You’ve missed out on a Champions League spot. There’s no silverware to pop in the cabinet. Your star player’s got cannibal tendencies. You, a Premier League manager, are a man in danger of a cardiac arrest. But worry not: new book The Numbers Game uses a stack of statistics to turn footballing wisdom on its head. Here, its authors Chris Anderson and David Sally offer managers some salient advice on how to approach the summer transfer market.
1 | Focus on weaknesses instead of strengths. Buy a superstar only if you have to. In terms of producing points, a team’s 11th best player matters as much or possibly more than a team’s best player. Over the past two seasons, Everton has topped their cross-town rivals in the table despite the fact that the top of its roster is weaker because its marginal starters are stronger than those of Liverpool.
2 | Buy Darren Bent. Well, not literally and not today, but in principle, yes. When buying a striker, don’t just count his goal total because not all goals are of equal value. A team’s second goal in the match is the most precious in terms of points secured, whereas the fourth and fifth tend to just be piling on. For the two seasons beginning in 2009, Bent’s goals for Sunderland and Aston Villa were especially well timed and produced a disproportionate number of points for his clubs.
3 | Footballers aren’t BMWs. Unlike German luxury cars, whose value is immediately diminished once you drive off the dealer’s lot, footballers’ values can go up or down. While at Liverpool, Rafa Benítez spent days on the training pitch trying to teach Ryan Babel to vary his wing play more effectively. Given Eden Hazard’s continued development at Chelsea and his sterling play, it’s hard not to see Benitez’s hand in the buffing and polishing.
4 | Don’t be distracted by national stereotypes. The style of play, the number of cautions, and the speed of the game appear different, but the football is the same at the very top. Teams score just as many goals, make as many passes, and produce just as many shots in England as they do in Germany, Italy, or Spain.
5 | Listen for the sound of silence. Former Italian captain Paolo Maldini rarely made a tackle because he was always in the right place to cut off the danger. So don’t get caught ball watching; defenders who never have to slide into their opponents are probably better at their job than those with loads of spectacular last-man tackles. Sir Alex Ferguson made one of the biggest mistakes of his career when he sold Jaap Stam to Lazio because his tackling numbers had declined.
6 | See beyond your infatuation. Liverpool supporters might have been spared Joe Allen if only Brendan Rogers had not had such a raving crush. Falling in love with a target can distort the gap between him and the next best option: statistics can provide the obsessed manager with that quick alternate vision.
7 | Do the math and face reality. Football teams can only control half of what happens on the pitch. Chance is your friend and foe. If your owner —we’re looking at you, Abramovich — seems blind to the fact that even platinum, diamond-crusted dice still have six sides, then don’t bother nailing your coaching certificates to the office wall; leave them in the box.
8 | A personal piece of advice for André Villas-Boas. No matter what business you do in the transfer market, you should feel good. Research has shown that more experienced managers bring more highly skilled players closer to their potential. That’s good news with every passing day: you’re only going to get older and Tottenham will get better because of it.
The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally is out now (Viking)