The word miracle is bandied around frequently in the modern world in an attempt to garner attention for rather mundane concepts. Diets, cures for disease, intervention from an omnipotent being etc. are often met with discourse and are cause for debate which may last until the end of time.
Conversely to this, in the realm of sport, miracles – whilst not occurring on a large scale – are widely accepted. James Braddock, the Cinderella man, Leicester City’s 2015/16 Premier League title triumph and the United States’ victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics hockey tournament, later named the Miracle on Ice, to name a few. These stories will be forever used as a source of inspiration for the masses: anything is possible. Generally speaking, these miracles could not be explained by nature or science.
In 2002, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane, rewrote the definition.
By targeting players who were seen as flawed by baseball scouts, who in fact were undervalued, Beane was able to lead the Athletics to a record breaking 20 game win streak with less than a third of the wage bill of the New York Yankees. Miracles of the modern age through statistical analysis.
The relationship between data science and football is still in its relative infancy, however, the output would suggest that this one is a keeper (pun most definitely intended).
Parallels can be drawn between Beane’s efforts more than a decade ago to the musings of Liverpool last season, resulting in the unexpected run to the Champions League final. Of course, the football transfer market is incomparable to the draft system used in Baseball and Liverpool do not exactly share the minnow title the Athletics were branded as however the appreciation of value which has occurred cannot be ignored.
During the first summer transfer window with Jurgen Klopp at the helm, Liverpool acquired 5 first team players with a total outlay of 80 million euros, with the standout capture of Sadio Mane for the best part of half of that figure. The Senegalese forward had made waves at Southampton, most notably scoring the fastest Premier League hat-trick against Aston Villa in 2 minutes and 56 seconds.
Looking at his statistics since his arrival on English shores in 2014 compared to one of the most lauded forwards in the League in Eden Hazard, an image of underappreciation starts to form, particularly when combined with constant comparison to his Fab Three counterparts, Messrs Firmino and Salah.
Mane’s arrival was just the beginning of a squad overhaul which would see a plethora of talent at Klopp’s disposal resulting in players such as Adam Lallana, Xheridan Shaqiri and Fabinho excluded from the starting eleven.
The summer of 2017 may be looked back in the history of Liverpool football club as the point when the tide shifted from also-rans to genuine juggernauts. Andy Robertson was essentially brought in on a free, as 8 million euros was paid to Hull City, who in turn bought Kevin Stewart for the same fee. Possibly the greatest Pseudo – free signing in the history of the club.
The now Scottish captain initially found it tough to break into the Reds’ starting eleven at first, with an injury to the Alberto Moreno allowing for a berth at left back, which he has since made his own, transforming in to arguably the best in the league.
Aside from the countless pinpoint balls, he fires into the front three, perhaps the greatest moment of Robertson’s Liverpool career was his one-man press against Manchester City, followed by a chorus of his name bellowed by the Kop. If he was underappreciated when he initially arrived, that certainly isn’t the case now.
Mohammed Salah’s arrival came with much less fanfare than would be befitting the clubs record transfer, eclipsing the fee paid for Mane a year earlier. A traditional winger under Luciano Spalellti for Roma, Salah was tasked with beating his marker and getting down the line in order to find Edin Dzeko in the box, finishing the season with 15 goals and 11 assists – the price seemed fair.
After one of the greatest individual seasons in premier league history, Roma were regretting their decision to part with the former Chelsea man. According to transfermarkt.com, the Egyptians current value lies at 150 million euros. To every Red, the FIFA Best award finalist is nothing short of priceless.
The last undervalued signing of the summer was to come from Arsenal in the form of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Eyebrows were raised at the 38-million-euro fee paid for the Englishman, considering he only had one year left on his contract and his desire to play in central midfield with his path blocked by numerous players well versed in the demands of Klopp’s system.
The inflation of the transfer market following Neymar’s unprecedented 222 million euro move to Paris St Germain could have proved disastrous to Liverpool if early or savvy business was not conducted. The latter was key in the Ox’s case, proving every cent of his worth throughout the campaign, in his favoured position. Klopp’s faith yet again vindicated.
Alas, it was not to be for the Reds, falling agonisingly close to the greatest prize club in club football. Two days after the final, the signing of Fabinho was announced, with Naby Keita, Allison Becker and Xherdan Shaqiri following through the Shankly gates. Perhaps in years from now, we will look back at the combination of undervalued and established stars as the key which saw Miracles at Anfield once again.