Interesting to learn of Damian Comolli’s departure from Liverpool. This isn’t (as has been suggested) the death of Moneyball because as far as I can tell, Moneyball was never born in Liverpool.
Simply put, Moneyball is about getting the most out of undervalued resources. Despite what the press has talked about, it’s not necessarily about statistics, it’s about finding ways to win.
The best exponent of Moneyball type philosophies the English game has seen is Sam Allardyce. Paul Tomkins’ book “Pay as you Play” looked at managerial performance versus transfer fees spent (I know, I prefer wages, but still) and Allardyce regularly murdered the competition in putting together good teams on the cheap.
It went further than that though. Allardyce knew what to do on the field. Most importantly:
He understood that set plays are the game’s great equaliser (average teams can be better at set pieces than good teams). By dominating at set pieces Bolton were able to put together results that put them higher in the league than would otherwise be expected.
Outside of set plays, Allardyce did all he could to level the playing field. His teams routinely took forever at re-starts (the less the ball is in play, the more chance of an upset). They played a physical game that understood the limits of the rules and pushed and pushed them. In short, they looked for the edges and tried to exploit them. They were very successful.
Allardyce is nobody’s idea of an England manager but in terms of getting results, he’s good at what he does.
And this is Moneyball, or at least one version of it.
Another approach is the hardly unheralded Newcastle United. Newcastle understand that two comparable players will not cost the same amount if you buy them in different places. Cabaye, Tiote, etc would be £15-20m players if they were English. Liverpool bought (inferior versions of) these players for the big money; Newcastle merely exploited the market inefficiency and raided France (and Holland). That’s Moneyball. I don’t know what Liverpool thought they were doing but it’s exactly the type of deal that Billy Beane would have been *exploiting* from the other side of the fence (if you read the Moneyball book, Beane’s forever seeing who he can fleece). That’s the irony of all this. Liverpool haven’t been Moneyballing; they’ve been Moneyballed!
The Fenway Sports Group must be furious at how their investment has developed. One point made to Paul Tomkins (to whom Henry has spoken) was that Dalglish and Comolli were in agreement on all the signings, but also on all other questions put to them by FSG. They’d be asked about x, y or z and give identical answers. It made it very hard for FSG to understand why things weren’t as they should be: they simply weren’t getting the information they wanted from Dalglish or Comolli. Henry also mentioned “A David Dein type” figure to Tomkins, suggesting a more senior individual is perhaps sought who can negotiate deals (Comolli was plainly not first rate here) and drive value. It’s here they’ve been found wanting.
Liverpool are a mess. They’ve shot for the Champions League with a £100m belch of a spending spree and come up with next to nothing they can build around. Surely now it’s a case of going back to first principles, developing young players (this is something they’re okay at and will see the fruits of in the next few years) but more importantly, not spunking great wedges on ordinary players. Lessons can and must be learned from Newcastle, and – gulp – from the Allardyce school of finding edges. That’s Moneyball.