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Do the England squad need better incentives?


11:20 am - June 17th 2010

by Paul Sagar    


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One has to feel a bit sorry for North Korea’s football squad. Despite a spirited performance against Brazil yesterday on Tuesday, and managing to go in 0-0 at half time, they lost 2-1.

By any normal standards it was a remarkable result for a squad in which only 3 members play overseas.

Indeed cheer might be taken from the fact that the 0-0 draw between Portugal and Ivory Coast was probably one of the worst world cup games ever, suggesting that North Korea might produce a surprise upset and qualify for the knock-out stages.

But this of course remains unlikely. And for the North Korean players the prospect of failure comes with far greater consequence than normal sporting disappointment. You see, it’s reputed that leader Kim Jong Il likes to send under-performing players to work as slave labourers in coal mines.

Which raises the question of whether this sort of approach can possibly work. What we have is a fairly rudimentary case of incentive structuring: as well as disappointment and letting their nation down, the North Korean players are faced with the prospect of imprisonment, hard-labour and death. Will this (dis)incentive make them play better?

Nonetheless, and for example, we might want to talk about whether North Korea’s international squad are incentivised to play better by the threat of hard labour. On the one hand, it might be that they are indeed propelled by their fear to give their all. On the other, the “incentive” might be counter-productive: fear is distracting, and can lead one to make mistakes through poor judgement.

Alternatively, the whole thing might be irrelevant whichever way the incentives work: North Korea are still North Korea, and no matter how hard they try they’ll never be as good as Brazil in second gear.

But all that misses another, much more important, point: that “incentivising” players this way appears plainly wrong. It doesn’t matter if it works, because it’s a horrible thing to do and no morally well-functioning person thinks otherwise, ceteris paribus. Similar things can be said for the reputed torture of Iraq’s national team whenever it lost a game under the management of Saddam Hussein’s son, himself the torturer-in-chief.

But then, as Quentin Skinner is always keen to remind us, context is important: maybe sometimes hard-labour incentives should be welcomed. Step forward, the England squad. Perhaps the threat of a penal colony would be just the ticket for a team stuffed with petulant, lazy, over-paid, immature whinebags. Perhaps the prospect of a lifetime mining uranium without protective equipment would sort out the Gerrard-Lampard incompatibility, whilst electrodes to the testicles might encourage Shaun Wright-Phillips to learn how to cross the ball.

But again, the “incentives” – and whether they work or not – aren’t really the point. The true virtue of so-incentivising the England squad would be the intrinsic worth of torturing the feckless bunch of over-paid, useless donkeys who can’t even beat the USA.

And you can therefore see, I’m the sort of moral hypocrite who wants to make allowances for authoritarian communist dictatorships, whilst pouring vitriol and violent fantasy upon our Brave English Boys. Furthermore, that probably makes me a moral relativist. And shock-horror, I’m also an academic (well, sort of). Lo, behold! In one short blog post I have exemplified everything Nick Cohen, Francis Wheen and David Aaronovitch hate.

You have to admit, I’m good at multi-tasking.

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Humour ,Sport

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Reader comments


Despite a spirited performance against Brazil yesterday on Tuesday, and managing to go in 0-0 at half time, they lost 2-1.

Err….. I think you’ll find they won 8-0.

http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/sport/sport-headlines/north-korea-celebrates-flawless-8%110-win-201006162818/

“Step forward, the England squad. Perhaps the threat of a penal colony would be just the ticket for a team stuffed with petulant, lazy, over-paid, immature whinebags. ”

As I pointed out over at your own blog: there’s already an Australian team in this World Cup.

Ok, I am going to bookmark this. It is not a terrible article but it shows that you ARE allowed to joke about torture. Which I am sure is a controversy that will come up in a left-right tiff.

4. Shatterface

Points well made. See, this site can do irony. (You *are* being ironic? Always best to check!)

There has been a sneering response to the world cup among some commentators so it’s worth remembering that the freedom to waste time in frivolous pursuits is one which is worth defending. The worst our players have to face is mockery.

Elsewhere even fans face death for just watching a match:

http://www.modernghana.com/sports/280606/2/somali-soccer-fans-executed-for-watching-world-cup.html

I think I’m fortunate to live somewhere were not watching football is a matter of my own free choice.

Maybe it’s not a question of incentives; maybe it’s a question of the manager: may I humbly suggest Capello be replaced by Ernst Stavro Blofeld (here’s a clip from his last team meeting). I think Heskey would get a hatful under his management.

So long as it means sinking new pits, I’ve no objections.

7. Nick Cohen is a Tory

Actually most of the North Koreans are Japanese Koreans.

