Football

Could ‘Moneyball’ Ever Work In Football?

Since the new millennium a singular concept has swept through American professional sports. The concept is known as ‘Moneyball’,  has been made famous by the 2003 best selling book and the 2011 film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. After conquering American sports, the question is, can the concept work in football?

For those of you who  are not familiar with the ‘Moneyball’ idea, it’s the concept that individual players are over valued and a team filled with smaller players working to a common goal are just as effective as world class talent, costing a lot less money and allowing smaller teams to compete with bigger teams. Whilst this is a broad description of it, it’s the only way to explain it so it would work in professional football.

Existing football pundits may suggest that the concept is a novel idea but would not work in football and they could have a point. For a start, football does not have a salary cap unlike major American sports. They would suggest that this means that the concept has little relevance to football, however for me I have to disagree.

The ethos of the concept is to help smaller budget teams compete more evenly with their financially richer rivals. The sport in which gave the concept its fame is Baseball, a game which arguably has the biggest discrepancy in finances. According to Spotrac going into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, there is a difference of $179 million dollars between the L.A Dodgers $242 million dollar payroll and the Milwaukee Brewers $63 million dollar payroll.

Whilst there is a large difference in finances between the top and bottom of the Premier League for example, the financial divide is no where near as big as baseball. If teams such as the Oakland A’s can compete with major teams in baseball the same is possible within the Premier League.

Last season Leicester City proved inadvertently that the ‘Moneyball’ concept can work at a high level in football. They assembled a squad that cost under £30 million pounds, with their biggest signing being Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki for £7 million. With their own brand of counter attacking football manager Claudio Ranieri, they shocked sports fans across the world.

They started the season as favourites for relegation, with some bookmakers they were 5000-1 to win the Premier League. Yet they flew through the season, only losing three games on route to the most unlikely Premier League title in history. Whilst this is rightly being talked about as the ultimate football fairy tale story, what can be learnt from it?

What I think it shows is that the ‘Moneyball’ concept could work in professional football. If a lower budget team adopted the mentality and began searching for players who had good individual attributes, and putting them into a team which could then execute an effective game plan could very well prove to work better for that club than the existing model.

Whilst it’s possible the entire Leicester season was indeed a one-off fairy tale, it’s equally possible that Leicester proved that a new model of structuring a team can be successful in football. It will be interesting to see in the future if any other Premier League clubs adopt this mentality, and if it works the revolutionary balls of change may begin to roll.

‘Moneyball’ proved that in baseball you didn’t need to pay the high wages of a Derek Jeter to be successful and compete, so could Leicester’s success prove you don’t need a Sergio Aguero or Paul Pogba to be successful? Only time will tell.

 

What do you think of the ‘Moneyball’ concept, and do you think it could work in the Premier League? Let me know in the comments section below and thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Does the Premier League Need a Winter Break?

The Christmas and New Year period is for the large majority of the nation an opportunity to spend time with loved ones, however in the world of English club football this period is the busiest of the season. With many teams facing the prospect of three games within a week over this period, has the time come for serious debate over whether a winter break period should be adopted?

The English football league is an anomaly amongst its European counterparts, with a vast majority of other European leagues taking a winter break. Even the Scottish leagues have a break over the new year period. South of the border teams are forced to exhaust all avenues of their squad as they have to prepare their teams to face three fixtures in six days, an exercise that seems an archaic throwback to previous era’s of football.

Some football fans will want to retain the hectic Christmas fixture list, maybe as a nostalgic ode to how things used to be. On the other hand, at a time when English football is going through a period of introspection after successive failures for the national team, club teams also find themselves on the back foot.

The Premier League is widely seen as the most competitive major league in the world thanks to its high level of talent, but in major competition they face a disadvantage. When the next rounds of the Champions League and Europa League take place in the middle of February, for English teams they will already have done three quarters of their season, and will be suitably showing the exertion this places on a squad. European rivals however will be just a few weeks into the second half of their seasons after the break.

The winter break is not simply a time to rest however. Many clubs will hold winter training camps or play international friendlies to raise the profile of their clubs. The more controlled nature of these however ensure that the players efforts do not replicate what takes place in a normal league fixture. The risk of injuries or suspensions is also very much reduced, keeping as much as the squad fit and healthy for the second half of the season.

The period of non-stop fixtures takes a heavy toll on English teams, leaving them at a disadvantage as the season goes on. This month there is the added burden of the African Cup of Nations, of which many top players will compete in, although this is something that every major club will have to deal with, however some clubs may be affected more than others by the tournament.

