Fulham, Moneyball, David Stockdale, John Terry, and why I’m more positive now

With the disappointing news that David Stockdale’s off it becomes clear that this just isn’t about dead wood.

Here are the positives around Stockdale:

– we got him when he was nobody. It’s nice to see young players come through.
– he’s a good player. England squad, remember?
– he seems like a good egg.
– he seems to ‘get’ Fulham, to the extent that such a thing really exists.
– if he was going to go he’s had several better times to do so, notably when he was being messed about in the latter stages of the Schwarzer era.
– we need a goalkeeper.
– Stekelenberg is presumably aiming higher.
– he ‘knows’ the Championship. I don’t know how that helps either, but everyone talks about knowing the Championship so who am I to disagree?

And so on. There are probably more. Stockdale’s a nice lad who’s good in goal. It feels like a shame to let him go. At this rate – and I’m barely joking – Fulham’s fans will barely recognise anyone when the team takes the field at Portman Road.

So what’s going on? Does Stockdale want a new start? Does the club want to rid itself of all remnants of the 2013-14 disaster? I don’t know. Probably someone else does.

But something else is occurring to me, regardless of the final diagnosis here.

Fulham are going American.

What? Well in baseball you have no relegation and something called a draft, by which teams are continually refurbished with young talent. The worse the team the better access to young talent.

And American sports being heavily unionised as they are, player salaries are quite well controlled. What this led to, probably 10 years ago now, was a fairly widespread realisation that older players were dramatically overpaid relative to younger players. Oh, sure, the coaches and older players would continually big up the need for ‘experience’, but when it came down to it an experienced home run looked a lot like an inexperienced one.

Thing is, a young player would be on a maximum contract of $350,000. It’s more now but bear with me. After a certain period of time the player could renegotiate this, but it meant that teams who were prepared to take a risk on young talent were at an advantage, provided they had identified the right young talent. Generally, once they’d been in the game 7-8 years, experienced players, even mediocre ones, would take home $2,000,000 a year. Again, it’s more now, but you can see the point.

I have long wondered to what extent you could take this over here. My argument, which may be wrong, would be that if you’re paying Darren Bent £50,000 a week and he is useless every single game, you could just as well have played Mousa Dembele, who presumably earns a tenth of that.

You could. I appreciate that “it’s not that simple”, but when it comes to awful performances it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a 28 year old making them or an 18 year old. Except financially: the 18 year olds cost a tenth as much.

Mr Khan and his sons will be all too aware of this, as are we having seen the cheap and cheerful Cauley Woodrow perform just as well as £70,000 Hugo Rodallega in the run-in. Chris David will earn a bit more but presumably much less than the experienced heads who had disappointed before he got the chance. Dan Burn and Brede Hangeland probably played at equivalent levels, but Burn would have earned a massive amount less than Hangeland. And so on.

Now, there’s a limit to all this. That’s why I was saying if you’re going to be awful you might as well be cheap and awful. But where’s the fine line.

My sense is that the powers that be have had a good think here and worked out what they think a player is worth. Say Stockdale’s bringing in £30,000 a week. This is a C+ goalkeeper in the big scheme of things, good but not irreplaceable. Fulham figure they’ve identified someone just as good and he’ll cost them £15,000 a week in wages. So they make the move.

It might be that simple. What if Fulham are ruthlessly moving on all players whose value can be replaced at a lower cost? Players who earned Premiership wages which, even if they’re now discounted, still represent poor investments. Ordinary players making extraordinary money.

My guess is that Mr Khan and his sons have sat down with the Fulham top brass and said “right, we have young kids, they’re good. We have old players, who aren’t that good. We don’t need both” and gone from there. There would have been some variation on the “you win nothing with kids talk” which is probably how we ended up with Ross McCormack (“get rid of all the players who earn too much and I’ll buy you a centre-forward”) but this squad absolutely screams “rational thinking” to me. And if Scott Parker’s still here it’s either because you can take these things too far and he’s a good egg, or we haven’t found anyone who will pay him that much for that long. Probably both.

