A couple of times, you almost have to feel for Deloitte.
No nation with a closed league system has ever won the FIFA World Cup and there is support from within the US Men’s National Team organisation for a fuller consideration of the topic, with US Men’s National Coach Jürgen Klinsmann remarking: “This thrill of the relegation battle is non-existent in the U.S. league. The risk for club investors to all of a sudden play in the second league would be too high. But the sporting side would benefit from it. Our players from Europe know that. That furthers our national team. Something is at stake week in, week out. Be it at the top or at the bottom, you always have to perform.”
Juergen Klinsmann made that statement in 2015. The report was dated November 9, 2016.
And on November 9, 2016, as Hillary Clinton was putting the final touches on her acceptance speech, Deloitte probably felt pretty good about this paragraph. Klinsmann really did say it, after all.
On November 11, Mexico would defeat the United States in Columbus, for the first time ever. On November 15, Klinsmann would coach his last game for the United States, a 4-0 thumping in Costa Rica. And on November 21, US Soccer decided it was hungry enough to eat Klinsmann’s contract.
And so it happened that on November 26, Deloitte released its Executive Summary to the public, fully aware that the horse they bet on had thrown a shoe, tossed its rider, veered into the crowd and exploded.
I think if Deloitte had some idea of the lack of thickness of the ice upon which Klinsi was skating – and I didn’t, until US Soccer announced its Honors List for the Order of the Sack – they might have backed up their “promotion and relegation improves player development” section with a little more time and effort.
But, knowing what we do now about DeloitteUK’s methods? Probably not. Because the whole Klinsmann testimony wasn’t even the stupid part of the paragraph.
No nation with a closed league system has ever won the FIFA World Cup
I guess we could say that doesn’t prove anything resembling a correlation between the two…but still. That’s a pretty bold and solid statement.
How can we disprove it?
It probably wouldn’t do any good to point out that there has been a promotion and relegation league in the United States for decades – the Cosmopolitan League. But it hasn’t attracted broadcast attention. It hasn’t provided compelling enough content for television. It hasn’t won over investors and sponsors. And, obviously, hasn’t produced anyone who has won the World Cup.
However, that’s not what we’re testing. Lots of nations with promotion and relegation haven’t won a World Cup. But everyone knows that no nation with a closed league has ever won the World Cup.
….for a certain definition of the word “closed.”
Here are the results and final table for the Sao Paulo state league in 1950.
It was a tough year for the Brazil national team, but also a tough year for a team named Jabaquara. One of the least important teams during the golden age of Sao Paulo football, Jabaquara finished dead last in 1950…and decided they’d rather not be relegated, thank you very much.
No team was relegated. Jabaquara would be relegated but recurred successfully to the Sportive Court alleging that, due to be one of the FPF founder clubs, the federation rules allowed the club to never be relegated.
If you think Jabaquara took advantage of such a ruling - boy, are you right.
Jabaquara (last-placed of 1st level) and XV de Jaú (champions of 2nd level) played a play-off to define one berth in the 1st level of 1952:
03/02/1952 XV de Jaú 5-0 Jabaquara
10/02/1952 Jabaquara 2-0 XV de Jaú
17/02/1952 XV de Jaú 1-0 Jabaquara
XV de Jaú classified to 1952 first level.
After this, Jabaquara was also allowed to play the 1952 first level.
That seems like bad sportsmanship. If Jabaquara had won that third game – what was this, the MLS first-to-five? – would they have let XV de Novembro de Jaú stay up?
Maybe the rest of the league decided enough was enough. After our heroes stunk up the league for the third straight year, Jabaquara was finally kicked into the second division in 1952.
And now we bump into something of a mystery. Jabaquara doesn’t seem to have played in the second division until 1964.
The records for the Paulista second division in 1953 show that Jabaquara lost every game – in a walkover.
There’s no record of Jabaquara playing anywhere in 1954. But for the 1955 season, this happened:
Jabaquara promptly finished last. And once again, Jabaquara declined the honor of relegation.
It’s almost as if Jabaquara couldn’t actually prove they deserved top division status, but instead sued their way to first division status. Can you imagine if a team tried that today?
Anyway, Jabaquara finished last again in 1956, but still weren’t relegated.
Jabaquara continued to avoid relegation through a time-tested technique called “not finishing last,” although they were second to last in 1958, 1961 and 1962. Finally, in 1963, this happened:
Okay, so Jabaquara was exempt from promotion…as one of the founding teams. But nobody important was playing for that litigious little piece of founding garbage. It’s the teams that actually produced the talent that matter.
Say, I wonder who the other founding members of the Sao Paulo state league were.
Corinthians…Palmeiras…Portuguesa…Sao Paulo…Santos….hm. So between 1955 and 1963, none of those teams could be relegated from the Sao Paulo league.
Unless I badly miss my guess, between 1955 and 1963, Brazil won two World Cups. Their first two World Cups.
And it turns out that every player on the 1958 and 1962 roster from the Paulista league played for Corinthians…Palmeiras…Portuguesa…Sao Paulo…or Santos. Even DeloitteUK has probably heard of one of the guys who played for Santos.
…what do you mean, that’s not good enough?
The biggest teams producing all of the talent couldn’t get relegated during one of the most brilliant eras in world soccer history. That doesn’t change your opinion? You don’t think that disproves the idea that promotion and relegation is necessary for a World Cup? You don’t think that settles the argument that promotion and relegation has nothing to do with high quality player development? Pele, for God's sake. Pele!
