Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.
Brentford owner Matthew Benham has said he hates the term ‘Moneyball’ but there is no doubts that the methodology of using mathematics and detailed statistical analysis to identify players they believe to be undervalued is currently serving them well.
Under the direction of Mark Warburton, the Bees earned promotion from League One before reaching a play-off position in their first year in the Championship since Benham gained a 96% share in the club back in 2012.
Benham, the investor who was so successful at professional gambling he formed his own betting company Smartodds, gained a 100% stake in his boyhood club in 2014 after investing over £40 million since he came on board back in 2009.
Warburton was then told in February 2015 that he would not be kept on past the summer and a play-off appearance, in which they were beaten by Middlesbrough, was not enough to prevent him being replaced by Marinus Dijkhuizen, the Dutch coach who had enjoyed relative success in the Eredivisie with Excelsior and “shared Brentford’s vision for the future”.
The appointment of Dijkhuizen was a rare error of judgement from Benham who, with the Bees sitting 19th in September after winning only 2 of their opening 8 league games, turned to Walsall’s Dean Smith to steady the ship.
Brentford finished 9th in that campaign and occupy mid-table comfort again this term, lying 14th.
Brentford’s rise through the pyramid, they were getting relegated from League One only a decade ago, and subsequent consolidation in the second tier, has owed to an extensive scouting network and the emphasis on data analysis employed by Benham.
The Brentford owner is also majority shareholder with Danish club FC Midtjylland and their use of mathematical modelling won them the Superliga for the first time in their history in 2015.
What worked in Scandinavia has also worked in west London with the Bees, on a meagre budget and their dated 12,000 capacity Griffin Park home, establishing themselves in the Championship ahead of their projected move to the purpose-built 20,000-seater Brentford Community Stadium, due to open in 2018.
The number-crunching Moneyball methodology allowed Brentford to import the likes of Maxime Colin, Lasse Vibe and Andreas Bjelland while Nico Yennaris and Josh McEachran have settled at Griffin Park after failing to establish themselves at Premier League clubs.
Adam Forshaw, Moses Odubajo and, most significantly Andre Gray, signed from Luton for £500k and moved on to Burnley for £10 million, have been sold on for profit and next to follow them is Scott Hogan, the striker signed from Rochdale for around £800k in the same summer Gray moved from Luton.
A horrid time with the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and hamstring trouble upon his initial return have marred Hogan’s time at Griffin Park but he finished last season with a record of 7 goals in 7 games.
He has started this campaign as an ever-present and has 14 goals, catching the interest of West Ham who have seen a bid of £10 million and then £12.5 million rejected.
Partly motivated by Slaven Bilic’s desperation for a striker to boost his misfiring squad and the seller’s-market nature of the January window, Brentford have held firm on their £15 million valuation of the 24-year-old striker despite Smith’s uncertainty on whether the club can ignore such figures.
Despite Hogan’s lack of top-flight experience and his recent record with injury, the Hammers have reportedly extended to the asking price and Smith, who sends the 24-year-old to the top-flight with his backing, will need to start the search for a replacement quickly, given the striker has netted almost half of Brentford’s 31 league goals this season.
“I believe he can play in the Premier League” said Smith, “he’s a natural goal scorer, he’s got pace and strength, he makes great runs, he’s bulked himself up in the gym and he’s also a studier of the game.”
Hogan sat out the 5-1 FA Cup demolition of National League side Eastleigh last weekend in a match that may have convinced Smith that goals can flow from elsewhere.
19-year-old youth product Tom Field scored a brace in that game but the left-back will not be a solution to a squad that has struggled for incision bar Hogan, with Romaine Sawyers limited to sporadic contributions since his summer move from Walsall and fellow attacking options Lewis Macleod, Sam Saunders and Philipp Hoffman yet to register on the scoresheet; the latter being challenged by Smith to work harder to get into the first team.
Meanwhile last season’s player of the year and member of the PFA’s Championship Team of the Year for 15/16, Alan Judge has yet to play a single minute this term as he recovers from a double leg fracture suffered in a tackle from Ipswich’s Luke Hyam last April.
Assiduous scouting will again prove crucial
With Smith unable to provide a date for Judge’s return, the need for the assiduous scouting of Benham’s staff will be paramount as they search for another unearthed gem to bring the goals.
Who they find will be intriguing, possibly another result of the tried and tested Brentford way; through thorough data analysis as Brentford reap the profits of Moneyball.
Written by Adam Gray
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