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Brentfords playing a different kind of game - MONEYBALL

6 minute read Published October 9, 2023

What is Moneyball?

Brentford FC had long been going through the motions in the English league system. A club with history all the way back to 1889. But until the 2018/19 season, they hadn’t made it to the highest division for 70 years.

That was until the clubs owner, Matthew Benham, had the same insight that Billy Beane had with his Oakland A’s. The Oakland A’s are a baseball team in the American majors that had been struggling to keep up with the in the league. In 2002 they decided they had to do things differently to be able to compete.

Enter “Moneyball”. Moneyball was a new way of finding undervalued talent in baseball. It relied on mathematical models to determine the value of a player, rather than traditional scouting, which had been the norm up until then.

After adopting this method of scouting, the Oakland A’s were able to go on a 21 game winning streak, the longest ever in the history of the MLB. With a team of no-name, undervalued players. Players that were looked past because of age, quirky attributes or whatever else.

Moneyball at Brentford

Matthew Benham had a background in sports gambling and after having struggled for 70 years, he decided, in very much the same way as Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s, that they had to do things differently to be able to compete with the big teams. So in 2015, they took a page out of the Oakland A’s play book - Moneyball.

Straight away the math showed that the academy didn’t make sense. So they dissolved it. It was replaced with a B team and the strategy for the B team was to purchase players between 17 and 20 to develop into first team members. This lowered the risk, as at that age the players had started showing what they were capable of.

Brentford Today

Last weekend Manchester United took on Brentford in the Premier League. Manchester United was 0-1 down until the dying minutes of the game when Scott McTominay scored a brace to get Manchester United the win.

Brentford however, kept up with the giant club for 93 minutes. Granted, it was a Manchester United decimated by injuries (and other issues), keeping some of their marquee signings out of the game. Signings such as Antony, Martinez and Varane. Huge stars.

Looking at the transfer business of the two clubs it makes for an even more striking difference. Just have a look at the transfer fees for the starting elevens.


Manchester United:






















































Five times the cost to put together that Manchester United team! And that’s with United missing some of their most expensive signings and the fact that one of their most valuable players, Marcus Rashford, is an academy product.


They scouted players in the same way that the A’s did - with math. This way they could find diamonds in the rough, undervalued, underappreciated players that, given the chance, could do a job, first in the Championship and, later, the Premier League.

The strategy was so successful that Brentford in 6 seasons made it all the way to the very top of the English league system - the Premier League.

With minimal resources compared to other teams in the Premier league they have managed to stay competitive every season by unearthing these undervalued players. Ollie Watkins, for example, came from Exeter City and is now tearing it up at Aston Villa while Neal Maupay was signed from Saint-Étienne and sold to Brighton.

For a business model like Brentfords to work, they need to keep finding and selling talent. The money from TV in the Premier League puts them at a new level, compared to their League One and even Championship days, but the difference in economic power between them and the teams around them is now even bigger.

Problems with Moneyball in Football

Now, the transfer of the Moneyball approach to football isn’t straight forward. In baseball, every contested point comes from a set play. Football, on the other hand, has an open and more dynamic play. 

No statistic or statistics combined stack up to certain victories. Not possession, not xG or passing accuracy. Even a goalkeeper can’t be judged solely on the percentage of shots he stops as he’s expected to participate in the play by distributing and instructing his defense.

But until now, this approach has worked for Brentford.

The Future for Brentford

The question is whether it’s possible to take this approach all the way. Whether it’s possible for Brentford to start competing at the top of the English pyramid. Because ultimately, for a competitive team, that has to be the goal.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to believe that this hasn’t partly made it into the scouting departments of the biggest teams in the league. If not something they completely rely on, at least as a part of the basis for evaluation. And with the infinitely bigger wallets of these teams - can Brentford still compete?

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