The Triumph of Merseyball: How Liverpool Won the Premier League


Just like Liverpool, the Boston Red Sox had seemed destined never to win a championship again. The club’s 86-year wait for a World Series had been rooted, so the myth ran, in the so-called Curse of the Bambino. Henry and his group had ended that in 2004. He believed they could do the same for Liverpool. After all, he said, they had developed “a unique skill set for breaking curses.”

Central to it, of course, is the fact that Henry does not believe in curses. As the scenes outside Anfield on Thursday night illustrated, Liverpool is an inherently emotional club. The secret of Henry’s success is that what is undeniably true on the outside does not necessarily hold on the inside.

Liverpool’s rise has been a triumph of planning, of science, of reason. Under F.S.G.’s aegis, it has been transformed from a club uneasy in the modern world to one at the cutting edge of it. Its commercial arm is slick and dynamic, enabling the club to turn a record profit last year, and to maintain a $350 million wage bill. It navigates the transfer market easily enough that, for two years straight, it has had the deeply dubious honor of paying more in agents’ fees than any other Premier League team.

But it is on the field that the transformation has been most remarkable. A team that has spent 30 years trying to follow is now in a position to lead. In its success, there are lessons not only for other members of soccer’s moneyed elite, but for clubs much further down the food chain.

In those early days, when Fenway Sports Group first arrived on Merseyside, it was widely assumed that the group intended to try to apply to Liverpool the data-driven approach that had led the Red Sox to glory. This would be, it was thought, the grand Moneyball experiment that soccer, with an eyebrow raised, had been expecting.

Trace elements of that approach have survived. Liverpool remains, arguably, the most effective user of data in soccer. Much of that is down to Michael Edwards, the club’s sporting director, and the cadre of academics and statisticians and quants who work alongside him. Liverpool, perhaps uniquely in soccer, employs one actual rocket scientist.



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