In their book Soccernomics, authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski identified three factors why Brazil dominated world football during the twentieth century. These three factors were experience, population size and national wealth. In a sentence: A huge talent pool, exposed to good facilities, that has a long history of competing as a nation is hard to beat.
Historically Brazil is the greatest footballing power. They have won an unrivalled five World Cups and their international winning percentage of 63% is far superior to any other country. Since 1900 Brazil has on average had the fifth largest population in the world. The latest data puts the number at about 203,500,000 – 2,8% of the world population. Although Brazil might now be ranked seventh in the world by GDP, the country wasn’t always so high up the ladder. But you didn’t need to be rich to play football. It was (and still is) a very simple game, appealing to rich and poor alike.
Indian cricket has the same three factors in its favour. Under the captaincy of MS Dhoni India won the World T20 (2007), the World Cup (2011) and the Champions Trophy (2013). Any international tournament played today with a white ball is as likely to be won by India as the Brazilians in the halcyon days of Pele and co. The country has an absolutely cricket besotted populace that accounts for 17,5% of people on earth – 1,26 billion! The Indian economy is a waking giant. It already has the world’s tenth largest GDP and Indian companies like the Tata empire, Videsh Oil and HCL Technologies are true global giants.
However, Kuper and Szymanski also looked into the relative decline of Brazil as an international powerhouse since 2002. Applying the three factors to European nations (in particular Germany, France, Italy, Holland and Spain), the authors found that since 1970 these countries were gradually punching above their weight. That is when they identified a fourth factor: knowledge networks.
The world’s elite club football happens in Europe. The Europeans benefit by always being close to the game’s tactical and strategic cutting edge. Most of the top Brazilian footballers ply their trade in Europe but as a collective, the country is too far away from these knowledge networks. Nowhere was this fact more vividly demonstrated as in their 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany in the semi-final of this year’s World Cup.
India has the vital fourth factor that Brazil never had. For much of the 20th century, India was held back by the superior knowledge networks of the old powers England and Australia. However, everyone in the cricket world has seen that advantage gradually being eradicated over the last 20 years. Being the holy grail of well-paid cricket (read: the IPL and Champions’ League) has enabled India to become the strongest concentration of cricketing intelligence and knowledge on the planet. For a full quarter of the year (a truly staggering amount of time) all the top cricket brains in the world are in India.
It is very likely that India’s recent dominance of international competitions is just the beginning of a long-lasting dynastic supremacy. India, in fact, has all the advantages of Pele’s Brazil and much more.