Moneyball Does Not Work In Soccer

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”

Moneyball Does Not Work In Soccer

Lies, Damn Lies, and Historical Match-Ups

ports statistics are a hypnotic tool, they provide a quick, satisfying certainty to any fan looking for empirical guidance.  But their validity is seldom questioned by pundits or supporters, and perhaps the most meaningless statistic is the oft cited historical match-up statistic.  In a preview it will inevitably be recited that Team A has not beaten Team B in X number of previous games, that Team B has a history of upsets in the particular match-up, or that one of them has not won the meeting since men’s hats were in high fashion.  The emphasis on history has the appeal of being an analysis born of tradition and experience rather than reason.  The mystique is comforting to the footballing community, not least because it ensures the continued employment of their wisdom, but because it reaffirms the bias that football is not a thinking man’s game.  We are thinking men, however, and it is time to take a look at the conventional wisdom. Continue reading “Lies, Damn Lies, and Historical Match-Ups”

Lies, Damn Lies, and Historical Match-Ups