One of my favourite subjects to talk about on Live4Liverpool .com is the science of sabermetrics and the work of the Oakland Athletic Baseball team’s Billy Beane .
I won’t go over it all again but suffice to say that Beane is a close follower of the Premier League and is a close friend of Damien Comolli. John W Henry wanted Beane to become General Manager at the Boston Red Sox after he took over the Baseball team, seeing Beane’s sabermetric approach to sport as similar to his own systematic quantitative analysis approach which made him a successful businessman. Although Beane rejected the role at the Red Sox, he kept in close contact with Henry and is widely credited for recommending Comolli for the role of Director of Football at Liverpool shortly after the arrival of the American owners last October.
Beane continues to watch the Premier League closely after he became fascinated with the passion and “tribal emotion” of English football, as he liked to call it, after he went on holiday to London in 2003. Like John W Henry in business, Beane had tried to take all the emotion out of his role as a Baseball manager, selecting players systematically on sabermetrics rather than instinct and gut feeling. Up until 2003, Beane felt that the emotion of fans in the English game must have had corollaries in how managers, coaches and scouts approached the game too.
This has begun to change in recent years to the extent that Opta stats are now highly sought after by every Premier League club, which wasn’t the case a decade ago. Beane also believes such a systematic approach to player performance has spread to transfer dealings, he told Esquire magazine:
“If you see the emphasis on young players in the Premier League, there is some evidence. At last the desire to pay for future performance has eclipsed the desire to pay for past performance.”
Two of the most exceptional examples of this approach have been the £35million signing of Andy Carroll in January and the £16million of Jordan Henderson in the summer. Carroll (in regards to shots to goal conversion rate, and work rate) and Henderson (in regards to both chance creation stats and pass completion rate) have exceptional stats in important areas for such young players.
Both players have come under much criticism for failing to perform so far in a Liverpool shirt. Many fans feel the £51million could have been better spent elsewhere on more “proven players.” For Beane though, this is contradictory to good business practice and to building a “sustainable” business model. Paying for players because of their past success is not financially sensible and can lead to massive disappointment on the pitch (e.g £80million Chelsea spent on Andrei Shevchenko and Fernando Torres.)
“Sustainability” is the key phrase here. FSG are spending the money on these players because they feel they are paying for future performances, which could lead to a successful club both on the pitch in regards to trophies and off the pitch in regards to business. The emotion of wanting to buy a “proven player” is entirely lacking from these deals, in stark contrast to Roman Abramovich. Building a team for the future needs patience as success won’t come over night but the strategy is there for long term to ensure the sustainable growth of the team. This systematic approach may not be proven right in regards to these signings but we will have to wait and see. It is an approach which aims to be right more times that it is wrong; something a lot less risky than putting all your eggs in one basket; in the gut instinct of scouts, coaches and manager.
Article courtesy of David Tully at Live4Liverpool