Economic Theory explained by Football – Complexity and Chaos Theory

Most economic theory is modelled on the laws of motion developed in the 17th century under the ideology that for every action there is an outcome.  The recent TV deal agreed by the Premier League is a great example of this.  The action? Sky and BT paying an eye-watering £5.14 billion for the rights to show live football.  The outcome? An increase in subscription costs to fund this investment, resulting in more fans turning to illegal, free web streams.  The action? Putting out a weakened team in the FA Cup? The outcome? A humiliating thrashing. The action? A player is sent off. The outcome? Team now plays against one less man, giving them a numerical advantage.

If the footballing world does indeed always behave like this then why do we find it so hard to correctly predict what will happen in games when certain actions occur? Austrian economist and avid SC Weiner Neustadt fan Friedrich Hayek believed that economics and football were far too complex to model in this way, building on the work of his nemesis, the big Zulte Waragem fan Ilya Prigogine who had declared at half-time in the derby versus FC Kortrijk in 2001 that predictable, regular actions by players does not necessarily lead to a predictable result for the team.  Whilst you can shoot every time you get the ball, there is no guarantee that you will win, or even score he mused over his half time pie.

14898233309_615b6cc306_zThe reason for all this hot air is described in the famous Butterfly Effect, coined by Tampa Bay Rowdies season ticket holder Edward Lorenz back in 1960.  He suggested that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could lead to a cyclone in Texas.  His theory into chaos often comes from the chain reaction of tiny effects weren’t observed as people think from his study of meteorology, but from watching his side in the NASL and how a bad back pass had resulted in a goal against the run of play and ultimately costing the Rowdies a win and the league title.  That in turn led to the sacking of their manager, who went on to manage local rivals, Fort Lauderdale, to the NASL title – all of which can be traced back to one back pass. Thirty years later we saw the theory in action again in Rotterdam when Ronald Koeman pulled down David Platt in a game between Netherlands and England. Koeman should have been sent off. He wasn’t and he then went and scored a decisive goal at the other end that ended England’s hopes of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup and thus Graham Taylor lost his job. Oh, and the phrase “Do I not like that”.

Football is unpredictable.  The same team, playing in the same formation against the same opposition two games in a row will perform differently due to external factors such as the pitch, the weather and the referee.  That’s what makes the game so beautifully unpredictable and complex.  And that, ladies and gentlemen is the basis of the theory of Complexity and Chaos.

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