Sunday night the Golden Globes were held, and for fans of sport it had to be shocking to see a movie about advanced metrics getting recognized among the giants of the film industry. When Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis, came out in 2003 it immediately rocked the world of Major League Baseball. The book was interpreted by some to be an attack on the century old practice of scouting, saying that computers and formulas could do a better job evaluating players than the expert eyes of the game.
The main subject of the book, Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, became a polarizing figure in baseball--pariah to some and prophet to others. But Moneyball in reality was never a book about computers vs. humans--it was a book about how a man was exploiting market inefficiencies in baseball.
This current Tottenham Hotspur squad is the product of two men: Damien Comolli and Daniel Levy. Comolli, in his three years as Tottenham's Director of Football, played a massive part in shaping today's title-contending squad. Comolli befriended Billy Beane, and the ideas of exploiting the market inefficiencies of football played a major role in Comolli's strategy to build Tottenham. Comolli's philosophy seemed to break down into two streams.
The first was the purchasing of undervalued young talent. Comolli consistently was willing to risk £5-10 million fees on young players that had not yet proved themselves in the Premiership. Players like Gareth Bale, Alan Hutton, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Giovani dos Santos, Adel Taarabt and Younes Kaboul were brought to the the club in this manner. The second was to invest in proven players in slightly lower regarded leagues. Luka Modrić, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Heurelho Gomes, Vedran Ćorluka and Roman Pavlyuchenko, and Dimitar Berbatov fall into this camp.
Huge transfer fees were splashed down in the Comolli era. Comolli was a big swinger, risking that the big money he invested in successful players would outweigh the risks of such moves. In large part, this was proven correct. No matter how big the failures were in his tenure (the £16 million spent on David Bentley chief among them), the massive successes have helped set up Tottenham for these years.
After the regard for Comolli's aggressive era, Daniel Levy has been cast under a shadow of doubt. Quiet and with a business background, Levy was seen as a man whose policies have been the subject of skepticism for Spurs supporters. While the Comolli era was one of heavy turnover and big spending, Levy has been more reserved. Levy has been undoubtedly more frustrating to follow for the supporters. It is a common thread to hear Tottenham linked to dozens of players each transfer window, but when push comes to shove little often comes of it. No better example of this came than last transfer window, when after weeks of negotiating with Bolton for Gary Cahill, the move seemingly fell apart at the last moment.
This is the Levyball Era, and in many ways it is the natural evolution of the Moneyballish Era of Comolli. Comolli was all about the players, realizing that the undervaluing of unproven Premiership players was a market to be exploited. But by the end of Comolli's era, it seems to be clear that Levy saw a new market trends were emerging.
Levyball instead has focused on the misallocation of players in the football landscape and the value of patience in the transfer market. He has shown a clear knowledge in the value found in both squad players on world class squads and in picking up the best players off relegation stricken sides. Levy has consistently showed an unwillingness to pay inflated fees for players. The transfer of Rafael van der Vaart proved this, as Levy was able to wait out an overflowing Real Madrid side to sign the Holland international at a cut rate price at the last moment. Levy was able to acquire Scott Parker, Younes Kaboul and Niko Kranjcar in similar circumstances, waiting until the end of the transfer window to prosper on the weakness of desperate clubs.
There seems to be a great frustration among the Tottenham faithful after a talented player signs with a less rich or regarded club than Spurs. And on the same hand, Levy seems often unwilling to sell, holding onto players on the edges of the squad at high prices to sell. But Levy seems consistent in viewing that his squad players are not depreciating assets. The value these players give Tottenham in depth and potential sales is worth far more to Levy than funneling quick cash into the club.
A fondness remains for Comolli and his aggressive transfer policy. But it is what Levy has done that has allowed Comolli's players to shine. The conservative transfer fees and wage structure under Levy is what has allowed the club to afford to keep players like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale. And while some may say Comolli's era would have undoubtedly led to Tottenham reaching it's top-4 heights it has today, it is Levy that has maintained and improved the squad so that it can be in the position to push for a title.
In the end, it is quite likely that this January transfer window may come and go without any big sales for Tottenham. Ire will certainly fall down on Levy, saying that he missed the chance to make a title winning buy. But for better or worse, Levy is consistent in his policy. Tottenham will not make a misvalued transfer. Spurs supporters might not like this era of Levyball, where Tottenham has stayed a course of economic conservatism. But as long as Levy continues to secure the financial health and top-4 footballing performance of the club, you have to respect him.