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Comolli appointment a step into the sabermetrics unknown for Liverpool
The appointment of Damien Comolli as Liverpool’s director of football strategy represents a step into the unknown for the Anfield club, with statistical analysis likely to replace the traditional eye for talent in the transfer market.
Comolli, like the club’s new owner John Henry, is a devotee of sabermetrics, a form of sporting number crunching used to judge the value of players.
The approach, developed in America, replaces the traditional intuition of coaches with complicated algorithms and aims to unearth rough diamonds plying their trade outside of the limelight.
What this means for Roy Hodgson is unclear.
The Liverpool manager insists his fingers have not been loosened from the levers of power, but a club statement clearly spelled out that the Frenchman’s remit covered scouting, player recruitment and player development.
When asked to imagine the possibility of a confrontation with Comolli, Hodgson told reporters: “I can’t imagine it happening, but who knows? Maybe it will and if that day comes, God forbid, I will deal with it. But I’m not going to be spending any time concerning myself with it at the moment.”
Comolli’s appointment does, however, represent a change in direction for a club who have always placed absolute authority in the hands of their managers.
Henry is keen to see the Reds adopt a radical approach, one which seems a world apart from the autocratic, top-down world of English football management.
“As everyone knows we are new to English football, but not to sport, and we are studying all options,” he told the club website on Thursday. “Opportunities and value will drive spending in January and in the future.
“Our clear focus from day one of our ownership has been – and will be – to improve the club and focus on what it will take to put Liverpool FC consistently in a position to challenge for trophies.”
Football has traditionally looked down its nose at the statistics-obsessed American sports, where individual judgement is replaced by the whirring internal cogs of computers crunching numbers.
But not all have turned their back on the approach and a few, including Comolli who counts sabermetrics pioneer and Oakland ‘A’s general manager Billy Beane among his close friends, have embraced it.
“He (Beane) loves football as I love baseball,” Comolli was quoted as saying. “We have and are talking at length since 2006 about data application in both football and baseball.
“Everything I have been doing has come from what the ‘A’s have been doing in terms of collecting and using data.”
Whether or not Comolli has been a success or is open to debate. He worked under Arsene Wenger as a scout for seven years from 1996, an undoubtedly successful period in the Arsenal’s history.
But the jury is still out on his time at Tottenham Hotspur. He joined the club in 2005 and worked with coach Martin Jol and then Juande Ramos before being dismissed when Ramos’ tenure came to an end in October 2008 with the club rooted to the foot of the Premier League.
The fruits of his labour at White Hart Lane are perhaps only now ripening under manager Harry Redknapp.
He recruited Gareth Bale, Dimitar Berbatov (now at Manchester United), Luka Modric and Benoit Assou-Ekotto to the club and they have all gone on to prove their worth and increase their value.
Only time will tell if Comolli and Hodgson can make a success of a relationship between director of football and manager that has no obviously successful template in English football.
Hodgson spent £5 million in the summer on defensive midfielder Christian Poulsen, a player who at 30-years-old is unlikely to represent the value for money Henry wants the club to pursue.
The responsibility for uncovering this value will fall to Comolli but if you were wondering who Liverpool were likely to buy in the January transfer window, then it is time to dust of the calculator and get down to some serious statistical analysis.