Moneyball in Football Manager 2019: IV

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Right, we’re back with the 4th update of the Moneyball in Football Manager 2019 series with Glasgow Rangers, and we’re at the end of the Summer transfer window, and partway through the beginning of the league season. Once again I want to thank everyone for the support so far, and in case anyone has missed any of the updates so far, they are here, here and here. In the third update, we ended the first season with Rangers, winning the league title by eleven points from Celtic, and making the First Knockout Round of the Europa League. Of course, this time we would have the opportunity to qualify for the Champions League group stages. We also assessed the Moneyball transfers I’d made throughout the first season, and on the whole, they were a success. However, we now have a second season of data to analyse, and one of the key tenets of Moneyball is to trust long-term trends more than anything as a way to evaluate true performance, and therefore value.

As a reminder, the conditions or rules that I’ve applied to my save come largely from the concepts outlined in Moneyball, but also from the excellent football economy books Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, and The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally. If you need a reminder, below are the rules I’m using.

  1. Players are undervalued for a range of biased reasons such as age, personality, appearance. None of these matter. All that matters is production on the field, which can be analysed through statistics.
  2. Several countries are overvalued in the market, such as England, Holland and Brazil and there is better value for money off the beaten track.
  3. Wage spend correlates to success far more than transfer expense.
  4. Prioritise identifying and improving your weak spots in transfer windows. This is the best way to improve your team.
  5. Strikers cost more than they should and can be poor value for money.
  6. Ensure that all potential signings are thoroughly scouted – the wisdom of crowds – before their statistics can be analysed. 
  7. Don’t buy players who performed well solely at international competitions. These are a perfect example of ‘small sample size’, where stats have no true value to them as they can’t be trusted to be replicated. 
  8. Long term, producing your own players and developing through the academy is more cost effective. 
  9. Football is won by scoring more goals than the opposition – like baseball is won by scoring more runs – and therefore attacking stats must be a main focus.
  10. Some of the best value can be found in identifying players who are no longer wanted by their clubs, and are likely to vastly undervalue them.

Right, let’s get cracking. With our improved financial position – we currently sit with £38m in the bank – the first thing I did was to request improved training and youth facilities from the board, both of which were accepted after a little persuasion. I’m still unsure about the extent to which I want to rely on academy prospects – which I did include as Rule 8 – because I feel I need to do a little research as to whether it is worth constantly spending money to improve the facilities, or simply work with what I already have as a cost-cutting measure. Our affiliation with Linfield was also adapted in order to allow me to send players across to Northern Ireland on loan – this isn’t something I’ll rely on necessarily, but it’s nice to have the option. I also asked the board if we could look for a new affiliate. I’m hoping to get one that will be both financially lucrative and allow me to regularly send players on loan. I also brought in more scouts with knowledge of different areas of the world, in order to expand our ability to find the undervalued players in the market. So, the organisation of the club has certainly improved ahead of Season 2 of this save. In a nice little bit of news, the reputation of the league has also increased, meaning there are less qualification rounds to go through next time in order to get to the Champions League.

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Now the fun stuff, transfers. Several youth players have gone out on loan, and will be tracked over the season, to assess whether they’re players I want to keep at the club moving forward. The major sales were Eros Grezda leaving the club for £1.1m to Las Palmas. The game still values him at £1.5m, so I may have undervalued Grezda slightly, but he averaged 6.67 last season, and is only averaging 6.85 this season so far for Las Palmas, so he’s still consistently underperforming. Returning loanee Eduardo Herrera was sold to Xolos Tijuana for £375k. Again, I’ve undervalued Herrera here because the game now values him at £500k, but he only averaged 6.84 out on loan last season. However, he’s started this season averaging 7.72 across 4 games, so I may have undervalued Herrera despite the small sample size. Further loanees left the club in Joe Dodoo and Jak Alnwick for £240k and £140k respectively. Both averaged below 7.00 in their loan spells, and neither were needed at the club. The biggest transfer by far was Borna Barisic, who went to Lyon for £15.75m, that could eventually add up to £17m. Basisic has been rated by the game as my best player since very early on, but the deal exceeded his value, with him still only rated at £10.25m now he’s at Lyon by the game. Although it was unfortunate to have to sell him, the conditions of Moneyball state that he’s been overvalued by the market, so it’s time to cash in.

