When shopping for Premier League survival in the age of analytics, there’s still nothing like experience

Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game.

Every January, shoppers across the country flock to the high street, enticed by the promise of post-Christmas bargains. Football too has its own January sales, as the transfer window opens and clubs are once again given free range to try and spend away their problems. Unlike the high-street sales, there are rarely bargains to be found here. This is the ultimate panic sale, a seller’s market where the clubs that are doing well hold all the power and the clubs underperforming feel the pressure to do something to turn their season around. But are clubs spending their money wisely? What is the formula for a successful January transfer window signing?

The biggest impact of the transfer window so far has been felt where the stakes are highest, at the bottom of the Premier League table. Just over half way through the window and most clubs at the sharp end of the table have been involved in some business or other. With the proliferation of money from the new Premier League TV deal meaning even the league’s lowest placed teams have money available, teams in the bottom half have been splashing the cash to try and ensure Premier League survival.

This past weekend in the Premier League the new talent was out in force, and the mixture in fortunes of some of the Premier Leagues new boys was notable. What stood out most was just how valuable spending your money in the right way can be, particularly in experience. For evidence, look no further than the contrasting fortunes of two signings on Tyneside.

High flying West Ham travelled to Newcastle unbeaten in 9 games and knocking on the door of the Champions League places. They were undone by a team sitting in the relegation places and struggling for an identity under Steve McLaren. A huge reason for the change in form - new £12m midfielder Jonjo Shelvey. The experienced former Liverpool and Swansea man was impressive on his debut, with his control of the midfield and passing credited as a major reason for Newcastle’s performance. In contrast, Sunderland’s new man Jan Kirchhoff had what was described by many as the most disastrous Premier League debut ever against Tottenham. When the £3m signing from Bayern Munich came on, Sunderland were drawing 1-1 with Spurs. Within eight minutes Sunderland were 3-1 down and the game was over. Kirchhoff’s performance culminated in giving away a clear penalty when he took down Danny Rose. Its early days for the German, but the contrasting fortunes certainly underlined the value of Premier League experience.

Football has for a few years embraced, (at least partially), a new more grown up and scientific era of player evaluation. On the back of the ‘Moneyball’ revolution in Baseball, Football has, like most sports, embraced big data in player evaluation. Alongside more scientific methods of evaluating physical attributes, player performance has been seen more and more in quantifiable terms. It’s a method that has encouraged many managers to look for hidden gems, players who don’t necessarily have the big reputation, but have all the physical attributes and statistical results that suggest talent. But what’s clear from watching the Premier League, and what came across this week in particular, is just how valuable experience is, particularly in a relegation fight. Knowing the league, its nuances and the way it’s played, has a value that gets overlooked, but can be just as important.

Bournemouth and Southampton were two other teams to embrace the value of buying locally this transfer window. Bournemouth made Benik Afobe their record signing at £12m, and he’s already showing signs of paying off. Afobe may be lacking in Premier League experience, but at 22 he has already proven himself a goal scorer in England. Southampton pulled off what could be the bargain of the window, signing Charlie Austin for just £4m. His experience as a Premier League goal scorer makes him a hugely valuable asset for the Saints. Clearly, some Premier League clubs still know the value of experience of the English leagues.

In the age of analytics and performance mapping, every attribute of speed, strength, skill and technique is pored over for hours looking for the next great gem. As it turns out, experience may be the simplest formula for success after all.

James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search