Birmingham’s commanding Davies.

by Daisy Cutter

Having finally caught up with the rest of the world and watched Moneyball – the Brad Pitt film about the Oakland Raiders baseball team general manager who attempts to build a successful squad for little money – I’ve attempted to do likewise and put together an XI capable of challenging for Europe for what, in today’s market, is pocket change.

It is said that Liverpool under Dalglish based their signings on the same principles but they didn’t really. Yes John W Henry also runs the Red Sox who copied the Raiders’ blueprint and consequently went on to win their first World Series for nearly a century in 2004. And yes they did hoover up three domestic players who were in the top five assists chart of 2010/11 in Downing, Adam and Henderson. But spunking close to fifty million on the trio rather defeats the whole point of moneyball.

So what exactly is it? Well, it’s all rather simple and looking back now it’s surprising that implementing player purchases based on statistical data caused such ructions in the US when it was first conceived.

In essence Billy Beane (the GM of Oakland who was probably chuffed to bits to have Pitt play him on the screen) became tired of losing his star players to bigger teams and having to recruit from the bargain bin and so concentrated his focus not on reputation but on an analytical, evidence-based sabermetric approach. By doing so he discovered that many players had been over-looked due to a variety of reasons (age, prior injuries, even an unusual way of pitching the ball) yet had the stats to match the more higher profile names.

Now we’re hardly OptaJoe but by checking out numerous stat sites and free transfer lists we feel we’ve constructed a team here who may not boost season ticket sales but could certainly hold their own against all but the very best. And for a combined fee of £20m we’d have a very happy chairman to boot.

1/ Heurelho Gomez (Spurs)

Out of contract at the Lane and though he’s gained the reputation for the occasional howler the Brazilian’s stats are impressive. For two consecutive seasons he kept twelve clean sheets and is capable of producing match-winning displays single-handedly.

Cost – Free

2/ Danny Simpson

Was there a more under-rated defender in the top flight last year? The Salford-born 25 year old patrolled the Newcastle right flank with impressive authority often becoming an auxiliary winger but it’s as a key figure in Pardew’s solid back-line where he really stood out. Would have to act quick for this one as Simpson is expected to finalise his switch to Villa in the days ahead.

Cost – £4m

3/ Ian Harte (Reading)

An integral figure in the best Championship defence in 2011/12 Harte is getting better and better with age. Has been selected in four consecutive PFA Team of the Year XIs and this model of excellence becomes even more invaluable when you factor in his dead-ball talents.

Cost – £1m

4/ Danny Gabbidon

Released by QPR in May the Welsh international has been blighted with injury in recent years but fully fit is one of the finest defenders around. Tall, athletic and reads the game well for only a signing on fee Gabbidon is a potential steal.

Cost – Free

5/ Curtis Davies

Having played over 50 times for Birmingham City last season Davies has put his injury concerns to bed and is finally starting to show the immense promise that persuaded West Brom to gamble £3m on him from Luton. Having once described a performance for Villa as being’like a pub player’ the commanding centre-back was a shoo-in for the PFA Championship Team of the Year in 2011/12 and at 27 is fast approaching his peak.

Cost – £4m

6/ Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough)

Equally proficient at centre-back, right-back and even scheming further forward the 23 year old Aussie offers versatility. But it’s as a classy holding midfielder that he truly shines, completing a fine campaign for the Boro as captain. Leadership qualities, can play anywhere, consistency, and with a decent strike on him too (Rhys scored with every 1/7 attempt in 2011/12) and all for a knockdown fee.

Cost – £2m

7/ Mark Gower (Swansea)

Ladies and gentleman all rise for the most creative midfielder in European football. Better yet he’s available on a free after being released by the Swans this summer. ‘The Power’ may be 33 but he was never a rampaging box-to-box type anyway so although he can play anywhere across the middle for this team he’d simply be required to use that exquisite right foot to good effect. In November 2011 Opta released stats which showed Gower created 4.39 goal-scoring chances per 90 minutes – more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues prompting the boy from Romford to joke, “If they want to tell me I’m more creative than Lionel Messi, well I’ll take that!”

Cost – Free

Gower skirts the Oxlade peninsula.

8/ Ben Watson (Wigan)

An average of 1.1 chances created for each game last term (the 20th best in the top flight with many of the others costing their clubs a king’s ransom), a solid 6.59 rating throughout and a 1 in 6 strike-rate from midfield since his move to the DW in 2009 Watson is the epitome of consistency.

Cost – £3m

9/ Sanharib Malki (Roda JV)

We’ve tried in vain to discover why on earth the Tank of Damascus – who was the Eridivisie’s third highest goalscorer last term banging in 24 – is valued at a paltry £2m. Okay so he endured a torrid time at his previous club Lokeren in Belgium bagging an uninspiring 3 in 31 appearances but far better players than the 28 year old Syrian have found themselves a square peg in a round hole at one club before finding his feet elsewhere.

Perhaps Malki best represents the whole Moneyball ethos – a player who is over-looked due to lacking the supposed glamour and status of numerous other strikers who are being punted around for small fortunes.

With 9 goals with his right foot, 7 with his left, 3 tap-ins and 5 headers his haul was diverse enough to illustrate his all-round threat.

Cost – £2m

Sanharib Malki. Add brave to the list.

10/ Dimitris Salpingidis

The 30 year old can play on the right or as a second striker and made a considerable impact at the Euros with a string of eye-catching displays. Better yet he’s available on a free after running down his contract at PAOK and has openly spoke of his desire to play in England.

Cost – Free

11/ James Morrison (West Brom)

According to the stats the attacking midfielder consistently outshone a multitude of higher profile names in his position during 2011/12 including Charlie Adam, James Milner and Seb Larsson.

Cost – £4m