Ten years ago, an email landed in John W Henry’s inbox from an Ivy League economist with a subject line that piqued the interest of Liverpool’s main owner.
How much is Luis Suarez worth to Liverpool? read the top line, which immediately invites further assessment from the American. It was July 2013 and the Reds were embroiled in yet another saga about their talismanic yet controversial superstar. The Uruguay international had bitten Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic just a few weeks earlier and had served just 40% of a 10-match ban for sinking his teeth into the defender’s shoulder at Anfield.
Arsenal, aware of the apparent existence of a £40m release clause in the Liverpool striker’s terms, offered £1 on that amount in a move that prompted Reds owner Henry to make what is arguably the most memorable tweet belongs to the owner of a Premier League club .
“What do you think they’re smoking over there at Emirates?” he replied in a clear message that Liverpool considered Arsenal’s offer offensive. So much so that the only response it deserved was ridicule in the most public forums.
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The content of the email to Henry was about how Liverpool should consider sacking their most influential player and top scorer, as the club’s goal difference was better when he was unavailable. Some analytical data was also provided to back up the bold, contradictory claim.
Twelve months later, after choosing not to tell Suarez, he left for Liverpool with his head held high after 31 Premier League goals and one of the best individual performances of any season at Anfield. The Reds’ 24-year wait for a league title might have ended had the unstoppable Uruguayan not served six games due to his suspension at the start.
His departure for Barcelona was sealed for a fee of between £65m and £75m, according to the reports, meaning Liverpool earned a raise of somewhere between £25m and 35m for keeping Suarez for a year and not letting him to allow one to join a Premier. Competition rival.
“If Liverpool had listened to those analyses, it would have been hugely negative,” former research director Ian Graham told the 2021 StatsBomb conference. “A world-class season, [Suarez] was actually irreplaceable.”
That story is still being told by those in the inner sanctum of the AXA Training Center. While the club has become known as one of the most progressive when it comes to the rise of data analytics in football over the last decade, there is also a need for that side of football to tap into more traditional methods , especially when it comes to recruitment. The data models, while important, are not infallible, but every available source is maximized to limit the risk of a transfer market misstep.
“Contrary to popular belief, we do not write off players for ‘statistics’, but the information they gain from their research does play a vital role in our decision-making,” former sporting director Michael Edwards wrote in his open letter. the club’s official website. in 2021. “Whether it’s video, written reports, data, background checks, or old-fashioned scouting from the stand, it all goes into the great melting pot of decision-making. And when you make a decision, all this information can help you do what you need to to do is reduce the risk you take.”
Therefore, it will be fascinating to see Liverpool navigate the current transfer window with some sort of new recruiting department in situ. With Jorg Schmadtke arriving as an outside hire on a short-term contract, he will be working closely with Head of Recruitment Dave Fallows and Chief Scout Barry Hunter, the long-serving pair whose fingerprints are all over some of the best deals of the past decade at Anfield .
“They’ve been integral to building a world-class scouting division,” Edwards said of Fallows and Hunter. “For those who don’t know Barry – and there can’t be many – he was a hard hitting Northern Ireland central defender who has a contact book that reads like a who’s who of football. Dave is just Google, I’ve never known someone with a memory like his or the ability to think outside the box when innovative solutions are needed.”
But not only Schmadtke is a new face this summer in an important recruiting role. Will Spearman succeeded Dr Graham at the end of the season after the dry-tempered Welshman ended his 11-year association with the Reds.
In many ways appointing from within maintains the same practices that already exist within the department and is something Liverpool have been doing for decades, dating back to the famous Boot Room days. Little is publicly detailed about how the research department works, but at a club like Liverpool – which is run by the self-sufficient model imposed by owners Fenway Sports Group – it’s a hugely important team.
While Jürgen Klopp, his staff and the players are doing everything they can to make small improvements to their game, the research department is more interested in making big strides. Marginal profits are not enough and incremental progress is not seen as progress.
While the data models are applied to virtually every facet of the football club, from academy stats to fitness records, it’s recruitment that the research team is really looking at. “It’s the only place where the action is in terms of money,” Graham revealed at the Stamford Bridge conference nearly two years ago. “Recruiting is the only place where the action happens in terms of performance. Analysts who don’t work on recruiting are literally wasting their time.”
While a player’s price is usually an ingredient that whets the appetite of football fans in general, those with an analytical eye who claim transfer fees are a poor indicator of a newcomer’s success and there are myriad variants that can affect a player’s performance. from his personal life to injury concerns to tactical adjustments and more.
It’s not an exact science and that’s why Liverpool have been praised for their recruitment work in recent years. Under Klopp and Edwards, the Reds went from top-four hopefuls to a team that were champions of England, Europe and the world at one point in 2020.
The exhaustive, data-driven approach will continue with Spearman taking the helm this summer as he and his department try to align with the veteran heads of Hunter, Fallows and Schmadtke, who have developed a reputation as an outspoken and formidable negotiator.
It’s early days for Liverpool’s revamped ‘transfer commission’ – to use an old phrase – and while there is a lot of work to do to restructure the side, Liverpool won’t be straying too far from the models that make them have served. very well.
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