How to lose the World Cup: The ‘too much talent effect’

On the evening when 2010 winners Spain tumbled out of the World Cup, the post –match analysis inevitably goes into overdrive. How could a team backed full of multi-millionaire superstars lose to relatively unfancied Chile? Perhaps psychology has the answer. Professor Roderick Swaab and his team in France studied World Cup qualification games from the 2010 and 2014 competitions.

The researchers found that teams such as Spain benefit from having more ‘elite’ footballers but only until they make up about three-quarters of the team. Go past that, they found, and performance starts to decline. The presence of too many ‘star’ players can undermine players’ willingness to play as a team, compromising effective overall team performance. The research suggests that the ‘too-much-talent effect’ only emerges in sports that require a high level of interdependence between players. For more individual sports, such as tennis and baseball, very high levels of individual talent do not seem to hurt performance.

So, as the superstars of Real Madrid and Barcelona pack their bags and head for Rio de Janeiro airport, we can only wonder whether Stevie G, Daniel Sturridge et al will suffer the same fate tomorrow. What we clearly need are a few players from the lower leagues to balance our superstars. I’ll give Roy a ring…

One thought on “How to lose the World Cup: The ‘too much talent effect’

  1. Interesting study but I guess it misses the real reason why Spain has failed so badly during recent WC. Most of the players have won absolutely everything in football and simply lack any motivation to go further.

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