Secret Seven - the maths behind transfer failings
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Secret Seven - the maths behind transfer failings
by Jonathan Rest

Half of all transfers fail, according to Dr Ian Graham, Director of Research at Liverpool FC, who has given his insights into the seven pitfalls facing Sporting Directors and Heads of Recruitment in any deal.

Player recruitment and retention is the most important application of analytics by a factor of 10. It is where the action is at, in terms of performance
Dr Ian Graham
Director of Research, Liverpool FC

That damning figure was put into the public domain at the recent StatsBomb Conference at Stamford Bridge where the highly-respected Welshman spoke about how to maximise the impact of analytics within a club.


Graham (pictured) said: “Player recruitment and retention is the most important application of analytics by a factor of 10. It is where the action is at, in terms of performance.”


So getting it wrong can be costly.


Liverpool entered the October international break second in the Premier League. While those immediately above and below them - Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs - spent big in the summer transfer window, the 2019 European and 2020 Premier League champions bought in only Ibrahima Konate for £35m from RB Leipzig.


It mirrored a similar pattern of summer spending since 2018, and is an example of the devotion to data analysis that has enabled Liverpool to keep pace with - and often outpace - their wealthier rivals in the transfer market.


Speaking at Stamford Bridge, Graham stressed that transfers tend to fail due to any one of seven reasons: 

  1. current player is better than the new player;

  2. the player is not as good as first thought;

  3. the player does not fit the style of the team;

  4. the player is played out of position;

  5. the manager does not rate the player;

  6. the player has fitness issues; 

  7. the player has personal issues.


Even if a club has 90% confidence that each of these factors will not occur, in a simplified calculation Graham showcased how this still only yields a total 48% chance of every transfer being a success: 


90% x 90% x 90% x 90% x 90% x 90% x 90% = 48%


Analytics can play a significant role in assisting with the first three of those areas, ensuring Sporting Directors and Heads of Recruitment are fully informed before investing in new players.


Graham, who has worked alongside renowned Sporting Director Michael Edwards for almost a decade, continued: "We have to make sure the player fits the style of the team. That's a core competency of the analytics team that we understand the style of play of our team...


"The reason is that the transfer market values these things the same way we do. So the trick to improve these things is to try and work out what is over-valued by the transfer market and try to pay less for that.


"We work out what is under-valued, which should be cheaper anyway, and we can make some valuable signings."


Picture credit: @StatsBomb

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