Whilst some fans and pundits in England have lamented state of football in this country, it seems obvious that when other major clubs around you have several weeks off whilst they have to face the most congested period of the season, of course this is going to put you at a disadvantage to your rivals. Whilst the solution would be for the English leagues to adopt a winter break, this is far easier said than done.

The English Premier League especially generates huge amounts of revenue and has the largest worldwide fan base of any major league. It’s become a global brand and therefore it will be very hard for the F.A to implement a winter break when fans are used to having such a busy Christmas/New Year period. Fans may be able to stage some form of protest, although this issue is for the majority not their highest priority.

Next month will see the return of the Champions League and Europa League, and I hope I am proved wrong about the disadvantages facing the English teams competing. If however they struggle against their respective opponents, factor in the relative games both sets of players have already competed in.

Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and thank you for reading!

 

Can Borussia Dortmund Ever Reach Their Previous Heights Again?

The 12th May 2012. Borussia Dortmund are a club in a state of ecstasy. Having retained their Bundesliga title they have humiliated rivals Bayern Munich with a 5-2 trouncing in the DFB Pokal to secure the double for the first time in the clubs history.  This was the moment that Dortmund cemented themselves as the benchmark team in German football, and it would also be the beginning of the end of their reign.

In the four years since that magic moment a lot has changed for the club. A lot of the key players from that team have since left for pastures new, tempted by big money offers from bigger clubs. The charismatic manager Jurgen Klopp has also departed, leaving after a testing 2014/15 season, replaced by Thomas Tuchel. He is seen in German football as the man most like Klopp, and not simply because he has followed his path from Mainz to Dortmund.

In an attempt to return Dortmund to the days of challenging Bayern Munich for the title this summer the club spent a very uncharacteristic amount of money to try and compete for the title.  After finishing last season in second place they used the money from high profile departures of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan with fellow world class talent.

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Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben is dejection personified as the rival Borussia Dortmund players celebrate yet another goal in their 5-2 humiliation of the German football titans in the 2012 DFB-Pokal final. This result would have wide ranging consequences in the coming years. Photo copyright Associated Press. 

Replacing central defensive rock Hummels was young Barcelona player Marc Bartra, whilst central midfielder Gundogan was replaced with the returning Mario Gotze. The Dortmund youth product left bitterly to main rivals Bayern Munich, but after struggling to cement himself has now returned to his hometown team. Finally Mkhitaryan was replaced with Germany international Andre Schurrle.

It wasn’t just the present that the club was looking at this summer. Looking towards the future they signed several very promising young talents such as forwards Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor from Rennes and Nordsjaelland respectively. Midfielders Mikel Merino and Sebastian Rode were also signed from Osasuna and Bayern Munich whilst left back Raphael Guerreiro joined from Lorient.

These youngsters along with Bartra join talented players already at the club such as midfielders Christian Pulisic and Julian Weigl along with emerging defenders Erik Durm, Matthias Ginter and Felix Passlack. Whilst this season things have not gone perfectly for the team in the league this season, they currently sit a close fifth but a long way off the top two Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig, in the cup competitions they have shown promise.

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Dortmund’s striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang shows the emotions when celebrating a crucial Champions League equaliser against powerhouses Real Madrid at home. He has cemented himself as one of the world’s best strikers and the Madrid club are strongly linked with a £60 million plus bid for him next summer. The match would end 2-2 but Dortmund would have the last laugh, topping the group. Photo copyright TF Images/Getty Images.

They have made it to the last 16 of the DFB-Pokal cup and will be hoping they can continue their good record in the competition.  In the Champions League they have also impressed as they overcame Real Madrid to top their group unbeaten as they now face Benfica in the next round.

It’s clear that the club are still in transition right now, with the legacy of the Klopp era looming largely over the club still. This is entirely natural as his reign took the club from mid-table obscurity to German football powerhouses and world football pioneers. With the squad also in transition as the previous generation of unknown players leave for bigger clubs the next generation of talent is coming through into the first team.

With the likes of Marco Reus and Gotze to guide them they have the potential to once again challenge the established order in Germany, much like RB Leipzig have done this season. The squad is getting younger and this can only mean good things for the future, therefore don’t think that because the majority of well known players and manager Klopp have gone,that the Borussia Dortmund era is over. It might simply be regenerating with a new assortment of players and manager at the helm.

By Jordan Wilkins

Thank you for reading and if you have any comments feel free to post them below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Have the F.A made the right decision?

Today is the day that the questions will begin in earnest. Should the F.A have removed Sam Allardyce? The 61 year old was a popular appointment as England manager, only 67 days ago, but the recent allegations made against him have proved too much for the F.A to handle. Where does this leave the England national side now?

