When Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game hit shelves in 2003 booksellers could be forgiven for believing that a story about sports management and statistics might not exactly light up the mass-market audience. Even though it was about America’s national sport it was about the Oakland Atheltics, not the Yankees. Moneyball of course went on to be a national bestseller as Lewis’s tale of the underdog A’s and Billy Beane managed to capture the attention of baseball fans, academics and corporate executives alike.
Moneyball is about the success of a perpetually underfunded baseball franchise in the face of the financial might of historically larger baseball clubs. Lewis’ explanation for Oakland’s success is two-fold: a rigorous application of statiscal sobriety to player selection and business acumen in player trading. Billy Beane used these tools to outperform competitors year after year while also paying out a much smaller wage budget; it is a familiar American narrative that plays especially well in the recent times of extreme financial disparity. But Lewis’ most important theme is emphasizing the rewards of innovation in an industry which had grown complacent and wasteful.
An environment in which major financial decisions, like player trading and wages, are divorced from reality is easily recognizable for soccer supporters because an equally ridiculous climate exists in the world of soccer. Elite clubs owned by billionaires are able to splash mountains of cash on outsize transfer and wage budgets while the minnows who must operate within the considerations of balance sheets and income statements are resigned to the fate as perpetual middlers or relegation fodder. The rise of Manchester City is only the most recent example of a club whose financial presence places one more brick in the wall between the tiers of clubs. Moneyball has a following among soccer supporters because it gives hope that money is not the sole determinant of a club’s success and that disciplined management and scientific innovation can build an underdog into a giant. It worked in baseball, can it work in soccer? Is it possible to buy low, sell high and still win things in soccer? Continue reading “Moneyball Does Not Work In Soccer”