, unfortunately, investing money in sports and not regulating club wealth or income could take that away from fans.

CORNISH: He says money may be to blame for this trend, as financial inequalities between teams have also grown over time.

KELLY: Yasseri compares it to gentrification, but in sports. The best teams win more matches and amass more wealth, which allows them to buy even better players and win even more matches.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST # 1: The biggest story of the Premier League over the past two weeks is without a doubt the takeover of Newcastle United …

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST # 2: Lionel Messi, spoke publicly for the first time since signing for Paris Saint-Germain …

CORNISH: You see where this leads.

YASSERI: Basically chasing all the good players and getting super strong. And I think as a football fan it’s really hard for me to accept.

LUIS MIGUEL ECHEGARAY: An independent regulator in each big league would be of massive help, as he can put in place rules that prohibit certain things, like overspending for players.

CORNISH: This is Luis Miguel Echegaray, CBS football analyst. He says the leveling of the economic playing field in European football could bring back more of those magical moments, like in 2016, when a team that started the season with odds of 5,000-1 against them won the title. Premier League.

ECHEGARAY: I mean, that’s why Leicester City was such a Cinderella story, because, you know, that’s usually not what happens.

KELLY: And what sports fans wouldn’t want more Cinderella moments? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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