Yes, I’m well aware of the Rio league. Yes, I’m well aware that more than half of the 1958 and 1962 rosters, including Garrincha, Nilton Santos, and Didi, were from the Carioca First Division.
What will it take? What evidence will you accept? Will it take an entire World Cup-winning roster of players from closed leagues to convince you?
Hope you’ll settle for two. The Rio leagues didn’t have promotion and relegation at all.
There was actually very little relegation from the Rio league until 1977.
In 1960, the former Distrito Federal was renamed to Guanabara state and
the recently inaugurated city of Brasília became the new Distrito Federal.
Em 1960, o antigo Distrito Federal foi renomeado como estado da Guanabara e a recém-inaugurada cidade de Brasília se tornou o novo Distrito Federal.
Guanabara State - Second Division (Segunda Divisão)
1965 - São Cristóvão de FR (Rio de Janeiro) 
1966-1977 not realized
During the Pele years, there was no relegation at all for Paulista clubs until 1964, and the Rio league was effectively closed until 1977.
So that was roughly half of Brazil's rosters for 1966 and 1970 free from promotion and relegation. Oh, and the entirety of Brazil's 1958 and 1962 rosters. Both of those, you will recall, were wins for Brazil. With not a single player who had to worry about promotion and relegation in the slightest.
Brazil’s official national championship started in 1971. I…don’t know if we could it a “league” in the early days. It was more like a national championship among regional league winners, like West Germany had before the Bundesliga. Only more complicated. In any case, there wasn't what you'd call relegation on the national level until 1989 or so.
I’d love to say promotion and relegation ruined Brazilian soccer, but Brazil has won a couple of World Cups since then. But the assumption that only promotion and relegation can develop quality players or win World Cups does not stand up to scrutiny. Brazil proves the null hypothesis. Promotion and relegation did not exist as a motivating factor for the players developed during the golden years of Brazilian soccer; they won three World Cups during that time.
And, again, DeloitteUK could almost be forgiven for not knowing this. It is a widely held assumption that promotion and relegation is somehow intrinsic to football. And as other cherished myths about promotion and relegation continue to be demolished, the player development motivational theory seemed solid and reliable.
I think “relegation is motivational” comes from a dark place, and “promotion is motivational” comes from a stupid place. Just for giggles, we’ll tackle those in our next chapter. Until then, enjoy this quiz.
US PROMOTION AND RELEGATION COACHING LICENSE – FINAL EXAM
1. You’re coaching the U-7 team. A parent storms up to you and asks, “Why aren’t you playing my little Muggsy? How will he get a scholarship if YOU don’t know how to coach?” You respond:
(A) “Sir and/or madam, the odds of your child getting a college scholarship, let alone a pro contract, are ridiculously long. The most important thing is to teach the joy of the game.”
(B) “You don’t understand football culture. Without promotion and relegation, Muggsy has no chance to develop. You would think that would be my job, but for some reason I can’t teach basic skills unless the Colorado Rapids can get relegated. And for some reason that makes me a player development expert and not a pretentious babysitter in a tracksuit."
2. You’re coaching the U-9 team. There’s Muggsy, strolling around like he runs on chlorophyll. “Why should I exert further effort? The professional leagues in this country refuse to promote and relegate.” You respond:
(A) “Fine, you’re benched.”
(B) “’Tis true. And I have no incentive to teach or inspire you while the Colorado Rapids refuse to relegate. Because promotion and relegation is holistic, apparently.”
3. You’re coaching the New England Revolution, because why wouldn’t you be? The Revolution have signed Muggsy as a Designated Player, because you absolutely know they would. But Muggsy has not shown you that extra special little bit of desire your team. “I hate you and hope you get fired. I don’t care about this team at all, and I want to play somewhere else.” You respond:
(A) “Fine. I’m sure we can find someone willing to play soccer in exchange for money.”
(B) “If only this team, which he literally just said he didn’t care about, was at risk of relegation.”
4. You’ve decided to test yourself in Europe. You’re coaching Rayo Vallecano, and you’re away to Real Atletico Barca-Madrid. That’s right, they all merged. It’s win or go down. But Muggsy isn’t getting the job done against Messi, for some reason. “Try harder!” you shout. Muggsy halts the game, grabs the public address speaker and says “I am trying harder, you *******! They’re just ******* better than we are!” You respond:
(A) “Wait, Messi hasn’t been in a relegation scrap for forty-five seconds of his life. But my scrubs have been facing relegation every day of their lives. Why aren’t they better than Messi, if promotion and relegation is such a miracle cure? Maybe there is a logical fallacy in assuming increased motivation means increased results. After all, if someone told me to defeat Floyd Mayweather or they would shoot my family, I would simply end up taking my two black eyes and broken nose to the funeral. Perhaps I should have thought this through a little more, before demanding that an entire sport bow to my arbitrary preferences. Oh, and my team are all grown men by now, so how much more development am I realistically going to get out of these bozos? Wait a minute – promotion and relegation doesn’t have a direct effect on youth players, and can only have a limited effect on adult talent. My whole life is a lie!”[Minorish EDITS made along the lines mentioned below in comments. ALWAYS HAPPY TO BE CORRECTED]
(B) “YOU just don’t WANT it enough!”