Two sworn foes merge to become stronger than ever.
It may sound like the plot of a superhero movie, but this is the story of FC Midtjylland, Liverpool’s European Champions League rivals on Tuesday.
The Danish team hasn’t been around for a little over two decades, but has risen to become a domestic champion on three occasions and is now looking to overturn the odds in Europe.
Nicknamed “Moneyball FC”, Midtjylland uses statistics and data analysis to great effect, bringing in undervalued players, unleashing their talents, and selling them for a big buck.
It’s a system also used by Brentford, which is not surprising given that the bee owner is also the largest contributor to FC Midtjylland, but their style has influenced many clubs, including Liverpool.
“We were two teams that hated each other”
Midtjylland emerged 21 years ago when two clubs – Ikast and Herning Fremad – merged, with the new club taking the name of the region in which they were based.
The effect was immediate as it secured promotion to the Danish First Division in its first season of existence.
“We have merged two teams that hate each other and now we are in the Champions League despite the odds,” manager Rasmus Anckersen told BBC World Service Sport.
“It came out of necessity and restrictions. We are not one of the big cities in Denmark and we compete with the clubs with the most privileges.”
However, it wasn’t until after soccer analyst Matthew Penham was acquired by a professional gambler in 2014 that things really took off for Midgeland.
“We have improved a lot in the past three years,” goalkeeper Jasper Hansen told BBC World Service Sports.
“It was a way up, and now we stand on top of the mountain with the best of Europe.”
Stats how to do it
Benham is a lifelong Brentford fan, he took over the bee management two years prior to his arrival in Midgeland and through his company – Smartodds – the Danish side had access to a huge database of footballers across Europe.
The system analyzes players’ performance, using metrics such as opportunities created and outperformance, with a view to finding talents that have been undervalued.
It’s based on “Moneyball” – the statistical method the Oakland Athletics team used in Major League Baseball in the 1990s to recruit players.
“There’s not a lot going on here and it doesn’t happen at other clubs,” says Ankerson. “But here it is not led by two trainees in a basement.
Using this system, Midtjylland was able to find and sign Finnish defensive midfielder Tim Sparv, who was the preeminent player as the Danish team claimed their first Superliga title in 2015.
Its continuation, smart hiring helped them win more league titles in 2017-18 and 2019-20 as well as reach the last 32 European League titles four years ago.
“I was skeptical about this approach when I joined,” says Hansen.
“Can it succeed, can it make a difference? But now when I look back, they have signed a lot of players who have been sold to bigger clubs for bigger sums.”
“It’s an advantage, getting the right players, developing them and getting a big transfer. It’s a model to be proud of. Alexander Sorloth went to Crystal Palace after half a season here – he killed the league, and now he has He went for big money.
“It’s a working model.”
Random Conversion Rates – How do they work?
We all know how many soccer stats are available right now.
But how does the model work? Ankerson gives a simple example.
“Let’s say you look at two strikers,” he says.
“One in four matches gets three chances and scores three goals. Another in the same number of matches gets 10 chances but does not score any goals. Who would you choose?
“Football’s response is to say that the first player is more effective, we have to choose him. We can say that conversion rates are actually quite random, so the measure of a good attacker does not lie in his ability to convert a large percentage of chances, the scale should be:” Are you Able to constantly enter situations where the probability of recording is high? ”
“If yes, the goals will come over time. We will choose the second man.”
Long throws and caught Klopp’s attention
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp has always been a fan of FC Midtgeland’s approach and was planning to spend time with the club after his departure from Borussia Dortmund.
“In my break, I was interested in going there for a while just to see what they would do,” Klopp says.
“But I signed for Liverpool so I couldn’t. Even five years ago, it was fun.”
Certainly Klopp has maintained his interest in the club because two years ago he searched for his coach, Thomas Grunemark.
Since Gronnemark’s arrival, Liverpool have gone from being among the statistically worst in the Premier League in terms of keeping possession of the ball from a throw-in to one of the best teams in Europe.
What’s next for Moneyball FC?
Since their arrival in Europe, Midtjylland has blown few noses and achieved some unexpected results.
They beat Southampton in the European League Qualifiers in 2015–16 and beat Manchester United 2-1 in the first leg of the 32nd round later that season, although they were defeated in the second leg 5-1, and lost. 6-3 in total.
They are now hoping to make their mark in their debut Champions League debut season.
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