Barcelona, Alex Song, and Moneyball

I read an interesting article on The Tomkins Times today, which identified through balls as an important soccer metric which correlates with footballing success. Using the data on WhoScored, it’s easy to see why this belief was established, as Barcelona, arguably the greatest club side of all time, are streets ahead of other teams in Europe’s top five leagues.

Here are the figures from around Europe last season:

Aside from the Catalan giant, you can see that other league champions from around Europe are in the top ten sides for accurate through balls per game. The ability to get in behind an opponent’s back line with a defence splitting pass seems to pave the way to winning football matches. In that case, which players around Europe are the best at this skill?

Looking at the above would appear to explain why Barcelona spent aproximately £15m on Alex Song this summer, making him their most costly purchase in the last transfer window.

The Cameroonian was the top performer in the Premier League last season at threading a pass through a defence, and notice how he outperformed the rest of Barcelona’s illustrious midfield in the process.

Moneyball means different things to different people, and is often used lazily by journalists to label teams that use statistics to obtain potential playing recruits.

But Barcelona have bought another league’s top performer at an attribute they obviously strongly value, for ‘just’ £15m and Song has only recently turned 25, so could be playing through balls at Camp Nou for years to come. That certainly sounds like Moneyball to me, and I’ll be interested to see if he tops the La Liga rankings this season.

Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here. You can follow me on Twitter here.

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8 thoughts on “Barcelona, Alex Song, and Moneyball

  1. I’m amazed at the arsenal fans refusing to recognise Alex Song’s outright quality & increasingly important contribution to Arsenal in the last few seasons!

  2. Even if this is the reason Barcelona bought Song I don’t think this qualifies as Moneyball. Although using a stat like through balls/game may not be something most clubs are doing, identifying Alex Song is not akin to finding a diamond in the rough. Moneyball only works when you spend little to no money to identify a player thats seriously undervalued in the market. Spending £15m isn’t exactly undervalued.

    • True, but isn’t ‘moneyball’ also about spending larger sums when necessary to plug a gap? Granted, it’s not like Barca have ‘gaps’ in midfield, but I thought that was another aspect of it? Anyway, agree it may not go with the main thrust of moneyball. Thanks for reading and for the comment.

  3. I have to admit my surprise at Barcelonas interest in Song but reading your article certainly points to logical reasoning behind the transfer. Good use of stats.

  4. Pingback: Spain: The Through Ball Kings | Bass Tuned To Red

  5. Pingback: Spain: The Through Ball Kings | Bass Tuned To Red

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