No, football is not like baseball…

Alright! The problem with being a football outsider is that often you find yourself having to speculate about things you can’t really know about.

Well that’s fine in a way. This uncertainty has given us the scope to have a good think about what might possibly be happening behind the scenes at Fulham.

To recap, it seems to me that the Khans realise that football clubs, and their operations in the transfer market in particular, can be financial disasters, and have decided to stop wasting their money.  I also think that this is something that reasonable people would more or less agree with, even if the approach being taken – as best we understand it – is not for everyone.

Now Sam Wallace of the Daily Telegraph has thrown us a bone.

Kline is the architect at Fulham of what he calls the “Both Boxes Checked” system which is intended to give equal weight to traditional scouting methods and Kline’s own brand of statistical analysis. Without a positive score in both categories, a player will not be signed and that means, at the very least, that he has equal authority on signings with Jokanovic and the club’s chief football officer, Mike Rigg.

The thinking behind the scheme is that there should be consensus between the analytics department and the manager. Neither side should lay claim to the final say but instead, by a process of elimination, they alight upon a player who checks both boxes.

The plan at Fulham, in spite of Kline’s difficult relationships with former manager Kit Symons, and now Jokanoic, has been unwavering. The club are no longer prepared to sign players who are not “Both Boxes Checked”.

The American contingent is understood to have been unhappy with the signing of Richard Stearman from Wolverhampton Wanderers last summer for around £2 million on a three-year deal. They felt that he was overpriced, did not score highly on data and has not subsequently justified the investment. After that the introduction of Kline and his statistics-based approach was insisted upon as a key feature of the club’s recruitment.

Okay!

That makes sense doesn’t it?  You use analytics and scouting!  Eureka.

Again, to those who are angry now, go to this page and tell me that the ‘traditional’ way was working. Look at all the ‘players in’ columns, the fees paid, the wages that we can’t see, and tell me with a straight face that this is how things should be done.

As an aside, it’s not as if Jokanovic has a cast-iron track record that demands he have ultimate transfer power. To the extent that he has made his name in England, we’d probably give him most credit for the 2014/15 Watford team which came second in the Championship. But someone being cynical could say that he achieved this on the back of some very canny moves in the transfer market:

Heurelho Gomes played 44 games in goal and arrived on a free from Spurs and had a fine season (so it appears). But he joined in May 2014. Jokanovic didn’t sign on until October 2014.

Matěj Vydra bagged 16 goals in 31 starts. Odion Ighalo got 20 in 22 starts. These two were on loan to Watford from Italian talent factory Udinese (and they weren’t alone here, either: Udinese pumped the Hornets full of emerging talent). Troy Deeney, who signed in 2010, got 21 in 37. That’s the mother of all forward lines, and Jokanovic didn’t sign any of them.

So back to the task at hand. What is wrong here, exactly? Fulham are attempting to put tighter controls around expenditure. Manager doesn’t like it. He’s not expected to like it, as best we can tell.

As we’ve said, the process can hardly be any worse than the one the Khans walked into, so in my opinion the sensible thing is to give them credit for trying to build a better mousetrap.

Again: it can’t be any worse than what we had before. Someone could do a hit/miss rate on those transfers, and work out what we’ve wasted. Someone at Fulham undoubtedly has done this, which is why we are where we are.

Craig Kline’s methods may not be perfect. No: they won’t be perfect. They’ll make mistakes, false positives, false negatives, everything. But the interesting thing about building data models is that they learn. You can feed in results and improve performance. I realise that this invites the usual MY FOOTBALL CLUB IS NOT SOME LABORATORY IN WHICH TONY KHAN’S FRIEND CAN EXPERIMENT  observations, but that’s how these things work, isn’t it? In life any senior businessman will make decisions based on imperfect information. You take what you can, realise its limitations, and all the time try to make it better. Are we seriously saying we’re happy to keep backing hunches, or are we going to try to get better in the transfer market?

5 thoughts on “No, football is not like baseball…

  1. Useful to have that Telegraph article cited and worth following your link and reading it in full.
    Yes, it does seem a reasonable policy in general, not least in the light of the historical context you remind us of. In which case it comes down to fine-tuning.

    Firstly some provision needs to be made for players who don’t yet have a stats record to go by. Otherwise we stand no chance of being first to discover an unpolished gem. It’s hardly going to be an everyday occurrence after all.

    Secondly, there needs to be some provision for human relationships and for what the football world at large would consider simple common sense. it’s not every day, after all, that our own manager will receive a personal offer from the one of the world’s starriest. To insist this should be ignored because of stats would be one thing, but for lack of stats another. With only a loan in mind especially.

    Allow for exceptions and all may be well. Might even be one exception costing up to x per transfer window.

  2. The only statistics that hit me since Khan took over are: relegation from the Premier League after 13 seasons, two seasons of struggle in the Championship where forwards walked through our defenders and Rigg taking 8 weeks to find a head coach while the team slid down the table.

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