Liverpool’s transfer activity and player development (Hybrid Moneyball)

Some people may look and what is going on at Liverpool at the moment and be confused about what their strategy is. On one side they appear to be developing their youth set-up – but at the same time they look keen to sign big money signings.

Liverpool is owned by Fenway Sports Group (FSG) that also owns the Boston Red Sox in Major League Baseball (MLS) and wants to bring some concepts from baseball to the English Premier League. The major part of that is the concept of moneyball – which is the subject of another of my articles. But with modification to make it more suited to a big club that can benefit from big budgets. Therefore, it’s a hybrid version of moneyball that involves developing young players – but also acquiring stars. As with all moneyball strategies there is a significant emphasis on statistics. This is something that the Red Sox do and it will now be something that Liverpool will look to do.

As far as FSG are concerned some of the important work was done some time ago by getting the Liverpool youth setup in place with the appointment of the former Barcelona duo Jose Segura and Rodolfo Borrell. In the previous Premier League season there was the emergence of Liverpool youngsters Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing.

However, Liverpool isn’t just prepared to develop youth players and wait for them to progress into first-team players – they also need players they can use now. The January signings of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll showed that. FSG are clearly very ambitious and are targeting the Premier League title as well as getting back into the Champions League. The classic moneyball approach may well work – but it could take time and Liverpool will feel they need to spend now to try and make their targets reality sooner rather than later. Liverpool will be also keeping an eye on the financial fair play rules to be introduced for the start of the 2012/13 season. Liverpool will know that once this rules come in their spending will be more restricted.

The signings that are likely to be made during this summer are about the long-term success for the football club – but also players that are ready for first-team action. The signing of 20 year old Jordan Henderson may suggest the sort of profile of signing that Liverpool are looking for and young English players certainly seem to be one of those areas. The signings of Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll certainly fit that profile and other targets Phil Jones and Ashley Young would also have been terrific English signings. However, it now appears both players will sign for Manchester United.

But as ever I’m sure Liverpool have other irons in the fire and were not relying on the signings of Jones and Young bearing in mind they would have known that competition would be fierce. Premier League teams in the past have been guilty of signing players that they know very little about – but don’t expect Liverpool to do the same. The Liverpool owners will make sure that every new signing has been looked at from every angle. Scouts will watch the players in action to understand as much as they can – but then the statistical data will be analysed to ensure that what the scouts are saying is correct.

In addition to this Liverpool will look at the mental aspects and ensure that any players they sign have the right attitude to succeed. Will they work hard for the team and will they be able to live up to the pressure of playing for a big club?

The latest target that Liverpool is after seems to be Charlie Adam. On paper Adam looks like he would be a great buy and he certainly did a great job for Blackpool last season. But to be fair moving from Blackpool to Liverpool will be a significant difference for him and it’s those sorts of transfers that makes or breaks players. Some players just can’t perform on the big stage, but it would be a surprise if that applied to Charlie Adam bearing in mind he started his professional career at Glasgow Rangers.

However, the point is Liverpool will want to know everything they can about any signing they bring in. The signing of a player could become very scientific with only a little room for error – it would certainly not be the process that Manchester City have gone through; where you sign any player that looks good at whatever price.

What will be interesting is if this process works will other Premier League teams do it and will the face of football be changed? It’s weird to think but could baseball change football?

There continues to be a high level of interest from the US in the Premier League both in terms of fans and also the influx of US owners. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time until these sorts of American ideas come into the Premier League. It seems that Liverpool is as good a place as any to start with – given the owners have experience with a variation on moneyball from owning the Red Sox.

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