The central theme of Michael Lewis’ 2003 book Moneyball – a book made all the more famous by the 2011 film of the same name starring Brad Pitt – is a relatively simple one.
It says that by circumventing the established wisdom in sport – that buying big is a guarantor of success, achievements can be realised – even exceeded – by looking beyond traditional theories of value and worth in order to compete successfully against richer, more fancied opponents.
It’s a story initially made famous by the success of the 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team.
Despite losing a glut of talent to the riches and promise of the so called ‘big guns’, such as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the team would go on to finish top of its league, secure a much sought after post-season playoff berth and set a new American League record, winning twenty consecutive games in a season.
All of this while operating with the third-smallest budget in all of Major League Baseball, a budget one-third of that of the Yankees, a team whose regular season record the Athletics would come to with three-fifths of one percent of matching.
Closer to home, this so-called ‘Moneyball’ effect has been most closely associated with Newcastle United. In losing players such as Andy Carroll, Joey Barton, Jose Enrique and Kevin Nolan, manager Alan Pardew had lost the backbone of a side that had not only ensured survival in its debut season back among the big guns, but had done so with some flair.
In their place came an influx of the unknown and unwanted. Signings such as Demba Ba (cast aside by West Ham United and rejected by Stoke City), Yohan Cabaye, Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben-Arfa were initially met with suspicion by an often-fickle and demanding support (but then again, as football fans, aren’t we all guilty of this?).
Yet Ba’s sixteen goals, combined with 13 contributed in just half a season by his partner and countryman Cisse not only surpassed the previous season’s tally amassed by Carroll and Nolan, they contributed a season of achievement unseen on Tyneside in some time.
It’s a lesson Rangers may wish to draw upon as they begin the lengthy process of recovering from the trauma of administration and demotion.
For nearly two and a half decades, this was a club that wholeheartedly embraced the ‘greed is good’ mentality of the post-Thatcherite era, in an ultimately futile attempt to emerge from the shadows of the greatest achievement of their greatest rivals.
Whatever your opinion, ‘Oldco’ or ‘Newco’, it was loco.
Rangers financial ruin, which has resulted in their banishment to the lowest echelon’s of the Scottish game, without an away win in the league, and geographically, Glasgow’s lowest placed league side, should have been the wake-up call needed to eschew the practices of old.
Yet for many, sense of deja vu persists.
Last week – in the respected US financial publication Forbes, who only five years ago ranked Rangers as one of world football’s most valuable clubs – an adviser to one of the groups interested in taking over the club earlier this year suggested that the Ibrox side’s finances remain in a parlous state (a claim rejected by the current hierarchy as ‘misleading and scaremongering’).
While a glut of expensive and established stars have moved on and the wage bill reduced, their replacements – a motley crew of SPL journeymen and unknown foreign imports – are almost certain to be earning vast sums of money in comparison with their competitors in the Scottish Third Division.
Amidst the chatter of share-issues and commercial partnerships with the Dallas Cowboys, a transfer embargo covering the next two years and an injury crisis that has robbed the team of some of its most experienced talent, perhaps the solution lies closer to home.
When Murray Park opened in 2001, it was viewed by many as an attempt by the then Rangers Chairman, David Murray to guide the Ibrox side away from the profligacy of old, with a promise that the benefits would soon be evident.
A debate on the success or otherwise of its graduate pool is a story for another day, but in the age of Moneyball, there exists an opportunity to finally exploit its promise, delivering economic, as well as footballing, benefits.
Brad Pitt is no stranger to Glasgow. Fresh from his portrayal of Oakland’s General Manager, Billy Beane, the city was chosen as the backdrop for his forthcoming blockbuster portraying the threat to humanity from a zombie apocalypse.
If those in power on Glasgow’s South Side embrace the Moneyball theory and finally exploit the potential of Murray Park to realise football and financial success, perhaps Mr. Pitt will be inclined to reprise that sporting role once again.
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