Allardyce is alleged to have helped potential middle east investors circumvent third party ownership rules. These rules have been in place in England since 2008, and with FIFA since last year. Former UEFA president Michel Platini compared the practice to a form of “slavery”. These were very serious allegations made by the Telegraph in their sting operation, and now it has cost Allardyce his dream job.

Allardyce was also implicated in a 2006 BBC Panorama undercover operation, where he was accused of accepting bribes through his son from agents for signing certain players. This time around it has cost him his dream job, with Allardyce today explaining that “entrapment has won”, as he looks to rebuild his reputation.

3500Sam Allardyce proudly holding the England scarf on the day of his announcement in late July. Little did anyone know his reign as England manager would last only 67 days. Photo copyright FA.

Many will question where this leaves the England team, with Allardyce’s new era over after 67 short days. He only took charge of one game, with the team now in limbo after a hugely disappointing Euro 2016 performance. The F.A now finds itself starting again for the second time in several months, with some early candidates such as Gareth Southgate being put forward by the media.

The debate will rage on across the country in the coming days, were the F.A right to terminate the contract of Allardyce? Both sides of the argument will be well represented, but ultimately the England football team finds itself in a precarious position. After such a disappointing summer, where does it go from here as it aims to put it’s current turmoil behind them. And just who will take on the unenviable task of leading England back to the place where the nation expects them to be? All will become clear in the coming weeks and months. Whatever the outcome, the F.A will have to think long and hard about this decision, as it could have wide reaching consequences in the coming years?

What are your thoughts on the sacking of Sam Allardyce? Too soft or the right decision? Please feel free to comment below and let me know your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

The Inquest Begins After England’s Latest Faliure

What a difference a month can make. Going into the Euro 2016 tournament last month, most England fans were quietly confident about their chances. After a perfect qualifying campaign that saw them easily finish top the group with ten wins from ten games, along with a string of friendly victories, many thought this new, young generation of players would finally match expectations in a major tournament. How naïve we all were.

After three up and down group games, the team bowed out of the tournament in humiliating fashion against a team they were expected to easily overmatch, Iceland. England showed promise in their three group games, cruelly being denied in the final minutes of a significant opening game victory against Russia, unfortunately a game that was marred by fan violence both before and after the game.

The country rejoiced with Daniel Sturridge after his vital winner in the final seconds of a closely fought fixture with local rivals Wales, which put them in the driving seat for topping the group. Even with their final group game against a good Slovakia side, many felt they were unlucky to draw 0-0 against a very defensive minded side. So why did things go so badly wrong when they faced the lowest ranked side in the tournament in the first knockout round?

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Roy Hodgson looking dejected as the realisation we are about to go out to Iceland dawns on him. Was it at this point he was considering his future? Photo credit Associated Press.

 This is a question that will have everyone in the country talking for a long time, as they struggle to find out just what is the seeming England curse with major tournament football. Early casualties were the coaching staff, with manager Roy Hodgson and his coaching staff Gary Neville and Ray Lewington all resigning minutes after the final whistle in Nice. Many have now seriously questioned the tactics of Hodgson, with many feeling he simply did not know his best team or formation all tournament. This confusion over tactics has been attributed as part of our epic downfall, with confusion reigning amongst the fans and players, which contributed to the woeful performance put in on Monday night.

The most galling thing was that this time things were expected to be different. After the previous generation bowed out in the group stage of the World Cup two years ago, better things were expected with a new, young generation of players who have thrived in the Premier League for the past few seasons. With a vibrant and exciting young squad we hoped the curse of underperformance in the England shirt would have been rectified. We clearly still have some work to do to fix this.

Whilst the manager has taken a lot of the early criticism, the players deserve their equal share also. The performance against Iceland was beyond awful, with highly paid and experienced Champions League players struggling to make the simplest of passes. The worrying statistic is that in the game Marcus Rashford completed the most successful dribbles for England, and he was only on the pitch for five minutes.

We showed ourselves up with amateur defending from a set piece, something we knew Iceland used as their main tactic of scoring thanks to their long throws. With the second goal the England defenders seemed to be standing around waiting for someone else to make a tackle, before forlornly watching the ball roll past the soft hand of keeper Joe Hart. From this point onwards England never looked like scoring, with the only brief ray of hope being provided by subs Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford. The players sunk to their knees at the final whistle, although they deservedly heard chants of “your not fit to wear the shirt”, from the tired England fans.

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The England players dejected after their shocking 2-1 defeat to Iceland on Monday night. Photo sourced from Sky Sports.

