The Lessons of the World Cup

This year’s World Cup has proven once again that football is the world’s most popular sport; it has also proven that football is probably the world’s most globalized profession. It is inconceivable that Brazilian, Cameroonian, or Japanese doctors, computer scientists, blue-collar workers, or bank tellers could move from one country to another as easily as Brazilian, Cameroonian, or Japanese football players do.

Indeed, London’s Arsenal football club is composed entirely of foreigners, including a French coach. Even the captain roles are no longer reserved for domestic players: Thierry Henry, a Frenchman, is Arsenal’s captain, Andriy Shevchenko, a Ukrainian, was often the captain of AC Milan and will play next year for the English champions Chelsea. Christiano Zanetti, an Argentine, is captain of Inter Milan. Similarly, dozens of South Americans and Africans play in Russian, Turkish, Polish, and various Southeast European leagues.

Football thus provides a glimpse of how true globalization of labor would work. In football, as in other occupations, restrictions on labor mobility came entirely from the demand side. No limits were ever imposed on players’ movements, except by Communist countries. But the demand side was heavily regulated, owing to a rule that clubs could field no more than two foreign players in any single game.

The Bosman ruling, named after a Belgian player who successfully challenged the rule’s application to players from other European Union countries, eroded the limit, which collapsed altogether under the onslaught of the richest European clubs’ demand for a free hand in hiring the best players, wherever they might be found.