Bees should be abuzz about ‘Moneyball’ Midtjylland

His game plan, akin to that used by the Oakland Athletics baseball team immortalised in the best-selling book and hit movie ‘Moneyball’, has proved a huge success in Denmark and Benham sees no reason why it cannot work in England.


Warburton led Brentford, who are known as The Bees, to promotion last season and now they are in with a fighting chance of making the top flight for the first time since 1947.

His reward was to be told last month that even if he led the club to an improbable but enormously lucrative promotion to the Premier League he would not be allowed to stick around come the end of the campaign.

Benham made it clear he wanted a more ‘Moneyball’ approach run through a director of football whereas Warburton did not.

Brentford issued a statement saying the club would introduce a new recruitment structure “using a mixture of traditional scouting and other tools including mathematical modelling”.

The decision was greeted with incredulity by fans and pundits but in Denmark it came as less of a shock because Benham’s other club are enjoying unprecedented success.


“If Midtjylland are the most improved team at the end of the season I would be very happy,” chairman Rasmus Ankersen told Reuters in an interview, “and if we are the most improved team I’m confident we will also finish top of the league.”

The former Midtjylland player, whose top-flight career was effectively ended by a serious knee injury 15 minutes into his senior debut, explained how his side could outperform rivals like free-spending FC Copenhagen.

“We do quite a few things differently but the two main things are the statistical analysis and the way we approach talent development,” said Ankersen.

The new numbers-based regime was implemented when Benham bought a majority shareholding in Midtjylland in July 2014.

The Danish club and, to a lesser degree, Brentford, are run along similar lines and although Ankersen acknowledges the human element is important in terms of running the club, the stats are key.

“The data is not perfect but I think it’s less imperfect than the human judgement. It’s got to be a combination all the time,” he added.

“You’ve got to know where human judgement has a role to play and you’ve got to know what part of the process the data has a role to play in.”

With a limited budget, analysis is particularly important when it comes to recruitment.

“We use the data to find undervalued players in undervalued markets and we also do a lot in terms of development. More than 50 percent of our starting XI players are from the academy,” said Ankersen.

“The data will not tell us who to pick but it will tell us where to look. You’ve got to know what data can do for you and what data cannot do for you.”


Ankersen added that statistical analysis is used in almost every aspect of the team’s preparations, from recruitment and training to what they do on the pitch and why.

“There is more randomness in football compared to many other sports like basketball or handball,” he said.

“The fewer goals there is in a sport, the more impact random events like the referee making a mistake or the ball hitting the post and going out instead of in, the more impact those events will have.

“That means that, statistically, the best team wins less often than in handball or basketball. Football coaches tend to say the league table never lies whereas we would say the league table almost always lies.”

The Midtjylland formula has proved a winning one though.

“We have identified metrics that we know statistically work over time,” said the 31-year-old Ankersen.

“I can’t say in detail what we look at but it comes down to the number of dangerous situations we create and the number of dangerous situations we prevent the opponent from creating.”

Ankersen said the project has so far only scraped the tip of the iceberg and that ultimately the club would like to combine the free-flowing football beloved by the Danes with a pragmatic statistical approach.

“We have an idea about how we would like to play but we don’t only look at that from a romantic point of view,” he explained. “We look for where the inefficiencies are.”

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)