The resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty, refers in footballing terms to the situation that exists at the highest level of the professional game where the clubs have such an abundance of players that they do not know what to do with them. It is a theory that is significantly harder to find examples of in the Non-League game, although there are examples within football as a whole.
The idea that having too many resources might be more of an economic curse than a blessing was first floated by Professor Richard Auty in the mid-1990s. At the time you could use the situation in the Scottish Premier League to illustrate his point. Rangers were on course to win their ninth consecutive Scottish Premier League title – rivals Celtic had tried everything to break that run, employing a number of different managers – more in that decade than they had ever done in their history. Some were famous footballing names (Liam Brady and John Barnes), others were legends as players (Lou Macari and Tommy Burns), but it didn’t matter what they tried, Rangers kept on winning. Auty’s thought was that despite all of the resources at hand both on and off the pitch, rivals Celtic simply couldn’t break Rangers grip on the dominance in the domestic game because the economic conditions weren’t aligned. They needed a tipping point (hat tip to Malcolm Gladwell) but when they came (a Rangers defeat, chances in key games not being taken, patience in the manager), they either didn’t realise the opportunity or put the right resources behind it. His theory on the Resource Curse has since been used to explain how clubs such as Manchester City, Leeds United, Southampton and current Premier League Champions, Leicester City dropped like a stone down the leagues before they realised it wasn’t all about hoarding the most expense resources being wasted through unused.
A study by Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner concluded that there was a strong correlation between a plethora of natural resources and poor economic growth. Whilst their work may have on the outside focused on some countries in Africa where precious metals were being mined yet economic indicators suggest that they are some of the poorest countries in the world, they also could have been talking about Chelsea’s 2015/16 season.
The Blues were the envy of many at the start of that season. Premier League champions a few months earlier and over £68 million worth of new signings to join in the training sessions at the state of the art facilities in Cobham. As well as the 32 man first team squad, the club had a further 30-odd players out on loan during the season. They had some of the biggest and best resources in world football yet there are few who saw them lose 9 of their first 16 games and exit from the Champions League in the first knock-out stage. Manager Jose Mourinho paid with his job, whilst the rest of English football rolled around on the floor in laughter. That is the Recourse Curse in full effect – despite an endless stream of Russian Roubles, they couldn’t convert them into success on the field.
And that, ladies and gentlemen is why you could have all the best youngsters in the world, the best training facilities in the land and arguably the best manager yet you still find yourself kidding yourself that it is “all about the Europa League” or even that this is a season of “consolidation’. The Resource Curse is alive and kicking in English football, and one that will get stronger and stronger as each billion pound TV deal season passes.