Last summer, Liverpool embarked on an ambitious attempt to replicate the famous “Moneyball” philosophy at Anfield that proved so successful for their owner at the Boston Red Sox. John Henry and Damien Comolli believed that getting the right player in the right position with the right stats could save them millions but getting relatively cheap players to do the job of world class talents who are more expensive.
It was this philosophy that led them to purchase Stewart Downing for what many believed to be an inflated price (believed to be about £16m possibly rising up to £20m). Their reasoning was simple. Nani and Downing had the highest percentage of successful crosses in the 2010/11 season. While Nani became a valuable (and expensive) asset at Man Utd, Downing’s ability went largely unnoticed at Aston Villa.
The hope was that Downing could combine with Andy Carroll and create a partnership that could catapult Liverpool right back into the elite of the Premiership and back into Europe. As we all know, Downing failed and so (thus far) has Liverpool’s attempts at replicating Billy Beane’s famous philosophy.
Billy Beane has gone on record himself as saying that Arsene Wenger is a favourite of his. It’s no surprise really; the Frenchman has come the closest to replicating his philosophy in football. The reason why Arsene’s version of footballing moneyball is proving more successful (not in terms of trophies, obviously but in terms of Premiership standing) than Liverpool’s is due to one key criterion that Liverpool didn’t take into account; chemistry.
While Liverpool looked at Downing’s cross completion rates to gauge how good a winger Downing would be, Arsene and his team pinpoint certain statistics that any potential recruit must have. It is no surprise that many of Arsenal’s recruits take far less time to get settled into the team compared to their rivals.
Take the pursuit of Yann M’Vila for example, while most teams would look at a defensive midfielder’s tackling ability as well as his interceptions, Arsenal have targeted DMs with high pass completion percentages as well. The chemistry that comes into play here is that any Arsenal player, from Vermaelen to van Persie have to be good passers of the ball. When all the players are on the same wave length, the chemistry is better and the quality of play is far superior.
Of course some players are better passers than others but that can be worked on at London Colney (anyone remember Alex Song’s dismal ability at the Crossbar competition?). The point is, Downing and Carroll simply weren’t on the same wave length last season and that can be said for most of Liverpool’s new recruits under Dalglish.
Downing and Carroll were not very effective, but Theo Walcott enjoyed a great partnership with Robin van Persie. In the early part of the season, Theo’s partnership with van Persie proved pivotal towards our revival. But besides a few high points, his partnership with van Persie (and his speed) remains the only thing keeping him ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain in the pecking order.
While The Ox has adapted to life in the Premiership sooner than expected, he should have no right to claim a regular starting place is a top European side; but such is the form of Walcott that many believe the youngster will eclipse his senior sooner rather than later.
It is a huge compliment to Chamberlain that he’s left Wenger with this headache (of the good kind) but it also shows that Walcott has not improved as a player as much as we’d have liked over the last six (yes, six!) years he’s been with us. It’s taken his fellow Southampton youth player only one season to challenge him for a starting spot.
Walcott’s saving grace is of course his partnership with van Persie which makes him very valuable but if the flying Dutchman were to leave the Emirates, there is no such guarantee that Walcott will be able to strike the same partnership with Podolski and his value to the team (apparently £100k a week wages is what his agents are asking) will be questioned.
Do you think it’s time we cut our losses with Theo? Post your thoughts in the comments section.