Malcolm Gladwell: Arsenal’s weak links cancel their superstars

From Adrian Caddy:

If you like podcasts, I can highly recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Revisionist History’ series on iTunes.

In one recent episode called ‘My little hundred million’ he questions the wisdom of wealthy corporate owners gifting huge philanthropical investments to elite universities that are already overstocked with resources, versus the profoundly positive effects that would be achieved by investing those funds into many more lower ranking schools.

Gladwell frames the question by telling the story of two economists called David Sally and Chris Anderson who wrote a really great book about soccer called ‘The Numbers Game’ in which they asked the question,

“What matters more if you want to build a great soccer team, how good your best player is, or how good your worst player is?”

Their answer: how good your worst player is.

They argue that if you have a superstar in your team and one of your other players is 45% as good, that one player can completely negate the skill of your best player.

Sally and Anderson studied Europe’s top teams and calculated that if those teams upgraded their worst players then they would score more goals and win more games. A lot more.

Soccer is a weak link game. Upgrade your weakest links.

Having another superstar is better, but having a better 10th or 11th player is more influential to winning games.

Anyway, it’s interesting stuff and it got me thinking about Arsenal and Wenger and Gazidis and Kroenke and I realised, yes, this sounds like the Arsenal.

A bunch of investors, technocrats and economists who think, why buy a superstar when we can upgrade a few lesser players?

So we see Xhaka arrive as an upgrade on Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky.

It makes sense. Maybe we will see an upgrade on the right flank too where one is definitely needed.

But what the fans want is excitement, entertainment and a few bragging rights. Superstars give you that, and they win you games.

That’s why we want superstars.

Myles says:

Fascinating stuff, Adrian. Thanks very much.

I like Malcolm and have 4 of his books.

Alas, iTunes hasn’t worked on my PC for 5 years.

We tried to fix it but gave up. Just use Spotify these days.

First came across Malcolm around 2001 when I read The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Human behaviour can spread new ideas through society like an epidemic? Why not?

I don’t care if academics say Gladwell’s research isn’t rigorous enough.

Most of his books are interesting and for me that’s enough.

Can I access his podcasts in any other way?