England have embarrassed themselves both on and off the pitch this tournament, and it’s safe to say that no one will be unhappy to see us now travel home with our tail between our legs. The inquest is already beginning over the debacle this tournament, and a lot will need to change if England are to do well in a major tournament. We need to find a manager who can successfully motivate the squad whilst also find the perfect formation and starting eleven for us to do well. Many have insisted it has to be an English manager, but after several tries with this method can we not simply accept that it should be the best man for the job, irrespective of whether he’s English or not?

We will need to keep faith with this young squad, as we do have some really promising players who many not recover if we heavily criticise them now. If we can get them playing in the manner they do with their clubs, we will go far. Maybe this latest disappointment will be wake up call we need to show that we have been expecting too much from the England team for numerous tournaments. It’s clear we are nowhere near as good as we expected, and maybe in future we need to temper our expectations to avoid any potential disappointment.

Where do England go from here? What are your thoughts on what went wrong in the Euro’s? Comment below and thank you for reading.

 

Bristol Rovers On Upward Trend

Two years ago Bristol Rovers were staring at the abyss, as they were unceremoniously dumped out of the English football league, after 94 uninterrupted years. For the first time in club history they would be a non-league side, facing huge turmoil going into their debut season in the Vanarama Conference.

Fast forward to the present day and the future could not possibly look more different for the well supported West Country club. After a dramatic injury time winner from left back Lee Brown, the club known as the Gas will be plying their trade in League One next season. Their victory and dropped points from Accrington Stanley ensured Rovers a nail biting promotion thanks to a marginally better goal difference.

Rovers have gone from facing the likes of Dover and Braintree to now facing the likes of Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United within two very short years. The club has changed dramatically in this time period, with a complete overhaul of the squad and whole scale changes in other key positions.

Manager Darrell Clarke was handed the management job with only seven games to go in the fateful relegation season, coming into a situation whereby it was almost impossible for him to stave off relegation. He looked to have completed a great escape going into the final day, only needing a solitary point at home to secure safety.

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Manager Darrell Clarke being comforted by a supporter after the clubs final day relegation in 2014. Photo copyright Getty Images.

The game will forever be etched in the memory of the supporters, who remember a hugely disappointing 1-0 defeat which sealed the club’s drop into the fifth tier of the football pyramid. Widespread change in the squad produced the necessary results after a slow start to the season, as the club found itself steadily rising up the league table as the season wore on.

After narrowly avoiding toppling Barnet as champions on the final day of the season, Rovers were forced to go through the play-off system if they wanted promotion. Local rivals Forest Green Rovers were brushed aside, as the club found itself finishing the season they way it had started, with a stalemate draw against Grimsby.

The national stadium of Wembley became the theatre for the over 30 000 Rovers fans as they narrowly won out 5-4 in the deciding penalty shoot out. The celebrations lasted long into the night, as the club found themselves back in the football league at the first time of asking, becoming the first club in over a decade to achieve this.

With a few summer additions, Rovers embarked on their League Two season, one that would prove to be as equally dramatic as their previous campaign. Good results ensured they were consistently in the play-off picture, edging slowly closer to the hallowed automatic promotion places. A draw away to Stevenage looked to have dented Rovers ambitions of a top three place, but going into the final game of the season on Saturday everyone at the club was dreaming of the unlikely.

Rovers needed to win with either Oxford or Accrington Stanley dropping points to go up, something that looked even less likely within the first ten minutes as already relegated visitors Dagenham & Redbridge produced a shock goal to silence the crowd and take the lead. The response from the home side was swift, but the vital second goal proved much harder to come by.

Despite a seemingly endless barrage of Rovers shots on target, they could not find the opening they needed. Entering stoppage time, Rovers looked destined for the lottery of the play-offs, that was until the second minute of extra time. League Two top scorer Matty Taylor saw his shot bounce off the post from close range for the second time, but before he had a moment to feel disappointed he would of seen the ball rolling straight to defender Lee Brown.

Staring at an empty goal net he tapped the ball home for the pivotal goal they needed. The final minutes were an agonising wait to see how the Accrington Stanley game would finish.  A similar miracle would not be repeated further north, leaving Rovers fans and player free to begin their delirious celebrations. Soon videos emerged of fans swamping the Memorial Stadium pitch, Rovers owner Wael Al-Qadi being carried on the shoulders by the jubilant supporters towards the local pubs. Traffic found itself being redirected as thousands of fans took over the majority of Gloucester Road close to the stadium.

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The Rovers players celebrate with fans on the pitch after securing a last gasp automatic promotion place into League One. Photo copyright Press Association.

