This article originally featured on Medium here.
To analyse a Front Office move properly, you need to detach from the fan inside of you and face the facts. Value, age, salary, position, nationality, experience and many other factors come into play and aid your judgement. You need to be aware of your biases (e.g. Pirlo is a great player because of that beard) and become more rational in your thinking.
You also need a complete understanding of the rules of the league - which I am still getting my head around and will continue to learn the more I write on this blog. TAM, GAM, Designated Players, Generation Adidas contracts - it can all get a little confusing - but a greater understanding of these rules will translate to marginal gains both on the field and off it.
For example, take a look at the New York Red Bulls last season, they had this complete knowledge in the form of their Sporting Director, Ali Curtis. Curtis helped write the rules of the league in his role in the league office - and used it to create the famous 300 page plan that helped shape the Red Bulls into the successful team on the pitch - on a super low budget.
Curtis is irreplaceable for the Red Bulls and equally it’s difficult to find someone with his CV without a job in the current market. So if you’re looking to make improvements in the Front Office - where do you start?
For me it’s that you need to realise that the team roster should not be viewed as the team roster from a Front Office perspective - it’s a player portfolio.
You need to view your players as investments. Quantitative analysis should be used to assess their playing ability and market value through the use of analytics. Qualitative analysis should be used to assess the "intangibles" - like how they affect team morale, their experience and whether or not they are a right fit for the team tactically. There’s also a player’s ability to fill a stadium.
Speaking with the guys over at Hudson River Blue yesterday they all noted how full Yankee stadium was on Pirlo’s debut - this ability to raise ticket sales should be included in any analysis done also. You can see other teams doing this - with Toronto’s signing of Giovinco appealing to the large Italian community within the city.
You also need to incorporate risk management too. There’s the risk of a player being sought after by another team - can we allow him to leave? Do we have a list of like-for-like replacements we are able to get on hand, that is updated 365 days a year? What is the threshold that we let player x go at (in terms of money received, players received etc.)
What about injury risk? Does this player have a history of injuries? Should this be factored into keeping him in the team? Do we have adequate cover in his position?
There’s also the need to consider the age and contract profile of the team. A player coming to the end of his career or contract can be seen as maturing. In my previous post I mentioned how the LA Galaxy have a poor age profile going into the 2016 season. Could this have been avoided by the LA Front Office? How far in advance are they looking?
Finally it’s also evident from the Red Bulls’ extensive use of the Homegrown Player rule (they’ve currently got 11 signed going into 2016, the highest in the league) that Curtis is looking to the youth to provide for the future of the club. Can our team replicate that and use the Homegrown rule more?
Apart from the obvious advantages of developing US Soccer as a whole, this is a cheap and smart way to make educated bets on younger players who could potentially turn into a future first teamers by giving them a contract early.
To conclude, by viewing the roster as a player portfolio there’s a lot of gains to be made. Accounting for the various types of risk that players and teams face means that these can be managed effectively before the season starts. It also means that the team is always in transition towards the future, with a steady stream of younger talent looking to break into the first team. Finally, it means that if a player is injured or potentially up for transfer - the team is prepared with adequate backup or a list of realistic targets to plug the gap immediately.
Dollars and Decisions.