An argument could and will be made that we’ve turned over too much too quickly, and there may be something too that, but in football an awful lot of money is chucked away. Agents fees are the obvious ones, but when you or I get an inflation indexed pay rise if our employer feels generous, footballers famously get doubled salaries, or extra bonuses, or all sorts of other things like that. Fine, it’s a jungle out there and you get what you can, but we’re in the Championship now. Yeah we’ve got money but so too did a lot of teams who have botched their bounce-back. Fulham are finally going about doing things properly.

We’ll lose games but we’ll do it with a young team that we can get behind. We’ll struggle to recognise the players we see but ideally they’ll have been recruited with a certain profile in mind. (Remember Roy Hodgson moving for players from Scandinavia and other English speaking nations? Well look here: Australians, Swiss, Germans. These nationalities, if we dare generalise, are good ‘character’ nationalities.) These new players won’t be on silly wages, they’ll be on appropriate wages. And of course we have the youngsters, these super talented youngsters, who might not get all that much exposure, who might not do as well as we’re hoping, but whose time is coming.

You know how much better England felt when John Terry was exiled? This is Fulham now. I’m not equating last year’s team with John Terry because that wouldn’t be fair, but in a way I am. Last season WAS John Terry like. The club are trying to remove all traces of our John Terry season, and appropriately enough for such an exercise, they’re doing it intelligently and apparently well. Next season feels like a good season to me. If losing David Stockdale is a bummer, I’m hoping that we did it for the right reasons. And even if we did it for the wrong reasons, it feels like the club is again moving in the right direction.

25 thoughts on “Fulham, Moneyball, David Stockdale, John Terry, and why I’m more positive now

  1. This is interesting, and I certainly appreciate the analysis. I do wonder though–isn’t this what all teams do after they’ve been relegated, shed payroll? I’m not sure I’ve seen enough from Khan to make he think he has a little Billy Beane in him. I could be wrong!

  2. excellant post. I am disappointed as I think Stockdale was the right keeper to have in place for this challenge in the Championship. He is an ‘experienced’ player (whilst still being young), not on extortionate wages and of what I would regard as a good quality keeper for the Championship. I think he would have marshalled a young defence well and retained a bit of consistency/stability in an otherwise crazy transfer window.

  3. I have to agree with the main article here. It could all tip up but I remember when Southampton were rubbish! But with a few good youngsters look at them now. A selling club I know but at least they have players to sell. Most of ours have left for nothing. I havre always said that Football is a young mans game. Men with something to prove will always be better than men taking the same option.

  4. I honestly don’t know what to think. Stockdale has gone from a once very promising goalkeeper to decent fill-in to somewhat just sorta adequate. But he at least offered a sense of continuity.

    Will miss the fella, a lot.

  5. David Stockdale – was continually promised he’d be the heir to … fill in a name. Was continually promised full time team membership in a year or two, was dicked around and sent out on loan, never complained, never let the team down … and has lost a large chunk of his useful career. I wish him well with full time football and will look out for him for the rest of his career. One of the good guys.

  6. I suspect that Stockdale (C+ is about right) is about to be replaced by someone Magath reckons is better. Simple as that.

    Magath and Khan must be disgusted with last season’s squad generally and replacing them with keen, ambitious, talented kids makes complete sense if only so that we can all feel better about the club..

    Plus we have to take Financial Fair Play seriously.

    I’ll be shocked if we don’t bring in a talented keeper, central defender and midfielder in the next week or two. We’ll lose Ruiz, Dejagah, Stek and Mitroglu and have plenty of spare change.

  7. I think we’ve had this discussion on twitter at some point in the last six months, but I am pretty convinced that this kind of ruthless wage reset is the only way to manage FPP for teams whose unrestricted revenue streams are limited. (I came to the conclusion last year that FPP in its current form will mean the end of “mid-table clubs” in the long-term, as eventually everyone will suffer a similar fate to Fulham.)

    Somebody else also pointed out on twitter (Alex L, maybe?) that the wage cutting will help our parachute payments go a bit further, which reduces the pressure to go right back up.

    The downside, of course, is that if we adopt this strategy and go back up, we open ourselves up to the sort of cannibalism that Southampton is currently experiencing.

        1. Think those two are totally different. Both no fun, but tanking is often done when you already suck and are going to get punished with a salary cap/luxury tax (or just have a godawful stingy owner). The point of tanking is to be better for next season(s).

