We investigated the effect of outward migration of football players on the performance of their home countries' national teams. We built a simple theoretical framework predicting a positive effect of players' migration rate on national team performance. This positive effect is due to the superior skills that migrating players acquire in foreign clubs and that they take back with them when representing their national team. We used cross country data on national team performance and on the club of employment of national team players to test this prediction. We quantified the effect of skill acquisitions abroad by computing, for each national team, a migration index that weights each migrant player with the strength of the foreign league where he is training.
After controlling for wealth, population, climate, football history and historical performance, we find significant and robust support for the prediction of a positive effect of migration on international football performance. This evidence suggests that while developing countries' football clubs may experience a “muscle drain”, their national teams experience a “muscle gain” at the same time.Source: Berlinschi, Schokkaert, Swinnen (Labor Economics, April 2013). A draft is here (May 2011).