In an era of ballooning transfer fees and wages with more cash going around than ever, the frugal nature of select clubs has been exemplary in the soccer world. Taking advantage of statistics has allowed clubs like Brighton and Brentford to set themselves apart from other clubs without so much funding. However, there is concern that this moneyball is not maintainable when it comes to clubs like Brighton or Brentford. However, this is something that can breed success at the highest level. It just needs more time to develop, and these clubs could take a spot at the top of the table.

Brighton is effectively there already. In its last two seasons, the Seagulls have finished in the top half of the Premier League table. Its sixth-place finish last season ushered Brighton into European competition for the first time. Despite the uptick in performances, Brighton has a net income in transfers. In other words, it has made more selling players than it has spent purchasing players. Meanwhile, Chelsea and Manchester United, the two clubs with the highest net spend in the last five years, are floundering in the 2023/24 season.

Stefan Szymanski, a professor of sport management at the University of Michigan and a co-author of Soccernomics, says analytics are the difference between the two. Brentford and Brighton have adopted statistics and analytics as a means to scout players. Traditional clubs and their owners have shied away from this new era.

“The dominant clubs of our era, most of them have not been very interested in analytics,” Szymanski said. He mentioned Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and Sir Alex Ferguson as noted opponents to the rise of analytics. “There is much more consumption of analytics outside of football clubs than there is inside of football clubs.”

Brighton and Brentford leading the way in a new era

However, there are Premier League clubs that have fully embraced the analytics age. While each club does have statisticians and analysts for new data, the true differentiator for clubs like Brighton or Brentford is that the movement starts from the top.

“Managers do not have any statistical background, and they feel threatened by this,” Szymanski said. “The problem with most clubs is that their analysts feel like a spare wheel. They feel like they’re not being listened to, or they are being sidelined. The thing about Brentford and Brighton is that the owners buy into it. They are sidelining anyone that will not listen to the analysts. That is probably the future: More and more clubs will realize they have to take the analysts seriously.”

When Szymanski mentions the future, Brighton and Brentford have a jump on the other clubs. He called Brentford’s rise to the Premier League one of the biggest sports stories in the world. Then, Brighton looks like a candidate for another finish in the European spots. Regardless, there is a major hurdle that these clubs have to overcome if they want to compete for titles regularly, and that is simply money.

Newcastle burst onto the scene in the 2022/23 season after the Saudi Public Investment Fund hit. Newcastle finished fourth after five-straight mid-table finishes in the Premier League. Szymanski says moneyball clubs like Brentford or Brighton do not need this massive cash influx. Instead, their projects take time to develop. It can still be fruitful after years of successful practice.

“No matter how much money the rich clubs have, there will always be potential for smart clubs who use their resources cleverly to be competitive, at least for a while,” Szymanski says. “Success is highly correlated with spending over time. In any short period of time, the correlation is not that close. It is very possible for clubs in a short period of time to do exceptionally well even though they do not have the resources.”

Can moneyball spending transition Brighton or Brentford into ‘big’ clubs?

So, if it is Brighton and Brentford looking to move into the conversation at the top of the table with regularity, what must they do to break through? Szymanski says the key is to keep up with consistent results and gradual success.

“The problem for Brentford and Brighton is fan base. They don’t generate the same revenue from their success because they do not have the same historic fanbases that clubs like United, Liverpool and so on have. They won’t have that same fanbase unless they have a period of sustained success over a number of years.”

In this way, Brighton would generate revenue to open doors to big-money transfers. Consequently, Brighton can avoid smart trading as a means to compete.

Brighton’s recent competition in the Premier League Summer Series is helping to build that global audience. The Seagulls already have a stateside fan group, and the side’s continued success can help grow that fan base. In the summer of 2023, Brighton paid for four of the 10 most expensive transfers in its history. Success on the field can help lavish spending continue to grow in a domino effect.

Brentford will not be far behind, either. Both of the Bees’ record transfers came in the summer of 2023. While Brentford is still finding its footing in the 2023/24 campaign, sustained success is on the horizon for Thomas Frank and company.

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