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Moneyball –The way forward for newly-promoted clubs

‘There are rich teams, and there are poor teams, and then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us’

Anyone who has played Football Manager with a club in the Second or Third Division of any country will testify to this assertion by Brad Pitt, who delivers a fine performance as Billy Beane in the critically acclaimed Hollywood movie ‘Moneyball’, without a second thought. It is one hell of a headache to assemble a team with a budget that is sometimes half of what even mediocre players in the Premier League or La Liga earn every year. And yet, there are some exceptional managers who still manage to attain promotion with the club. A summer full of elation and optimism follows in the city where the club is based. Until the season starts, however. Then the fans feel the hard and cold rush of reality hit them and prick them like a thousand needles shot at the body all at once.

We saw that with Blackpool in the 2010/11 season. And we’re witnessing the same with Reading this season. Why do most clubs who are promoted to the top-flight find it so hard to cope with the rigours of the top-flight? Hull City, Burnley, Blackpool… see the pattern?

In the movie ‘Moneyball’ (which is based on a true story, and those interested might check out Billy Beane and his achievements as General Manager with the Oakland A’s), Beane (Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland A’s, a team whose new owner Steve Schott is keen on balancing the books before the season begins. As a result, the team loses a couple of its star players, who are sold to bigger and more ambitious clubs. This is heard of only too often in football.

Beane meets Peter Brand, a Yale graduate in economics, and this is where this article comes to its main point and ceases to be a movie review. Brand devises a scheme of assembling a team with the limited budget on offer, by employing his ‘sabermetrics’. Players who are generally ignored by the bigger clubs for one or the other defect, but who could be effective otherwise, are collected to form a roster, which, once it gets together, sets off on a remarkable winning sequence.

The Championship clubs that make it to the Premier League next season, must take a leaf out of this concept that revolutionised the Major League Baseball since. Take, for example, Blackburn Rovers. In case they get promoted this season, they will be every bookie’s best bet to stumble back to the second tier. But, there are about thirty to forty players in the Premier League who are tailor-made for Rovers and  just waiting to be snapped up, that Rovers can use to great effect and not only stay in the top tier, but do so convincingly. This is where the ‘loan’ system can prove to be a boon for such clubs.

Top clubs like Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal continue to produce decent footballers who, even if they don’t make it at their parent clubs, can carve out a decent career elsewhere. Henning Berg, newly appointed manager of Rovers, can easily build a decent team of such players. The Gabriel Obertans, the Kenwyne Jones’, the Kevin Davies’, are all players capable of having a good season with a club where the expectations are as low as they get. Then there are the U-21s and teenage fliers like Scott Wootton and Keane duo of United, who the manager would be desperate to give some quality game time but can’t because of the quality of their main squad. One year on loan is all they need. Every party involved in such a transaction benefits.

West Ham United v Manchester City - Premier League

Case in point, West Ham’s loan signing Andy Carroll. Although we are not sure if Brendan Rodgers was high on something when he agreed to the deal, we can be sure that ‘Big Sam’ Allardyce would have been delighted with Carroll’s addition to his squad. Carroll is an Allardyce player in every sense. And look how it is paying off. West Ham are comfortably placed in mid-table with the likes of Carroll, the nomad Kevin Nolan, Vaz Te and Benayoun all delivering for West Ham, along with goalkeeper Jaaskaleinen, signed from Bolton, who were also relegated last season. Relegated teams too, can be a treasure trove of players.

But most profitable among all, is the signing of free agents. Not a penny paid to any other club. Only the club’s wage structure can prove to be an obstacle in such a signing. And if the team can eke out about ten to fifteen goals from a striker signed on a free transfer, they will have made quite the bargain. A handful of clean sheets from a free goalkeeper would be a real value for money signing, so to speak.

So, this is the best and the most positive way out for teams that will be promoted this season, anywhere in the world, because the shrewdness, the tact, and the practicality of the roster building is proportional to the points amassed in the league. Or they can just do what Blackburn did last season: Take all the wrong decisions, hire all the wrong people, and buy yourself a one way ticket to the relegation zone.

But ‘Moneyball’ is a concept that the managers must give a thought about.


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