TCS Daily

A Net Plus

By Jeremy Slater - June 30, 2006 12:00 AM

A dreary European Council, an uneventful visit of the US president to Vienna, a European Commission plan to reform winemaking -- all in all, a typically uneventful European political summer. Thank heavens for the World Cup, which has shunted aside the rest of the news agenda for most of the last month and is likely to do so until it ends on July 9.

The field of hopefuls has been narrowed down to a handful of soccer powerhouses. What's interesting how their countries economic performances have mirrored success or failure on the pitch. For example host nation Germany has been surprisingly strong of late. Its most recent economic growth rate is a not underwhelming 1.9 percent. Businesses have been happy with the growing level of exports and better economic prospects are allowing consumers to finally throw off four years of gloom just in time for the finals.

On the pitch the Germans look better than they have in a while, though occasionally have shown some fragility. However, there is potential trouble ahead as a sizeable minority of Germans still must be convinced that Jurgen Klinsmann and Angela Merkel's stewardship can return the country to its world class best.

In football and in matters economic, France seems to be about three years behind Germany. The managers know they have a problem, but are not quite sure how to fix it. Do they go for a less restrictive and more fleet of foot approach or use a system that worked well in the past but seems hopelessly outdated?

France's run-up to the World Cup was tortuous, the coach falling out with his leading players before and during some less than spectacular matches. Perhaps not surprising given the political turmoil in Paris and the diminishing power of President Jacques Chirac and his chosen prime minister Dominique de Villepin and their run in with Nicolas Sarkozy. Early in the tournament France performed poorly, its midfield unable to connect with one of the best strikers in the world, Thierry Henry. But in its last two matches the team has shown flashes of its former glory. A harbinger of good economic news?

Iberia has looked strong in the tournament, as Spain (a perky 3.5 percent rate of growth is not to ignored) and Portugal have both played confident, open football (Spain was eliminated in the round of 16).

Reflecting today's globalized economy, the England team has a foreigner in charge who remains surprisingly popular. The main problem for their footballers is that they are habitual underperformers, always attempting to hark back to some golden period between 1900 and 1940 when they were supreme and didn't have to play anybody else if they didn't want to, because it was their game and ball anyway.

The Italians are playing with all the consistency of the new Italian government and still remain unsure whether to move to the left, swing the ball to the right or charge down the middle. No doubt somebody will topple over soon and a 1.5 percent growth rate will not be much of a cushion.

Brazil, the current champion, has enjoyed solid economic growth over the past ten years, fluctuating between 2 and 8 percent, and is now enjoying something of a revival with the latest figures registering a rate of 3.4 percent. Ditto for its football team, which seems to be getting better with each game they play.

But, if you were going to bet largely on economic data, consider Argentina, whose team is close to being very good and whose economy just recorded a quarterly growth rate of 8.6 percent. Four years ago the country's economy and its football team were both in tatters as angry housewives beat saucepans to run bad financiers out of town. The footballers returned home dejected at having failed to even get through the first round. This year the team has shown such talent as to be able to rise to touch the hand of God rather than just use it.

Jeremy Slater is a TCS Daily contributor.


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