Can Moneyball revolutionise European soccer?

Marian Nadler

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Teambus FC Midtjylland - Photo Credit Sebastian (Flickr)
Teambus FC Midtjylland – Photo Credit Sebastian (Flickr)

In Summer 2015 sports media in whole Europe covered the story of the danish club FC Midtjylland, it’s owner Matthew Benham and the famous Moneyball model. The model is composed by complex algorithms which analyse statistics to decide which players will be bought.  Today, a few months later it is still working good for the Danish club. After winning the Danish championship in 2014/15, Midtjylland is playing Europa League and is at the moment second in the Danish Superligaen, having the same amount of points as the first, FC Copenhagen.

It is working, but can the Moneyball-system revolutionize the European soccer? Is it possible to persist in the international competition using computer analysis?

Critics say that the Moneyball-system is just a new way for rich investors to pay less money on their football club toy. Matthew Benham’s analysing system is not as expensive as buying new players for millions and millions of euros, but it is still a rich man taking over a club by spending money for it.

The Moneyball-system underlines the position of the player as a product. How would you react if you were bought by a computer like shares in a stock market?

On the other hand, looking on the stats of FC Midtjylland against Legia Warsaw in the Europe League on September 17th, Midtjylland was better in most of the statistics: more possession, more total attempts, more attempts on target, less attempts off target, less corners and more completed passes. They won the match with 1-0. Not a big victory, but a win means three points and the next step towards the knockout phase.

The Team of FC Midtjylland after winning against Legia Warsaw

The foundation of these good statistics and the victory was set by the model. Often Midtjylland wins by shooting precise free-kicks or by winning more aerial duels, because they have a specialist for every situation in the team, thanks to Moneyball. The model recognizes the weaknesses of Midtjylland’s team and searches for players with the abilities to compensate those weaknesses. Moreover, it is a good way for the club to get good players who make the whole team better for a cheap prize. Perfect for the financial low-key club.

FIFA  does not really carry out the Financial Fairplay. Big, indebted clubs like FC Barcelona or Manchester City can spend vast sums of money for players, but only have to fear little  punishments. The Moneyball system could balance the differences between the rich clubs from England, Spain, Germany, Russia and Italy and the little clubs from all over Europe. That would make European soccer a lot more interesting.

Moneyball is indeed revolutionary, because it merges statistical analysis with professional soccer. It is an interesting approach, but it will need a few years to show, if it is successful enough to cause trouble against world-class teams like Barcelona, Chelsea or Bayern Munich.

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Marian Nadler