“There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening. And this leads people who run Major League Baseball teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams” declared Peter Brand in the movie ‘Moneyball’.
Moneyball (based on the equally excellent book ‘the art of winning an unfair game’ by Michael Lewis, incidentally an economist)’ conveys the story of the Oakland Athletics baseball team and their general manager Billy Beane. Along with his (recently acquired) side-kick Peter Brand (a Havard economics graduate), Beane attempts to build a ‘play-off’ team on a ‘shoe-string’ budget by using analytical data of statistics (an idea first introduced by baseball writer Bill James) called ‘sabermetrics’.
Footballs own version of the ‘sabermetrics’ system is often coined ‘soccernomics’, also the title of a fantastic book by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski which explores this analytical approach and how match data is affecting the game. The authors discuss the transfer market and produce a manifesto of protocols for the purchase and sale of that most delicate of commodities…. footballers.
They continue by comparing results with population size and GDP, even suggesting that the England national team may actually overachieve!
Liverpool football seem to be one of the main protagonists of the ‘soccernomics’ trend.
Owner John W. Henry (Fenway Sports Group), also the owner of The Boston Red Sox (who is portrayed in the ‘Moneyball’ movie attempting to secure Beane’s services) is a long time admirer of the system and a friend of the Athletic’s general manager.
Was this system being used when they paid £35 million for Andy Carroll. He was the player who statistically heads in the most goals, however, of what use is that for a passing side like Liverpool?
Damien Comolli (ironically, recommended by Beane) the ‘director of football strategy’ subsequently parted company with the club.
Arsene Wenger, current strife not withstanding, has an enviable record in the transfer market (interestingly Wenger has a degree in economics) and Arsenal as a club (or company), have pursued economic equilibrium and redemption with the Emirates stadium.
Clubs have been developing their analytical departments for years and there have been an a steady increase in data gathering companies such as ‘Opta’, composing statistic for pass completion, distance covered, tackles made and all manner of match data and statistics
It may be construed that this composition of information has been evident (all be it in its rawest form) for years, even if it just be goalkeepers researching penalty takers, but this ‘data-mining’ now parallels technological advances.
Is it possible to build an efficient and capable side in the day and age for the ‘all star’ Premier league, Swansea City seems to have mastered the art, exemplified by the signing of striker ‘Michu’, nothing less than a master class in transfer dealing.
One of the more noticeable statistics from the table is the position of Everton, whom, at the time of writing are still battling for a Champions League position and just below them, Swansea, as already mentioned a well disciplined side with a specific playing style.
So will the ‘Moneyball’ style gain momentum? It would seem so, as they say… facts govern the world, not theories.
In the words of Beane… “Numbers might not transform soccer, but they’ll give you an edge. And if they give you an edge you have to do it.”
“If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there”