IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The hedgehog or the fox: Versatility and performance in professional soccer


  • Tomás Rodríguez
  • Jorge Tovar


Being versatile -having the ability to perform different functions- can be a desirable trait for firms that must compete in different environments. However, attaining versatility may come at the high cost of sacrificing the kind of excellence that can only be achieved through specialization. Furthermore, when strategic interaction involves any opportunities for cooperation, then being more versatile might lead to lower equilibrium payoffs, even if such greater versatility were costless. It follows that whether versatility tends to pay off or not is an empirical question, which needs to be asked in each specific setting. We use detailed match-level data on players' interaction from the Spanish La Liga 2018-2019 soccer season and the Colombian 2018-1, 2018-2 and 2019-1 seasons to define a measure of observable versatility. Namely, for each team, we count the number of distinct sub-teams of all possible sizes (2-11) that are ever observed to interact during the season and thus build a team's 10-dimensional observable versatility profile. We observe that teams displaying a greater number of distinct sub-teams of large size (4 and above in the case of the Spanish league) tend to perform better. We compute 1- dimensional observable versatility indices by applying PCA to the 10-dimensional observable versatility profiles and show that these simple indices are strong predictors of teams' performances.

Suggested Citation

  • Tomás Rodríguez & Jorge Tovar, 2023. "The hedgehog or the fox: Versatility and performance in professional soccer," Documentos CEDE 020757, Universidad de los Andes – Facultad de Economía – CEDE.
  • Handle: RePEc:col:000089:020757

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item


    team-performance; versatility;

    JEL classification:

    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • L25 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Performance
    • Z20 - Other Special Topics - - Sports Economics - - - General


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:col:000089:020757. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no bibliographic references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Universidad De Los Andes-Cede (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.