While it makes sense that richer countries would have better infrastructure and wealthier citizens with time to enjoy sports, that isn’t a clear indicator for success.
Baig notes that China is a cautionary tale about trying to buy soccer success.
“It’s not the quantity but the quality of investment,” he said.
Despite spending more than $600 million on soccer investment in 2016, the team of the world’s second-largest economy lost to Syria, a war-torn country with no home ground to host games.
The loss enraged Chinese fans so much that they took to the streets to protest.
Among the thirty-two final qualifying teams, half are from high-income countries and half are not. In fact, the variation in per capita income is stark. The richest is Denmark, which has a gross national income per capita of $56,990. That is almost 10 times that of the poorest, Senegal, at $5,950.
Furthermore, while professional soccer conjures up images of eye-watering transfer sums, such as Cristiano Ronaldo’s $117 million transfer to Juventus, the World Cup is comparatively a more modest affair.
According to FIFA, teams will win portions of the $400 million in total prize money, with $38 million for the winner.
Countries like Qatar and Bahrain have been known to invest in foreign athletes to boost their medal counts at the Olympics. But for soccer, FIFA requires the player to have lived in that country for at least five years.
That could explain why nearly half of the 82 foreign-born players in this World Cup were born in European countries with relatively high income per capita, but chose to play for comparatively less-wealthy African countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal.
While professional soccer may be about dollars and cents, the World Cup may just be a little more priceless.
Can money buy success at the World Cup?