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Can Moneyball work with UK football?
2007-02-05 09:44
by Bob Timmermann

David Runciman of Observer Sports Monthly penned a very long article about the applicability of statistical analysis to help English football teams become competitive.

In the end, Runciman wasn't optimistic that such analysis would help, but you never know, Adrian Boothroyd could become the Billy Beane of the Premiership.

Thanks to BTF for the pointer.

It is a long article in two parts. Enjoy it over lunch AND dinner.

2007-02-05 10:31:29
1.   Sandus
Statistical analysis works in baseball because the game is fragmented. Each play is individual and has in it specific possible outcomes, some more likely than others.

In soccer, the game is continuous. Anything is possible at any moment, and the only repeatable play of any consequence is the corner kick. On top of that, the quality of the player isn't always determined by numbers, and players are being judged by different criteria. For example, the most valuable player on Arsenal is a player with no Premiership goals, Cesc Fabregas.

Soccer is the ultimate scouting game. You can't judge a player's value numerically like in baseball or American football or basketball. The dynamics of the game dictate that to know how good a player really is, you have to watch him play.

And we all know the best way to win in the Premiership is to sign the most 17 year old phenoms and get lucky.

2007-02-05 10:34:43
2.   Bob Timmermann
A large portion of the article deals with the unpredictability of soccer and how it's hard to figure out which actions on the field make a difference.

Malcolm Gladwell makes an appearance as well.

2007-02-05 10:45:27
3.   Ali Nagib
1 2 - One other problem the article points out is that, even if you could come up with a fairly reliable system for objectively measuring soccer (which I certainly believe you could, with enough time and data collection), the economic disparities in the highest leagues dwarf any gains you can make through "Moneyballing." In the Champions League (second division), the difference in team payroll between the top and bottom is a factor of 3 or 4, similar to baseball (excluding the 2006 Marlins). In the Premiership, it's more on the order of a factor of 20. Money quote:

"In other words, the Championship is the place where you can play moneyball. In the Premiership, the money starts to play you."

So IF the top world soccer leagues had economic structures even like MLB, let alone salary cap sports like the NFL and NBA, you probably could Moneyball your way to success. But I don't see that happening any time soon.

2007-02-05 13:35:59
4.   The Mick 536
First and ten.

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