Andre Villas-Boas - The Moneyball Option.
When a product or an idea becomes ubiquitous (say, enough to warrant a film starring that Bradley Pitt and the fat one from Superbad) it often becomes the defacto term that encapsulates the underlying notion; ‘Google’ superseded ‘look it up on that internet they have now’, ‘Hoover’ supplanted ‘vacuum cleaner’ and ‘Minidisc’ replaced the future.
Metonymy, is the linguistic term for it.
Just as evolution (the what) and Darwinism (the how) are often confused as being the same thing, so Moneyball (the what) and statistics (the how) are oft mistaken as being no different;
One name that would have come up time and time again was that of Billy Beane. FSG were known advocates of Beane's system in Baseball 'Moneyball'. Put simply, 'Moneyball' is based around statistics and which individual's have the best stats. With that in mind, it didn't take a genius to work out why Liverpool's 'Director Of Football' Damien Comolli wanted to make Downing one of Liverpool's new summer recruits.
I've been working a way to definitively model/rubbish 'chances created' and whilst (on Wednesday evening) thinking about it's absurdity as a metric, a rather terrifying notion hit me - surely they wouldn't be so stupid?
Using the above to appoint a manager is not moneyball, it's idiotic and if
this is the kind of thing that earns you $1bn, I'm off to buy some grits.
Fundamentally, Moneyball is about exploiting arbitrage via asymmetric information. In baseball this just so happened
to take the form of statistics - “This fella throws like a twat/has a penchant for turning brasses faces into plasterers radios/left his wrist in papworth general, so he’s discounted by the market - however because of our informational (statistical) advantage we know he’s actually quite effective, ergo his value to us is far greater than it is to the market and we can exploit that fact.”
The utilisation of this kind of market arbitrage has been around in football for ages, we exploited the buck toothed Brazillian asymmetry between ourselves and Barcelona by signing Luis Garcia from them for a paltry £6m - Garcia went on to get us into the European Cup final as well as to score many other important goals during his time here. Benitez would later attempt the same thing with varying degrees of success with Mascherano (no Hayden Mullins), Johnson (robs toilet seats), Bellamy & Pennant (troublemakers), Maxi, Morientes & Figo (ageing big name players who were no longer wanted by their clubs) and depending on how you look at it – Crouch, a player booed by ingerlund fans for the mortal sin of looking a bit odd, but of course highly effective and someone I wish we could have held onto.
Huntelaar, Raul, van Nistelrooy, Sneijder, Stam, Ronaldinho, Robben, van der Vaart, Adebayor, Garay, Javi Garcia, Saviola and Bellamy are all recent-ish examples of this process in action – one club undervalues a player for whatever reason (usually age or that there’s a new, shinier toy in town) so another club takes advantage; Schalke basically rode Madrid all the way into the CL semi final behind it.
You don’t have to be particularly clever to figure out that on the whole last summer’s signings were the antithesis of this; players highly valued by their clubs at the time who were unlikely to be as
important to Liverpool and whilst it’s fair to consider Coates a bargain in absolute terms, he was bought after he usurped the likes of Neymar, Ganso and Pato to win the young player of the tournament award at the Copa America, not ideal timing. This is, perhaps, what Werner was referring to when he said Comolli was “not the right person to implement that strategy”
though that makes his initial hiring incredibly odd, seeing as his track record is typified by the 2011 summer window.
After taking over the reigns at (then, winless, bottom of the table) Académica in October of 2009 Villas-Boas steered them to a 11th placed finish and the semi finals of the league cup, at the end of the season he was linked with the vacant posts at Porto and Sporting Lisbon, we know the rest - an unbeaten league campaign coupled with an incredible 82% win rate (by comparison Guardiola’s average is 72.65%, different leagues certainly, but similar dynamics) saw Andre Villas-Boas' Porto side win four trophies in his first full season as a club manager, invariably he quickly became the Facebook IPO
of managers – viewed as a young Mourinho sans twattishness, he was one of the most coveted names of the summer.
Porto of course are renowned for not getting bent over when it comes to any manner of transfers; the anti-Liverpool if you will (and you will). And so it was Abramovich who, undaunted by his hilariously disastrous £75m trip into the January transfer market decided to chance his arm again and in his infantile recklessness, discarded a manager with two European cups and two league titles to his name who had committed the sin of finishing second, for the summer’s must have accessory.
The price? Thirteen million pounds, plus almost the same again over the term of his contract.
Villas-Boas signings at Chelsea have been itemised by others, but for me, even more impressive are his deals at Porto - James Rodriguez, a player I would eat a dead aids cat for, signed for all of £4m from Banfield. Joao Moutinho for £8m, Nicolas Otamendi for £3m and Walter (who in terms of minutes has averaged somewhere around a goal a game during his time there) for £5m. Of course Porto can take advantage of the work permit situation as well as occupying prime footballing real estate - a major-ish club with a big history who have to fuck up pretty badly not to get into the champions league every year which gives them a rather large advantage over other European sides but it's certainly a major plus in his favour.
As Benitez tells us, football is a lie
and we can only speculate on why it didn’t work out at Chelsea – two massively expensive strikers/statistical disasters
foisted upon him as well as a £24m defender who can’t defend certainly didn't help, just as they didn't help Ancelotti who's Chelsea side looked like an unstoppable juggernaut in the first half of the season. Was it player power? In an inability to communicate his ideas? Regardless, I think it's potentially done us (or whoever gives him a job) a major favour - just as Madrid and City act as 'player launderers' (they go in overpriced and come out the other side 'clean') so too, Abramovich has laundered Villas-Boas; there's no eight figure buyout required and expectations are lowered (under promise, over deliver) particularly given the perception of di Matteo's job there.
Andre Villas-Boas is the Huntelaar/Sneijder of managers - Highly successful at one club, took a wrong turn and now someone who fades the market
for him may well be very glad they did so.