Screen Shot 2019-03-01 at 21.34.35Incoming are some extremely exciting transfers. I’d already really evaluated the weaknesses of the team prior to the transfer window and made the moves I needed to, which I covered in the last update. However, what did surprise me was that Gareth McAuley, who I’d analysed in the previous update, and decided to retain at the club because of his performances last season, decided to retire from football. As a result, we did have a weakness at centre back that I needed to fill. I therefore went out into the market, looking for a player who averaged over 7.00, and made a good number of interceptions and tackles per game. From that database search, out popped Bogdan Țîru at Romanian club Viitorul. Țîru was signed for £1.7m, which felt like Neymar money in comparison to what I’d been spending in Season 1, but he still fulfils the criteria, being undervalued on the market, and fitting rules 2, 4 and 6. His value now stands at £4.3m, so we’ve signed a player for well below his true value. Țîru can now compete with Goldson, Katic and McCrorie for the starting centre back role. Next in was Luca Döring, who was extremely highly recommended by my scouts, and I just couldn’t resist. He was signed on a free from SV Ried in Austria, and has been immediately sent on loan to Hamilton. Obviously, I had no stats with which to assess Luca, but at 16 he already looks almost good enough for the Scottish Premiership, and his loan spell – possibly another next season – will allow me to assess his value at our level of play, and decide whether he’s going to be at the club long term. At the very least, I’ll make a tidy profit on him, but in reality, I expect much, much more. So far, he’s averaging above 7.00 whilst on loan. He still fulfils rules 1, 2 and 6. The last transfer was one that was forced on me after the sale of Barisic to Lyon, as we now needed a first choice left back to rotate with Lee Wallace. Wanting to focus on the idea of long-term trends rather than short term performance, I focused on players who were averaging 7.00 so far this season, but were also over 7.00 last season. From that search I discovered Bogdan Vătăjelu at Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic. Vătăjelu ended up costing me £3.4m, which really made me cry, but it’s still far below his true value of £6.5m, so again, we’ve signed a player for far below his actual value. He has some really interesting PPM’s and was well scouted prior to signing, so he should more than fill in the hole left by Barisic at left back. Vătăjelu fulfils rules 2, 4 and 6. With that, all of our weaknesses were addressed for the season ahead – with a healthy £9.35m remaining – and I proceeded with the season itself.

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Unfortunately, we won’t be playing Champions League football this season though, having fallen at the final hurdle in the playoff against Ajax. We came through the other rounds fairly easy, easing past Dudelange, Olympiakos and Partizan Belgrade, but against Ajax we just looked a step off the pace, and we clearly still have work to do in order to be in the group stages. Within two seasons, I really believe that we should be in the group stages, and now a focus needs to be in finding the best possible undervalued players I can find. This season, I intend on not only focusing on our players’ ratings in the Premiership, but also in Europe, in order to really assess whether they’re good enough for continental football. There’s been some fantastic players pop up as available that I’ve really wanted to sign, but because they aren’t areas of need at the moment, I’ve resisted. However, I’m becoming increasingly aware – and the Ajax games proved it – that we need a step up in quality in terms of our playing staff. This season, I just need to evaluate where those improvements need to be.

I’m also looking at improving tactically. At the end of last season, I’d switched from a standard 4-3-3/4-5-1 shape to a 4-3-3 with a flat central 3 after reading an excellent article by Keysi Rensie on the subject. At the beginning of this season, I’ve been less impressed with our play though, and I’m starting to tinker slightly. I’ve looked at using 4-2-3-1, but a switch to 4-2-3-1 would give us massive weakness at AMC that I’d need to address, so I’m more than likely going to stick with some form of 4-3-3 shape, and just try to refine the tactic, because I feel we lack fluidity and creativity at the moment, and I’d still like to score more goals. That;s an ongoing project though, and I’ll discuss that in the mid-season update.

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 14.31.32We’ve started the league season well enough, playing 4, winning 3 and drawing one against Aberdeen. Our main challengers have had bad starts already though, with Celtic, Hibs and Aberdeen sitting on 4, 4 and 3 points respectively, so we already have a 6 point cushion over our major challengers. Celtic have been severely weakened ahead of this season, losing Ntcham and Edouard to Marseille. They have brought replacements in, but they’re certainly not on the same level. I really think we should be winning the league again this season, when our squad is compared to that of Celtic. I’m also determined to beat Celtic this season. Mainly, this should be a season of consolidation, winning the league again, hopefully going further in the Europa League – with a group of Arsenal, Feyenoord and Toulouse – and analysing to see where the weaker spots are now, and where we can really improve. Now that the club has more money, I can certainly spend more, whilst keeping the focus on the rules that I’ve applied to this save.

So, that brings us to the end of the fourth update of the Moneyball in FM19 save. Until next time, thank you so much for reading and supporting this series, and as always, should you have any questions about this save, Moneyball itself, or FM19 in general, please feel free to ask in the comments section, or contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. I’ll be back as soon as I can with the next edition, to see how we’re getting on as progress through season 2. Thank you again for reading.

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