Brad Pitt, Moneyball and Ireland
This blog is about how Ireland needs Brad Pitt. Well, kind of.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Moneyball, the film starring Brad as baseball manager Billy Beane (if you haven’t seen it, check out the trailer here, then go see it, it’s great).
It’s based on a true story – and the Michael Lewis book of the same name – and tells the tale of Billy Beane’s attempt to assemble a winning team despite his club, the Oakland Athletics, operating on a shoestring budget. Other teams in the league spend three times as much as the Athletics and Beane realises that with such a massive discrepancy in finances, his club has little chance of winning using the traditional methods of player selection and hiring.
Without spoiling the film, Beane and his new assistant manager revolutionise baseball by sidelining the traditional measures of rating players in favour of implementing a new system based on a different type of statistical measurement. This was known as sabermetrics (as ever, Wikipedia has a decent and short breakdown of what it means). This, in essence, radically altered players’ values by assessing them under criteria that hadn’t been used before or were not considered important. As a result, previously ‘unfashionable’ players were assessed in ways they never had before and teams were put together that began to win games – a lot of games – using the players that were, for the want of a better word, cheap.
This started me thinking, could this method be applied to other sports (it turns out that other people are way, way ahead of me and it has been applied to other sports) and, specifically, soccer/football? And, if it is applied to football, what will that mean for Irish players?
Well, nobody really knows if the sabermetric principles could be applied to football and, if so, what they would result in but, even at this early stage, this type of thinking may be very, very good for Irish players. The Oakland Athletics assembled a team of winners on the cheap and a quick glance at England’s top football division shows that Irish players are being snapped up at bargain basement prices yet outperforming players that cost 200 times the Irish player’s price.
Seamus Coleman is one of Everton’s best players, has already taken the Premier League by storm and, at 23, clearly has a successful career ahead of him (he was also unfailingly nice when I saw him in Dublin Airport last year, posing for photographs with anyone who asked and giving his time freely and in good humour). He joined Everton from Sligo Rovers for £150,000, a fraction of the £15 million to £25 million that top English clubs play for a player in his position.
Kevin Doyle played for Cork City until an eagle-eyed scout took him to Reading in England for £80,000. Doyle was then transferred for a 7,500% profit, heading to Wolves for £6 million. Shane Long of West Brom followed a similar route when he left Cork City for Reading. Wes Hoolahan started his career in Ireland, ended up being signed on a free transfer by Blackpool before being transferred to Norwich for £250,000. He now captains the team in the Premiership showing his transfer fee to be a bargain.
The list goes on and on (James McClean has just started playing for Sunderland after signing from Derry City) but one thing becomes clear – Irish players are being signed cheaply and outperforming those who cost a lot more. Just like in Moneyball.
A huge variety of factors are behind this of course but it would be interesting to see how a footballing sabermetrics system would affect Irish players. Billy Beane himself admits to being a big football fan – he supports Tottenham Hotspur – and says that he is working on developing a system to analyze footballers using the principles he applied in baseball. Based on what has happened with Irish players so far, it is looking good for Irish players if such a system was introduced.
Which means Ireland needs Brad Pitt.
P.S. I support Liverpool. Brad Pitt supports Liverpool. You should too.