I do recomend
Death or Glory! – The Dark History of the World Cup by Spurling
This review of the book explains how good it is.
“As the author points out in his introduction to this remarkable book, there is not an awful lot more which can be said about Gazza’s tears, or Tardelli’s crazed celebration in ’82. Similarly, there aren’t a whole lot more superlatives which can be deployed to describe the fantastic French in ’98 or Brazil in ’70. So if you’re looking for a rehashed history of oft described events, then this book won’t be for you. If however, you’re keen to discover how a bunch of despots, including Mobutu in Zaire, Argentina’s military junta in ’78, Mussolini in the ’30s, the Duvaliers in Haiti in ’74, Medici in Brazil, the hardline Iranian Government, and even Idi Amin in Uganda have used their national team’s World Cup adventures for their own ends, then this book is for you.
Spurling’s travels have taken him to South and Central America, Europe and Africa, and the quality of his interviews with a number of footballers and writers are astonishingly revealing. My favourite chapters include “Das Deutsche Duell” where the author investigates the clash between East and West Germany in ’74 and the previously untold story of Secret Police involvement, and the two chapters on Brazil, which show that beneath all that glitter and gold, lies a tale of ingrained racism, and political machination. The cliche free chapter on England’s uneasy relationship with Argentina was also first class.
Spurling has written a revelatory page turner, which should be an essential addition to anyone’s football book collection. What David Winner’s book “Brilliant Orange” did for Dutch football and Jonathan Wilson’s “Behind The Curtain” did for East European football, this book does for the World Cup.
The uncomfortable conclusion is that in the midst of societal madness and murder (specifically the “Soccer War”, Argentina in ’78 and Haiti in ’74) the countries concerned were enjoying a golden era on the football pitch.
A superb book, laced with political intrigue and dark humour. Can’t recommend highly enough. ”
It’s chapter on the poor guy who came of the wall to hammer a free kick is very moving. Mobuto, or one of his thunbgs, had said to the team if they lose by more than 4 he would arrest their families. 3-0 down and facing a Brazilian free kick. I think I would give it a wally.

As for managers I would get rid of an uptight Italian who admired Franco and extreme right wing Italian politics.
The lads look like they have just done basic training for the Marines.
Look at the Argentinians,who have a guy who is mad as box of frogs but does he care andthe Germans who have a man who just looks like he has just finished stage managing a production of Cabaret

I watched a lecture recently online on this subject, but I’ve forgotten where. It was more about mathematics, computer science, and abstract problem solving but in the end was the same. Anyway the research they did, showed that money as incentive fails, people took longer, and failed more often at tasks, where there was a potential cash reward. I think it is just mainly people starting thinking about how to spend their cash, rather than the mission at hand. With footballers, I imagine it is more well if I score five goals, how many more women will let me shag them, than cash. Or whatever.

The key is I think, is that people are focused on their goal, and are enjoying and engaged in the process of reaching that goal. Anything that comes beyond that is a terrible, horrible, negative distraction, whether that is a reward or punishment.

In other words, the process (in football’s case playing in the match itself) has to be its own reward to get the maximum best results from the participants.

what has happened with england great qualifing and poor group stage are these the same players? why was theo walcott micheal owen paul robinson and wes brown not picked? and how come the best performed goalkeeper in the premership is not playing come on pick joe hart? fabio has to change our formation confidence and more important our results what do you think? do i beleive engand can win the world cup no and that hurts me as a big england fan who has watched 8 world cups.just lets pray wednesday afternoon gets a whole lot better when we play slovinia come on england.

10. Ryhs Williams

Personally
I hope England don’t win the world cup. As a England fan, it would be sad to see the most ineffective and boring side win the premier trophy.
For England to go forward we must ditch the continual sad homage to 66 and cut the triumphalism until after we win another trophy.
Germans don’t continually go on about the glory of 54,74 or 90. They just concentrate on trying to win the next trophy.
If I see another advert with Bobby Moore and a Lion I will puke.
If England want to progress.
Rhys guide to winning the world cup.

1/. Get rid of Capello. As NCIAT the man’s politics and football background is questionable. Get Harry Redknapp.
2/ Start enjoying it. Employ a satirist.Stephen Fry of Peter Kay.

In reality, the pixie scamp Maradona has done a brilliant job of installing team spirit, wanting to win, taking the pressure off the players by acting as a buffoon and enjoying playing football at the world cup.
Viva Maradona, Messi, and the boys in light blue.

NCIat
I loved the book and would also recommend Jonathan Wilson’s “History of Football tactics”


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  4. ianfmartin

    North Korea, England, and an argument for double-standards that I wholeheartedly endorse. http://j.mp/afjxp5

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