OPINION: Leicester City Proves Money Isn’t Everything

Shanny Basar

In the English Premier League, like in finance, size and money have been directly related to winning. However Leicester City becoming champions after the football team began the season as 5,000-1 outsiders has miraculously turned that theory on its head.

The correlation between spending on wages and position in the Premier League is 89% according to Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, the authors of Soccernomics. As a result only four teams have won the Premier League in the last 21 years  – big spenders Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United. The latter have used more money to buy new players in just the last two years than Leicester have spent in their entire 132-year history according to website Sporting Intelligence. In addition last year Leicester’s wages were 55% of its turnover, one of the lowest in the league, according to The Swiss Ramble, a blog about the business of football.

Serge Pizzorno, a Leicester City fan and guitarist in rock bank Kasabian, wrote a piece in The Guardian praising the team for not spending a lot of money on players, even during the January transfer window. “That was a real turning point because the players who were there felt they had been trusted. I could feel the players respond. I hope they continue that way. I think they’re clever enough to realise what they’ve built, because we’ve all seen other sides make that mistake of going out and spending too much,” he wrote.

Even institutional investors have been coming round to the realisation that high pay is not always the best incentive. Last month 59% of BP shareholders rejected a 20% pay increase for the chief executive at the annual general meeting in one of the largest votes in the UK against a remuneration deal. BP’s CEO was paid almost £14m last year despite the oil company making a record operating loss and cutting jobs. The vote is non-binding but the BP chairman said the board would review future pay arrangements.

Last year The Investment Association, which represents the UK’s £5.5 trillion investment management industry, created the Executive Remuneration Working Group with representatives from companies, investors and asset owners, in order to make proposals for reforming executive compensation at UK-listed companies. Last month the working group issued its interim report and made recommendations to increase transparency; alignment shareholder, company and executive interests more closely; and create more accountability on the part of remuneration committees.

Nigel Wilson, chairman of the Executive Remuneration Working Group and chief executive of insurer Legal & General, said in a statement: “The current approach to executive pay in UK-listed companies is not fit for purpose, and has resulted in a poor of alignment of interests between executives, shareholders and the company.’

Leicester City does have star strikers such as Jamie Vardy, the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year and Riyad Mahrez, PFA Player of the Year, but the team culture has been cited as one of main reasons for their unexpected success. That team ethos has been nurtured by manager Claudio Ranieri, who has often been described as the nicest man in football.

Sir David Brailsford, the former performance director of British Cycling when Great Britain won seven out of 10 track cycling gold medals at the 2008 and 2012, said in a BBC interview this morning that sports scientists have already been to visit Leicester City. As Brailsford said: “A star team will always beat a team of stars.”

A lesson the financial industry should heed.

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