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.