Why the Billy Beane '˜Moneyball' philosophy remains at the heart of Sam Allardyce's management
Sam Allardyce didn't need the number-crunchers to inform him that Sunderland's survival fight promised to go right down to the wire after taking charge in January.
“When you’ve only got three points from the first nine games, you know full well that it’s going to be pretty miraculous if you’re not still there at the end of the season,” said Allardyce this week.
But in those early days at the Stadium of Light last October, Allardyce did use data analysis to predict Sunderland’s final points tally and what would be required to beat the drop.
Statistics and the ‘Moneyball’ strategy remain paramount to Allardyce’s managerial philosophy, as they have done since his days at Bolton.
Back in 2003, Allardyce met with American baseball guru Billy Beane – subsequently immortalised by Brad Pitt in the Hollywood blockbuster Moneyball.
Beane oversaw a computer programme for Major League Baseball side Oakland Athletics which measured every player by their statistical output, and that shaped both team selection and the club’s signings.
It brought huge success to a club with one of the lowest budgets in the competition.
Beane’s story became the subject of a best-seller and led Allardyce to meet with him during his Bolton days; influencing the now Sunderland manager so profoundly that it remains a major part of his approach – even if it raises some eyebrows in the more traditional-minded elements of his coaching staff.
“Data is hugely, hugely important to me and gives me a huge advantage for preparing my team against the opposition,” said Allardyce.
“I use data analysis massively and have done for the best part of 14-15 years now.
“It’s helped make me the manager that I am. Sometimes the rest of the staff look completely baffled by what I’m talking about, on the basis of how well I understand the data analysis.
“There are exceptions to the rule in football, that an algorithm wouldn’t predict – like Leicester winning the title. There is still the unknown, but more often than not, you put those statistics into place and you get the number crunchers on it and it says ‘You’ll be there, there and there if you do this, this and this’.”
With the relegation fight still so tightly-poised, Allardyce isn’t making public his initial assessments on Sunderland’s final points tally or what they need to survive. “I can’t tell you. That’s private!” he said.
But, with a wry smile, he says he “might” reveal his magic numbers at the end of the season. That will be the acid test of whether the Moneyball strategy has brought Sunderland the multi-million pound windfall of continued Premier League football.