Some of you probably have already seen the Brad Pitt movie “Moneyball”, if not go see it. I also recommend reading the popular book with the same name.
Although the book and the movie talk about baseball the concepts behind it are the main reason why Liverpool signed Jordan Henderson last summer. The storyline of the movie is about the Oakland Athletics baseball team who couldn’t afford to keep up financially with the likes of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Under the management of Billy Beane (portrayed in the movie by Brad Pitt) the Athletics (A’s) develop a new system of signing players where decisions are based on hard statistics rather than human (scout) intuition. The A’s have been extremely successful with this approach and Liverpool principal owner John W. Henry himself adopted the same model for the Boston Red Sox. Many give the system credit for the Red Sox winning the World Series after 86 years.
Baseball is big on statistics and the sport doesn’t have the complexities of football however this didn’t stop Henry from wanting to adopt this new approach at L.F.C.. In the last year we have seen an explosion of football statistics being delivered by Opta Sports. Using the data provided by Opta, Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish got to work and signed the likes of Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing last Summer based on their goal assist stats.
The concept is simple and can also be adopted outside sports as the human intuition can be deceiving. The average height of a CEO of an American Fortune 500 corporation is 6 feet while only 3.9% of Americans are over 6 feet tall. It is obvious that human intuition had a part to play in their selections and promotions. These companies are likely missing huge opportunities for better financial performances just because they went for the CEO that (to their human intuition) exerted better leadership qualities. Had they analysed the financial statements accurately and base their decisions on that then they would have gone with one who produced the better results.
We don’t need to look far to see how physical appearance can be deceiving. Peter Crouch doesn’t look like your regular football striker, he is tall and skinny. Peter was getting booed by England fans just because of his stick figure appearance and these fans weren’t looking at his work rate and stats. The only thing that won the England fans hearts was his robot dance, Liverpool fans on the other hand believed in him and we were rewarded with some spectacular goals.
Unfortunately there are still some Liverpool fans that don’t believe that there is something really special about Lucas Leiva. After his poor start at L.F.C. he worked hard and last season got the player of the season gong. Lucas is not your fancy footwork or goal scoring Brazilian however his work-rate is second to none. When you analyse Lucas’ stats you can see how impressive his record is however to the human eye he can be the unsung hero.
Of course there is more to football then just a computer and statistics. It is a human sport and with that there are factors that can’t be predicted or controlled such as chemistry, luck, referees and other factors that can put wrinkles in any plans. However I believe that the more we stack the odds in our favour the better our results will eventually be.
While some would argue that this is all voodoo and untested in the world of football, I would say give it a chance and let us see where it leads us. A few months isn’t enough time to reap the fruit of this, give it a couple of years.