The scenes on Saturday were as far away from what had occurred in the previous five years, with the credit for the revival mostly resting on Clarke and the squad he has assembled. Everyone involved has bought into the methods Clarke uses, and will now surely be garnering attention from further afield thanks to successive promotion seasons.

Things have been improving off the pitch also, with the club recently being bought by the Al-Qadi family, owners of the Arab Jordan Investment bank. With secure financial backing behind the team for the first time in a long while, the clubs improved finances and on field play have renewed hopes the club can build a modern stadium with the potential to move the club into the future.

From here it’s not known what will happen in the coming summer, but surely the aim will be to first maintain and then bring in some extra players to help for the rigours of the third tier of English football.

One certainty around the club right now is the fact for once the club has some positive momentum and is going forward, something that seemed impossible only several years ago. That is a testament to a remarkable achievement everyone at the football club has done in recent years, to the point now that some may argue being relegated was one of the best things to happen to the club in recent memory. Without it, it’s unlikely the club would of went through the shake up needed to get to it’s current position.

Any Bristol Rovers fans reading this article? What are your thoughts on the clubs recent promotion and ascendency in the past two years? Feel free to comment below and let me know your thoughts. Finally I want to say a huge thank you for reading and you can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Why Leicester winning the Premier League is momentous

5000/1. Those were the odds with most bookies in August last year when the Premier League season started. A team filled with cast offs and unknown low budget signings who had needed a miracle late run to avoid relegation last season. For those who wanted an outside bet, they have now come up trumps as Leicester have been crowned the most unlikely Premier League champions likely in our lifetime.

The squad have excelled themselves and shocked the world with their brilliantly effective counter attacking brand of football. Despite immense pressure and scepticism from the wider world, they have managed to achieve the seemingly impossible task of taking on the big guns of the two Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool and beat them.

These clubs have spent hundreds of millions of pounds that have been vanquished by a squad assembled for less than £30 million pounds. It’s the ultimate David vs Goliath sports story, one that is already been talked about becoming a major Hollywood film. This is why their achievement this season is so important to club football across the world.

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This bar chart shows the value of each Premier League this season. This only enhances their achievement this season. Photo copyright CIES Football Observatory.

The Premier League is watched by billions of people across the world, only enhancing the impact of Leicester’s triumph around the globe. Leicester have shattered the previous notion in football that you need to assemble a squad filled with the best and most expensive players in the world to win anything in major club football.

The most popular sport in the world has developed an unhealthy obsession with money, as it now becomes fashionable for a club to be taken over by increasingly rich billionaires with too much money to know what to do with. Manchester City are the blueprint for this example, as their takeover in 2008 and injection of Abu Dhabi money has elevated them from a solid Premier League side to one now competing with Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Leicester have shown the world that this is not always the answer, and that smaller clubs on modest budgets can compete with the big guns. Whilst some may argue that this is an unlikely achievements that will not be repeated anytime soon, it does give clubs hope for the future that if they can invest in the right scouting networks and youth development they don’t need a spend big money to play well and rise above their perceived expectations.

Midfielder Riyad Mahrez and striker Jamie Vardy have stolen the headlines, but the entire squad have made themselves into stars thanks to their hard work and high quality performances this season. Rumours have begun to circle that most of the players such as Vardy,Mahrez and N’Golo Kante are going to be the subject of big money bids from bigger clubs.

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Jamie Vardy celebrating one of his many goals this season. He will have more to celebrate now they have won the league. Photo copyright Graham Chadwick.

Clubs are also scampering to unlock the secret to their success this season, with Arsenal signing their head scout in the hope he can uncover the next Mahrez or Kante. This is missing the point however. Whilst other clubs can offer increased wages and the promise of regular Champions League football, they will it hard to break through the bond this squad appears to have.

The collective spirit at the club is likely what will keep a lot of their key players from leaving, and a lot of the credit for this has to go to manager Claudio Ranieri. The vastly experienced manager had tempered expectations and kept the team motivated to the point they have been by far the best team in the league this season. He has presided and led his team to a remarkable achievement, one that is very unlikely to ever be repeated in a major football league.

For now it’s beginning to sink in that Leicester City really have won the Premier League. Awaiting them in a summer filled with celebrations, before embarking on another Premier League campaign and a debut in the world’s best club competition, the Champions League. They will find themselves up against the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus. And this is exactly where Leicester belong after this season. Let that sink in for a moment. This is the real impact and signals how remarkable it is what they managed to do this season.

What are your thoughts on Leicester’s remarkable triumph this season? Feel free to comment and give your thoughts below. Also thank you for reading and you can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.