This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of watching my beloved Liverpool F.C take home the Carling Cup, their first trophy in seven years. Yet the manner in which they won, relying on a missed penalty kick by the opposing second-league team Cardiff seemed too close for comfort. It was the first trophy won by the team following its sale to John Henry and his Fenway Sports Group. And with this new owner, came a new policy of spending, akin to the “sabermetrics” strategy outlined in Moneyball. In the past two transfer seasons, Liverpool has spent over £150 million on new players. Yet they currently place seventh in the Premier League, and barely won the Carling Cup. This is the inherent flaw in association football. As a public, we criticize our respective governments for deficit spending and rising national debts; yet the moment our teams begin cutting costs to even out the balance sheet, we riot. Even for the likes of Manchester United, who have seen tremendous success for the past two decades, fans loathe the team’s owner, the Glazer family, for cutting spending. But I do not think that lack of spending is the problem.
If we look back to last year, for the second half of the season, Liverpool had the best record amongst all teams, rebounding from the bottom of the table to finish 6th after Kenny Dalglish took over as manager. Following that infusion of £150 million? We’re one place below last year. Fenway Sports Group feels pressure to spend to appease fans, and thus tries to maximize spending by buying medium-skilled players at a discount with the occasional big spend like that of Andy Carroll for £35 million. Yet this spending came at a time when the team finally began gelling together, and ultimately broke up the growing chemistry of last year’s team. The same is happening all over England, with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, and Manchester United feeling pressure to spend the moment they have a dip in form. And what of their Spanish rival Barcelona, the best team in the world? The likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi were developed in-house, saving them millions on transfer fees. English football’s youth system trails the Spanish youth academies, forcing English clubs to spend on international talent to cover up this gap. As long as the foundation is weak, English teams will continue racking up debts without success at the continental level. And as long as they continue to underperform against their European rivals, fans will demand more spending. I love Liverpool F.C and am still soaking in the trophy they won a few days ago; however, Fenway Sports Group needs to look only as far as the U.S government to know that spending, even if it is technically “efficient”, is not always the answer. If we look to Moneyball from which Liverpool’s new management molded its financial policies, the book outlines the unprecedented 20 game win streak of the Oakland Athletics under the sabermetric approach. Yet the team never won the World Series. And in the world of association football, it’s always about the silverware.
-Aureen Sarker (Photo Credit: Liverpool F.C)