Yesterday’s Champions League final has not only been very embarrassing for Bayern Munich. When Bastian Schweinsteiger missed his penalty, I also met my Waterloo.
I had predicted earlier that Bayern would beat Chelsea because they were structurally the stronger team. I based my forecast on the fact that compared to Chelsea, the value of the Bayern squad is 30 percent higher.
My reckless claim was inspired by the German economic think tank DIW. Using the same method, they successfully predicted the winner of the Euro 2008 as well as the World Cups in 2006 and 2010.
Well, Saturday’s game showed that the economic approach to football has its limits.
However, the beauty of economics is its versatility. The dismal science not only explains why Bayern should have won yesterday. At the same time, the discipline is also able to point out why the team actually lost.
Potentially, the Germans faltered in the penalty shoot-out because they were playing on their home ground. This at least suggests an analysis by Thomas Dohmen, a German economist at the Univesity of Maastricht in the Netherlands.
In 2005, Dohmen analysed the performance of professional football with regards to penalties. He came to the conclusion that players of the home team have a significantly higher failure rate.
In his paper entitled “Do Professionals Choke under Pressure?”, Dohmen analysed all 3610 penalties that were awarded between 1963 and 2003 in the German Bundesliga.
The descriptive statistics of Dohmen’s data show how egregiously Bayern Munich failed yesterday. The German XI squandered 3 of their 6 penalties (this includes 5 in the shoot-out and one in the extra time). This failure rate of 50 % is twice as large as it is usually the case. As a rule, only about 26 percent of all penalty kickers do not score (19 percent of the kicks are saved by the goal keeper, 7 percent miss the target completely).
However, home teams have a worse track record than away teams: “Players are more likely to choke on a penalty kick when the action takes place at the home turf”, writes Dohmen.
This becomes especially clear with regard to penalties that are unambiguously missed due to the failure of the kicker because he either misses the goal completely or just manages to hit the woodwork.
This kind of mishap happens to the home team in 7.5 percent of all times. Away teams suffer this fate only in 5.6 percent of their penalties.
Dohmen argues that the high expectations of the home supporters paralyse the players. “They don’t want to disappoint their fans at any rate and try harder.” In some cases, the tremendous pressure and the high ambitions apparently turn into an obstacle and trigger chocking.
This is how Dohmen puts it in his paper:
“The ﬁnding, which is consistent with the hypothesis that positive public expectations or a friendly environment induce individuals to choke, has ramiﬁcations for questions of workplace design and performance measurement. The empirical result of this paper implies, for example, that workers who might feel being observed, especially by well disposed co-workers or spectators, perform worse than they otherwise would.”
Be it as it may. This won’t be any consolation for Bastian Schweinsteiger and the rest of the team.