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What Premier League Clubs can Learn from Baseball

By Kent Darcy

Why don’t football clubs employ baseball models (i.e. sabermetrics) for evaluating talent? As a football and baseball junkie, I’m more than aware of the fact that both sports are entirely different. But, it seems to me that baseball is on to something when clubs like the A’s and Twins (and many others) are able to evaluate talent aside from “the name” of a player and able to save marginal revenue by signing Player X (70% as good as Player Y, 1/25th the price) over Player Y (Better than Player X to be sure, but W-A-Y more expensive)…I could give you scores of examples, but hope that you see where I’m going.

I’ve been wondering lately, why more football clubs don’t employ methods a la Arsenal or Manchester United or, better yet, Portsmouth or Blackburn? Or, do they and I’m not aware of it? No, not buying the highest priced youngsters on the market, but buying reasonably priced youngsters on the market.

Of course there are “can’t miss” players like Ronaldo or Essien that always fall to the clubs with money. But, most clubs in Europe can’t afford those players. That they try to compete with the signings of the biggest clubs in Europe is just stupid; it’s also economically impossible. Think Sevilla or Villarreal try to compete with Real Franco or Barcelona with money? Hell no, they find inequalities in the system and untapped resources (i.e. failed Premiership players). So, where in the hell are the majority of Premiership clubs with this approach?

This to me seems oh-so-obvious, especially when one considers the fact that football has a player pool massively larger than baseball and spread throughout the globe. I’m mean all the freaking money in England (or Europe) right now and why aren’t more teams scouting Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Africa, or Asia for players as good as Lee Bowyer or Pick-Your-Fulham-Or-Boro-Player for less money and more upside?

I’m a West Ham fan. For the life of me I can’t figure out why West Ham (i.e. a club with status for its football academy) would ever sign players like Dyer, Parker, Solano, Ljungberg, Boa Morte, and Neill. Yeah, these guys are okay, but they’re injury prone and/or old(er) and/or not THAT much better than youthful depth. Hell, I’d take youthful depth from Championship sides and an Anderson or Babel over the lot that I just gave you. I mean, is a squad assembled at Portsmouth or Blackburn THAT difficult to figure out? No, not it’s not. And I tell you what, when an American fan watching from afar and reading his World-Soccer-Daily-inspired Four Four Two can see and predict teams’ stupid signings…well…that’s saying something.

It seems to me that a hell of a void is out there when it comes to assessing value for production and most Premiership sides are not doing a very good job of using their sizeable resources to properly assemble a competitive side.

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  1. Anonymous

    November 18, 2007 at 1:43 am


    Hey…I see that you’re not attacking me. I didn’t mean for my response to appear as an attack on you. I began to write and just kept going, was interruped, returned and lost my train of thought.


  2. Anonymous

    November 18, 2007 at 1:38 am


    I’m asking questions in a e-mail that I sent to Chris. he asked me if he could post it and I said “sure.”

    What part of what I wrote is somehow unacceptable to you? Would you contend that football clubs have scouts and that these scouts evaluate individual players primarily as individuals and secondarily as parts of a team? I sure hope so, because they do. So, do you think that a ManCity scouts Petrov as a player playing with 10 other guys on Team X? Well…somewhat, but they’re scouting Petrov. Do you actually think that the top European squads that get the top players from abroad (Brazil, Argentina, Africa, etc) place a greater emphasis on how a Roque Santa Cruz plays with other Paraguayans vs. how damn good HE is? Yeah it matters if Player X makes his team better, but that’s also a reflection of how valuable Player X is.

    My point more than anything is to question why so many teams in England (and throughout top European leagues) continue to recycle the same players for increasingly inflated salaries when they can go to countless countries and find players not quite as polished (but decent to be sure) for much less value. That’s my question. And, if you read “Moneyball,” the premise isn’t as much about stats (i.e. OBP) as it is about undervalued and underrated talent and skills…it’s a freaking business model for finding and exploiting such things.

    In my case, I can’t figure out why West Ham is spending so much money on the likes of Scott Parker when I’d bet my house that there are twenty guys in Africa/South America/North America that are as good as him for a much reduced price tag. Added to this is the fact that teams can add to their value by scouting quality young and then selling it when market value is high…something that West Ham has done well at in the past.


  3. tyduffy

    November 17, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    I think its like with anything in life, some people are just idiots.

    I believe that it is also a bit more difficult to statistically evaluate footballers than baseball players. Everything a footballer does is so intimately connected to what the other ten players on the pitch are doing that its much harder to project value.

  4. blahblah

    November 17, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    Wow – I don’t get that MLS magazine but really want to read the Beane article. Is it online somewhere? Anyone have a link?

  5. Kartik

    November 17, 2007 at 8:56 am

    Interestingly the concept of “MoneyBall” is coming to MLS, since Bill Beane is involved in the new San Jose ownership group. Peter Brown has an outstanding interview with Beane about MLS and European Football in this month’s Major League Soccer Magazine.

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