          What’s going on at Soho is just cannibalism. The financial gain their posed to earn is offset by half their starting lineup gone and it’s not even August. And this happens every year to many clubs across Europe.

  8. Rich, as a Yank, I was initially unhappy about the “Americanization of Fulham” idea. But when I read the post, I totally agree with your premise. And in many ways, it is easier to get behind a squad with eager young players than one with pouty veterans on 30,000 a week. Cheers.

  9. You put forward an interesting and persuasive analysis of what might be going on this off season, Rich. And it is one I am broadly in agreement with. The proof will be in the pudding, but Fulham engaging in some ‘outside of the box’ thinking really appeals to me – we became a turgid team relying on the odd big name transfer for relevance, this new team should fit a much better financial profile and one that should ensure the long term viability of the club.

    I am certain there will be some significant objection to this model (and some of it with merit), which perhaps we have already seen with the rumblings from scouts and ex-players behind the scenes and in the media. The proof will be in the pudding and it could go horribly wrong but we are on the verge of creating a new exciting identity. The fact we have an experienced and very successful manager buying into this new identity fills me with a lot of hope that after years of treading water, we have a purpose and know what we are doing. Time will tell I guess.

  10. Interesting analysis. The other thing behind this must be that there are players who just would never be happy under Magath. Brede was one of them, and I suspect that David Stockdale could be another.

    1. Not sure there is any evidence of Stockdale being unhappy with Magath. Indeed, Stockdale seemed more motivated than anyone else in that woeful team last season, and was Magath spoke highly of him.

  11. Sounds good – but it does rely on a manager who can create a playing structure for those young players. And we are hoping that Felix can do that – but I am not sure we saw any evidence of that last season :-(

    I liked Stockdale as a keeper, but he always left me feeling that he was not quite doing everything possible to be the number 1 keeper. You compare Schwarzer to Stockdale and you would think that the Stockdale was the older player. Schwarzer was fitter, stronger and more agile – Stockdale just did not seem to want to go into that next gear that you need a keeper to do.

  12. Good post Rich. From the looks of who is on the team at present, and who is rumored to be leaving (and have left), your premise is not only sensible, but likely exactly what they (Fulham management and ownership) are trying to do.

  13. Interesting that Eisfeld saw Fulham as a place where young talent like him could get a game. Rather see the academy stars given a chance than a collection of championship level journeymen come in and block their paths. Disappointed about Stockdale though, but goalkeeping role is tough – how many keepers spend whole career as no. 2.

  14. The problem with stockdale was that we all compared him to schwarzer who I think was the best keeper we’ve ever had . He dominated his box and had a lot fewer bleeps than Vds ar when he played for us . I have nerve felt safe with Stockers in goal nice guy or not .
    I just hope that stekelenberg doesn’t come back into the fold ……

  15. Basic premise stands, but if you don’t dilute it a bit (a bit more than McCormack) you are likely to be underestimating this division. It’s especially playing with fire not to have a convincing first-choice goalkeeper in place who has had some practice with his back four.

    There’s financial good sense and there’s the parallel world of taking your opponents seriously. What happens in the next ten days will throw more light on whether we are on both tracks, not just the one.

  16. Excellent read. Knowing what Khan is doing in Jacksonville with his NFL Jaguars, there is no doubt in my mind that he and his sons are bringing a strong moneyball approach to Fulham. Of course, if you follow the Jaguars you’ll know that this approach takes time. We definitely aren’t buying our way out of the Championship (if that’s even possible), so a retun to the Premiership could take some time. Football (soccer) metrics is also a relatively new field, and certainly not as easy as baseball, where a player’s performance is largely independent of his teammate’s performance and offensive value is fairly easy to determine – so just because we’re taking an analytical approach doesn’t mean we’re doing it right. However, I feel the FA is ripe for this approach (especially with FFP) and any team that can get a head start will have an advantage, particularly if we’re able to hire the best soccer analysts available (my biggest fear for Fulham is that Khan allows his sons to do this all on their own). My expectation (read: dream) is for Fulham to become something like the Tampa Bay Rays of the EPL within the next five years. A low payroll team that consistently competes with the giants.

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