Last October, I watched the Oscar-nominated film Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. In 2002, the Oakland A’s lost three of their marquee players to richer clubs. Unable to compete with the financial clout of such teams as the NY Yankees and Boston Red Sox, Beane built a team out of lesser-known players, has-beens, and youngsters. That year, the A’s finished 1st in the American League West division, with 103 wins (that’s a lot, by the way). They also set an American League record for winning 20 consecutive games.
After watching that movie, I finally understood what Arsène Wenger (and AFC) was all about. I posted an article here about the film, with my predictions on the 2011-12 season. Coincidentally, a few days later, Billy Beane himself revealed that Wenger was one of his idols. The book version was published in 2003; since then, the concept has been adopted by various sports teams.
So why post about Moneyball again? Well, I was waiting for the conclusion of the RVP saga to see if my predictions came true. Secondly, the RVP saga has brought back some of the anti-Wenger sentiment that persisted throughout last season. Third, you should watch the movie if you haven’t done so already.
First: the predictions.
1) Arsène will not leave the club. True – we’re in the Champions League for the 15th consecutive season, and we had a busy off-season, acquiring three experienced players to round out the youthful squad.
– Although the team is going through rough times right now, the current squad will turn things around in due time and will compete for fourth place. True – we actually finished in third place, thanks to the implosion of the Sp**s, as well as a game-saving tackle by Kieran Gibbs vs West Brom. Miracle is the only way to describe it.
– We will not sign a big-name player in January. True – except for the emergency loan of Thierry Henry from the New York Red Bulls. Not sure how anybody could have predicted that.
– We will lose RVP at the end of the season. True – unfortunately, we did lose RVP, and to our most-hated rival. Fortunately, I was wrong about Vermaelen; he signed a new long-term contract days after my article. Maybe he follows CanadianGunners…
Second: the anti-Wenger camp
After the disappointing 0-0 draw versus Sunderland, it didn’t take long for the “Arsenal in crisis” fan club to speak up. Even the Wall Street Journal got into it. Here’s a quote:
“Van Persie said last week his decision wasn’t motivated by money, but rather because he listened to ‘the little boy inside him’ who was ‘screaming United.’ Maybe so, but if Arsenal had ponied up the additional $8.6 million a year it would have taken to match United’s offer and perhaps invested a little bit extra to strengthen the squad you wonder what the ‘little boy’ would have said.”
Break the bank (and the wage structure) for the next four years, for an injury-prone 29-year-old forward who had 1.5 good seasons with us? I don’t need a Ph.D. in Economics to figure that one out. We didn’t let RVP go because of $8.6 million dollars; that’s a drop in the bucket for AFC. We let him go because we can get a lot more from the transfer market with the amount of money that we save in his wages, not to mention a £24 million bonus from Man U. Wenger is not shy to spend big; here’s a quote from Billy Beane:
“There is a misconception that you never pay much for anybody, but that is not true at all. You want to make sure you are getting more value than you are paying. That may come in the form of a very expensive player it may come in the form of a very young player, but it is not about being cheap or not spending money.”
Arsenal are not in crisis; the newcomers will need a couple of games to adjust, but we’re in far better shape than we were at the beginning of last season.
Third and final point: go see the film. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Picture. The Boston Red Sox approached Billy Beane after the 2002 season, but he turned down their offer to become GM. Nevertheless, the Red Sox adopted his philosophy and went on to win the World Series in 2004. If you saw the film (or read the book) and still disagree with me, I’d love to chat with you about it.
Further reading: Moneyball 2.0