Football Manager meets Moneyball – Season 3 (second half)

Who says the weather's shit in Scotland?

Who says the weather’s shit in Scotland?

It’s been the World Cup and, indeed, depending on when I manage to post this, it probably still is. And so, before I start what is now the fifth instalment of my Rangers meets Moneyball save on Football Manager (parts one, two, three, and four here), I just want to remind everyone of the rules and, specifically, rule 3. Rule 3, people!

  1. Net wage spend is more important than net transfer spend (pp. 14-21)
  2. Don’t needlessly splash out on new players or sell old ones when you take over a club – the New Manager Syndrome (pp. 21-22)
  3. Don’t buy players who looked Gucci at international tournaments: they’re likely over-valued and past performance is no indication of future performance, especially when they’re playing with a different team (pp. 22-24) – there are different incentives and a different tactical set-up at tournaments, and it’s a super small sample size
  4. Some nationalities are overrated, like Holland, Brazil, and England (pp. 24-25)
  5. Sell your players at the right time: when they’re around 30 years old, goalkeepers aside (p. 29)
  6. Use the wisdom of crowds: ask all your scouts and a Director of Football if you have one (pp. 43-44)
  7. Buy players in their early twenties, which avoids the problems with not developing properly, and means previous statistics have greater value (pp. 45-47)
  8. Centre-forwards cost more than they should (p. 47)
  9. Sell any player if a club offers more than they are worth and try to replace them before they are sold (pp. 48-49)
  10. Don’t buy players if you don’t need to: develop a youth network and try to develop your own players (pp. 49-51)

The page numbers in brackets refer to the pages in my copy of Soccernomics. In addition, for last three parts, I have added two ‘rules’ from The Numbers Game, another fascinating look at how numbers work within football. The first is that the best way to improve a team is by identifying and replacing the weakest links, rather than by splashing out on making the best links even better (pp. 197-222); the other is that a clean sheet is worth just over two goals scored in terms of points across the course of a season (pp. 130-131). The first of these rules has proven its worth already.

The best loan players.

The best loan players.

So where did we leave off? Twenty games into my first season back in the top tier of Scottish football and the mighty Rangers sit top of the table on 39 points. I had been busy scouting away as usual and also hired Colbert Marlot to manage the U-19s team, due to his high ratings for working with youth and judging player potential. I identified left-back as a problem position due to Lee Wallace’s impending performance drop-off: he’s 28 and only rated 2.5 stars now, and, remarkably, Faouzi Ghoulam had been transfer-listed by ASSE. In real life, he now plays for Napoli and had an excellent World Cup for Algeria. I snapped him up for £180k and £6.5k per week in wages. He has a 4.5 star rating and already looks superb. I broke rule 7 to bid £275k for Gerry Simpson, a bustling midfielder from Derry City, who also had 4.5 star potential. Simpson started on £650 per week. Lional Zouma, a 22 year old centre-back, who’d averaged 7.28 for Sochaux reserves, was secured for a paltry £80k and £2.5k per week in wages. I also picked up Kevin Remancho on a free, paying £750 in wages, from Vannes OC reserves. He is a 4.5 star poential right-back, the one area of the team with no real cover. The whole back-line had been strengthened significantly for less than £600k and just over £10k per week in wages. My final signing was a delayed gratification job. I had followed the progress of Stefan Scougall, Livingstone’s deepl-lying playmaker, from the beginning. He was one of the first players recommended widely by scouts and I finally got my man, on a contract offer plus £124k compensation, though Scougall would not join us til the summer. He is the very definition of a rule 6 player, consistently flagged up by scouts as a good signing, and his current average rating was 7.18. He would be direct competition to John Fleck and the slightly underwhelming Scott Allan in the playmaking role, and I finally had my man.

That Monti lad, I saw him when he was a teenager at Rangers...

