Justin Teo analyses the analysts at Arsenal Football Club.
Back in 2011, the manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team, Billy Beene, sat amongst the who’s who of our football world at the Leaders in Football conference and discussed the sabermetric theory of player recruitment.
Careful not to let his audience get caught in the mechanics of this recruitment method, Billy Beane explained it simply as “getting the most out of your dollar, or pound.”
The revered baseball tactician emphasized it was not about buying cheap or spending less, but it was about value.
“There is a misconception that you never pay much for anybody, but that is not true at all. You want to make sure you are getting more value than you are paying. That may come in the form of a very expensive player, or it may come in the form of a very young player, but it is not about being cheap or not spending money,” exclaimed the icon of modern baseball management.
Looking at this past few weeks’ media coverage on Arsenal’s Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis giving insights into Arsenal’s much anticipated flexing of their financial muscle, one could have mistaken Billy Beane sitting in Gazadis’s hot seat.
Both men sought to dispel the myth that professional sports clubs should instill a maximum price on recruiting any athlete. In the end, it all boiled down to the value which any athlete gives the club, not so much within that particular time and circumstance but for the future returns, and no, nothing about the price.
“When you come back to the socialist wage structure or limit on transfer fees we would pay, these things don’t really exist. It really depends on individual circumstances and how much Arsene believes a particular player is the critical piece for us.”
Gazidis almost sounded like he was about to splash the cash this summer, especially with all the talk about Arsenal being able to recruit Rooney or even Messi. Yes, Arsenal’s hands, bound tight over the past few years by their Emirates stadium investment, are definitely a lot looser for the fabled big dip into their pockets for this summer’s recruitment.
But one suspects the underlying message was simply that there are very few players in the market who are able to add the extra value into the Arsenal squad and who are worth their price tag. Summer shopping with the Arsenal Football Club does feel like being the hopeful child forced into a trip to the stores with the aunt who keeps reminiscing about her last mercurial find in the discount bins.
In giving hint to Arsenal’s favor for the Billy Beane methods, Gazidis revealed the brains behind their recruitment strategies, “There is a massive amount of thought that goes into it by some very very smart and thoughtful people at the club including Harvard analysts and Arsene Wenger himself is a pretty smart mathematical guy.”
There must be more than a few Gooners out there hoping Arsenal’s much touted Harvard analysts miss a few zeroes in balancing their spreadsheets this summer and instead top it off with a bit of football romance by snagging a so-called big name player. But before we jump off the ship of sabermetrics into this sea of summer speculation, let’s knock some sense back into that romance.
Gazidis reminded us, “We have outperformed our spend in virtually any metric you can look at consistently for the last 15 years. It’s an extraordinary record. So we are doing something right in the way that we spend although it may frustrate some people.”
If there is a metric that tracks the romantic notions of football run by heart and not brains, you will not find it anywhere near the Emirates stadium.
Arsenal may not follow the Oakland Athletics in any way or form beyond their investment thinking, but one telling statistic at this baseball club that stands out in the “Moneyball” years of 1996 to 2004 is the one which plainly shows it did not win any silverware, failing in the playoffs through this period although topping or being near the top of their division in some of the years.
This summer may yet see some big signings entering the Arsenal ranks, but let’s hope their future returns resemble more the likes of Henry or even someone in the mould of Suker, Arsenal’s former Croatian super-sub.
Arsenal needs players who not only justify their investment through statistical analysis, but also on the field with crucial goals and game changing performances.
It is all and well that most if not some Gooners continue to accept the lack of trophies, but these Gooners also know the statistics they value more than any other are those about goals scored or the win secured. Ultimately, these wins will lead to that next trophy however long that journey might take them.