Moneyball in football
Brentford has been owned since 2012 by Matthew Benham, an Englishman who made a fortune betting on sports based on statistical models and who was a supporter of the club as a child.
It is those models that Benham, who graduated in physics from the prestigious University of Oxford, also applies in football. His approach has been compared several times to that of legendary baseball manager Billy Beane.
Beane brought success to MLB team Oakland nearly 20 years ago by recruiting players based on data. That success formula was put down in the book Moneyball, which was also made into a film 10 years ago.
“He looks at football in a completely different way”
An anecdote by sports director Rasmus Ankersen illustrates how owner Matthew Benham watches football. “When I first met him in 2013, Brentford was 3rd in 3rd class,” Ankersen told The Guardian a while ago.
“There were still a few games left that season and I asked him about the promotion opportunities.” 42.3 percent “, was his answer. At that moment I realized that he looks at football in a completely different way. I had never experienced that. “
Benham’s philosophy has now paid off. Brentford was promoted that year and then steadily continued his rise, culminating in promotion to the Premier League last weekend.
Thanks to Benham’s investments, Brentford was also able to move into a new home base in 2020. The club then exchanged the dilapidated Griffin Park for the Brentford Community Stadium, which can accommodate more than 17,000 spectators.
The Midtjylland experiment
Benham had known for several years that the data-driven approach would ultimately lead to success at Brentford. In 2014 he also bought the modest Danish club Midtjylland. In Denmark, the statistical model was completely refined.
The extensive focus on data and statistics did Midtjylland no harm. The club has since become three times champion of Denmark. This often happened with players who were bought based on statistics.
This approach has also brought in quite a bit of money at Brentford. By focusing on data, the club was able to snare players who remained under the radar elsewhere, and later resell them at a profit. Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and Neal Maupay, among others, have already moved to the Premier League for a lot of money.
Brentford no longer has a youth academy. This was discontinued after a cost-benefit analysis. Investing in youth cost too much and yielded too little, because the best youth players were loosened up early on by the bigger clubs. Brentford does have a B-team, which only plays exhibition games against big opponents.
Midtjylland is flourishing under the wing of Mathew Benham.
Is Priska bringing a data approach to Antwerp?
An important factor in Midtjylland’s success will be seen in the Jupiler Pro League next season. After all, brand-new Antwerp coach Brian Priske was the brains behind the stagnant phases at the Danish club for years.
During his time as an assistant, he was “free-kick chief”. Thanks to Priske, among others, Midtjylland scored remarkably often on stationary phases. Will the Dane also bring the data-driven approach to the Bosuil in the future?