That Monti lad, I saw him when he was a teenager at Rangers…

In terms of sales, I only offloaded one player. Antonino Barillà, signed on a free from Sampdoria, had played 32 games in two seasons for me, averaging 6.82, scoring two and making ten. He had not made the step up to the Premier League though, and at 27 he was ripe both for rules 5 and 9. When Brøndby offered a rather excessive, in my opinion anyway, £325k for him, I fair bit off their hand. I had two or three players who could play the left-wing role, especially Miyaichi, who was already a far better player. There’s no room for sentiment in Football Manager and, though Barillà had been a stalwart of last season’s promotion team, I waved him goodbye with nary a second thought. I had spent just under £4 million and recouped £1.5 million, as well as sending a host of players, some potentially excellent, others not so and just for wage reduction, on loan. It had been a good transfer window.

I drew 0-0 with Hiberian at theirs to bring up the twenty-first game of the season. It was notable for a debut given to sixteen year old Gordon Monti, the first youth prospect who had come through Rangers’ ranks in my tenure and looked decent. Young players like that are obviously at a slight disjunction with rule 7, but if they come through a youth system, they are not purchases and cost you nothing beyond wages if they fail. It’s always worth giving debuts to players who might be good enough and it gives you an idea of future worth. When players can be signed on a pre-contract with minimal compensation, it also makes sense to bring them into the playing fold so they feel part of the squad and are more likely to accept a contract from you than another team.

Goals galore. Just not enough.

Goals galore. Just not enough.

A 0-1 loss away at Partick Thistle to a penalty put us level on points with Dundee United at the top of the table. A 3-1 win at home to Motherwell set us back on course, though Belotti was lost for up to two months with knack of some description. I decided to move to a 4-4-2 as my major issue seemed to be scoring. It’s worth remembering that Jon Fleck has contributed 5 goals from midfield before his long-term injury, and I was sorely missing both his creativity and leadership as well. I was rewarded with a Marquis-inspired 3-1 away win at Ross County, with Kakuta operating as a shadow striker behind and off to the left. A 2-0 win at home to St. Mirren, with Walsh and Marquis doing a fine good little ‘un, good big ‘un impression, opened up a three point lead over Celtic, who had crept into second. A spirited 2-2 draw in the Scottish Cup 5th round away to Dundee United continued the sense that my tactical switch had been a wise one, but optimism was dented by a 1-0 loss at home in the replay. A 1-0 win over St. Johnstone in freezing conditions cemented a now four-point lead at the top of the SPL though, so every cloud (and there were plenty) had a silver lining. A 5-1 win away at Kilmarnock set us up for the big one, away at Celtic. The Bhoys could close a three gap if they won: tense did not begin to describe how we felt.We lost 3-1 and Tom Walsh was injured. We ceded top spot on goal difference. I was fucking furious and told the team in no uncertain terms. We had a week to sort things out before an away trip to Dundee United. We lost that too, 3-1 again, but managed a 3-1 win at home to Hiberian with a change to a narrower 4-2-3-1. We set up wider against Aberdeen and scraped a 1-0 win at home. We reverted to a 4-4-2 but with McKay pushed up as winger to create an almost lopsided 4-3-3 and beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle 3-1 away. A 2-1 win at home to Patrick Thistle followed. We were neck-and-neck with Celtic on points, but second on the dreaded goal difference. We beat Hiberian 2-1 away after a Will Packwood thunderbastard (™ Iain Macintosh). It was never going to happen, really, overhauling a goal difference over ten, but a 1-1 draw at home to Inverness CT after Cuvelier was sent off after less than half an hour put the nail in the coffin. Celtic were going to lift the title, though I had guaranteed Rangers Champions League football, which was a huge success after back-to-back promotions.

And then. This happened. Everton offered me the managerial position at Goodison Park. That’s right, kids. I’m off to join the Toffees parade. Didn’t see that coming did you? Well, I didn’t either. My next piece will be an appraisal of how well Moneyball worked at Rangers and the piece after that will be a continuation to see if the theory still holds true in the big, bad world of the Premier League.


This post is thanks to Will who badgered me via his lovely sister. You know how you are.

One comment

  1. A behind the scenes thing on my The Set Pieces series | Put Niels In Goal · · Reply→

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