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Why Moneyball won’t work for Liverpool

So Liverpool’s awkward season continues to progress. Mid-table Premier League and a Carling Cup (with potential FA Cup on the way) I doubt are what John Henry and company expected when they purchased the club last year. With a Champions League place way out of view lots of journalist are talking about how the Moneyball aspect is not working this year.

And this just drives me crazy.

I wonder whether or not journalists and Liverpool fans know what exactly Moneyball is. Just watching the movie does not mean you know anything about Moneyball. Read the book, then read the book again, then watch the movie and see if it makes sense.

Being Canadian I have a passion for baseball, as well as football and comparing the concept of Moneyball to baseball and football equally is ridiculous. Baseball is a sport without a time limit. It’s a sport where there are series of one vs one matchups (pitcher vs batter) where it is easy to quantify the result (hit vs out) and gauge how numbers speak to a players performance (batting average, runs batted in, etc). Football is a flowing game, with a specific time limit where you can measure statistics, but how accurate are these statistics. If a midfielder completes only 25% of his passes, yet three passes set up a goal is the midfielder worthless?

Moneyball (in theory) is about fielding a successful team on a limited budget. The Oakland Athletics are a team that have a payroll around $30-40 million a season where a team like the Boston Red Sox spend over $200 million a season, so Moneyball is to try and explain how Oakland can compete with Boston in the same season, with a clear deficit in funds. To compete Oakland have to find players that are undervalued by the bigger clubs and get them at a cheap price and hope that they produce results.

Do you think that theory applies at Anfield?

Where you can apply this Moneyball theory this season in the Premier League is with Newcastle. Who at St. James’ Park were excited this season about the likes of Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa or Tim Krul this season? Yet how valuable have all these players been to Newcastle sitting level on points with Chelsea (a team who has spent much more) and fighting for a place in Europe? But if you believe the Moneyball can be applied to football (which I do not) then Newcastle is the argument you should be making, not Liverpool.

I constantly read about how fans say how Liverpool signed Jordan Henderson because of Moneyball, that is insane. Do you think that Jordan Henderson has been worth his value this season? Do you think any club had Jordan Henderson valued as high as what Liverpool signed him for? Now Jordan Henderson may very well be one of the strongest midfielders in Liverpool history (as he is still young) but it will have nothing to do with Moneyball. Similar cases can be made for Stewart Downing and of course Andy Carroll. Andy Carroll can easily be seen as a bust this season because of the price that Kenny Dalglish paid for him. Our only real successful player brought in this year which can be considered a deal was Craig Bellamy (free).

What is seems that King Kenny was doing last summer was trying to rebuild Liverpool they way every manager does. Go out and sign young talent, as well as some experienced players to help fill voids and maybe get some great buys as well. The Moneyball nonsense is only really an issue because of the Reds’ struggles. All teams rebuild, some make great signings some make failures. But all is forgiven by being competitive. Are fans in Manchester upset that United wasted money on Tiago Bebe? Or that City have wasted money on Robinho, Wayne Bridge, Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz and probably some others? Doubtful, because they are winning.

But wait you may be thinking, what about the Boston Red Sox? They spend a lot of money and win, is it Moneyball? No, if you were paying attention to what Moneyball is supposed to be about, it is competing on a limited budget. Having a budget over $200 million dollars is not really limited. Now the principles of Moneyball are being preached in Boston, where they still try to get the players who will offer them the best value for their money, but they are able to put a higher price tag on that value than a team such as Oakland.

There is one final issue that you should consider when talking about Moneyball. In baseball there is a manager and a General Manager (GM). The manager fields the players, the GM signs and trades players. There is not that role distinction in football. Kenny Dalglish goes out and brings in players, and also decides which eleven players will suit up. Also in Moneyball, the manager is really just a face, the GM has all the power.

Now this is not an indictment of Liverpool or John Henry. I am a Liverpool fan, a huge one and take so much flack from my buddies who support other teams. I was so excited when John Henry bought Liverpool because I have seen with the Boston Red Sox what he can build. I also believe he will follow through and bring Liverpool back to its original glory, but it will take time. Just because a snag has been hit rebuilding this season, do not look for excuses such as Moneyball has failed.



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