Money(soccer)ball

It may be wise for a football club to get rid of its biggest and most shining stock, and spread the the money investing in little and promising varied stocks. Past examples show a better return on the money for those who took this step. After the owners, baseball methods are integrating in European football

There is an interesting trend in the history of blockbuster deals in the 21st century. In the majority of deals where a superstar moved from his team to a new one, it was the sellers that were more beneficial then the buyers.

Here are a few examples: Juventus had used the cash it got when it sold Zinadine Zidane to Real Madrid to acquire Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram and pavel Nedved. They would lead Juventus to four titles in the next five years (before losing two of them in the calciopoli scandal).

Zidane career in Madrid had its highs, he won a European title in 2002. But in reality, Real had the Champions League in two of the three years prior to Zidane’s arrival. With Zidane it won only one league title in five years – in 2003.

Milan had used the money it got from selling Kaka to Real Madrid to buy, within two seasons, Robinho, Ibrahimovic and Cassano. The team seems bound to retain a title it last won with Kaka back in 2005.

Inter Milan really hit the jackpot with the Zlatan Ibrahimovic sale to Barcelona. Samuel Eto’o arrived as part of the deal while Wesley Sneijder, Diego Milito and Lucio were brought in with cash. Symbolically, Inter elimintated the buyers enroute to the European title last year.Proffessionaly, Barcelona do very little wrong these days, but maybe Blockbuster deals are not the team’s strength.

The money Manchester United received for selling Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid was scandalously evaporated as part of the scandalous ownership of Manchester United by the Glazer family. But an earlier deal, the sale of David Beckham in 2003, is an interesting case study.

Beckham was not the world’s most expensive player at the time, but was a record sale in United’s history then. United had failed to sign Ronaldinho as a replacement, so instead the money was spent on 5-6 prospects. All but one of them failed. The one success was a fellow named Cristiano Ronaldo – demonstrating the merrits of dispersing the risks.

Billy Bean, creator of the Moneyball doctrine in American baseball, has been seen in the last few years in the circles of European football. He met Alex Ferguson and Martin O’Neal, and recently delivered a lecture to a conference of “Future Leaders” of football in London. Apparently he is trying to crack football with his saber-metrics.

Personally, I am skeptical about the applicability of match stats to behavior in the transfer market. Football is a game without rich statistics and baseball is a game without transfer fees. But general concepts can obviously be applied. If anything, even the broad concept of applying statistical analysis to player dealings.

It is worthwhile then, to  follow the developments at Liverpool in this regard. Liverpool have been bought by the owners of the Boston Red Sox. Moneyball was not invented in the Red Sox organization but in Oakland. The Oakland A’s are what the americans call “a small market team”. Significantly, the Red Sox, a rich organization, has been applying the Moneyball principals with great success.

Liverpool’s new footballing director, Damien Comolli, has a background in scouting. Just like Billy Bean had with the A’s. In the past days, Liverpool, like the clubs mentioned above, replaced their prime asset – Fernando Torres – with two close-to-world-class strikers – Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.

The Torres and Carroll deals both made the top-10 in the all time transfer fee table. Carroll in particular is  a candidate for the “football’s gone mad” headline. But maybe Liverpool are applying some logic to madness.

3 Trackbacks

  1. [...] goes against everything in the moneyball doctrine adopted by many clubs. A goalkeeper? For €50m? You lost it dear Keiser. However, this is proper [...]

  2. [...] Marketing can’t cover up anything in sports. What’s nice about football is that if you’re not doing what you are supposed to do you simply lose, and no sophisticated marketing campaigns can cover up the criticism by the fans, journalists and opponents. In “real” economics you can invest more in marketing than in the actual product (see cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries) and still get plenty of cash. Huge companies are making money by selling products that don’t actually work due to effective marketing. I can’t see Manchester United doing that. The “real” economy is not effective, while the sports economy must be effective see Moneyball. [...]

  3. [...] Gianluigi Buffon. Fantastic acquisition for Juventus. Huge transfer fees get a whole different meaning when player [...]

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