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Are Southampton just a selling club or the masters of moneyball?

In each summer transfer window from 2013 to 2016, Southampton have sold their best players to other Premier League clubs. Rather than entering a period of decline, however, after each exodus they seem to have actually become stronger.

In successive seasons, Southampton have moved further up the table and set new club records for number of points achieved; in 2013/14 they finished 8th with 56 points, 2014/15 saw a 7th place finish with 60 points and in 2015/16 Southampton finished 6th with 63 points.

This continued period of steady improvement has surprised many football fans; Southampton are now a very well run club, and far from just an extremely fortunate selling club as some believe. In fact, they have become the model example of a football club using the ‘moneyball’ thesis.

The basic principle of the moneyball thesis is that a team focuses on the use of statistical data when scouting. A club using this idea will specifically buy young promising talents for low fees, keep them at the side for several seasons, where they both help the club progress and enhance their individual value.

“Southampton have also been able to expand their squad size, enabling further squad depth with increasingly higher quality players in reserve”

Once the player has improved, the club will then sell them on for a sizeable profit before using that money to reinvest in similar potential talents, who are also likely experience a rise in value in the future but should similarly benefit the current first team.

By looking at Southampton’s transfer record from the 2013/14 season onwards, there are several examples that fit this model. Dejan Lovren arrived in 2013, but left the following summer for £22 million, a £13 million profit. Sadio Mane joined for £13 million in 2014, before likewise leaving for Liverpool for £35 million, generating a profit of £22 million in 2016.

Even earlier signings such as Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin, who joined in the clubs Championship years, also fit the moneyball theory as their sales brought in profits of roughly £25 million each. As a result of this, Southampton have recorded annual profits in each transfer window; £30.6m in 2014/15, £400,000 in 2015/16 and so far in 2016/17, a profit of £20 million.    

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As well as using the moneyball approach to generate financial revenue, Southampton have also been able to expand their squad size, enabling further squad depth with increasingly higher quality players in reserve. The first example of this were the additions of Victor Wanyama and Lovren in 2013, costing Southampton £20 million.

In 2014/15, six players were sold and eight were brought in. In 2015/16, three players departed and seven arrived, including the outstanding centre back Virgil van Dijk who is the subject of much recent transfer speculation. From the 2016 summer window, five players departed (only three of whom had played more than 10 games the previous season) and four new signings have arrived.

Furthermore, due to Southampton having one of the best youth academies in the country, they have also been able to make extensive profits on players they have promoted from their youth team, with the sales of Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers alone bringing in roughly £50 million in summer 2014.

“For most clubs, such a rapid succession of managers can cause a period of uncertainty, as recently seen at Manchester United”

Overall, this period of steady league progression and financial stability meant that the at the end of 2015, Brand Finances study of the Top 50 most valuable clubs in world football had Southampton as the fastest growing club in the world. This study showed the Saints’ growth by 89% since the end of 2013, with current estimated worth of £110 million, ahead of more prestigious teams such as Inter Milan and Ajax.

It should also be noted that this progression of success has been achieved during a period in which three managers have been at the club in nearly four years. For most clubs, such a rapid succession of managers can cause a period of uncertainty, as recently seen at Manchester United, who have experienced the same number of managers over the same length of time.

With each bringing very different tactics and ideologies to the club, this has created frustration for the fans and led to unproductive transfer windows with large, high profile transfers not finding the expected success. Memphis Depay, Paul Pogba and Angel di Maria are the most notable examples of this.

All this points towards the success of the Southampton board, who have operated a long term policy and plan for the club that everyone involved, from the coaching staff and scouts to the players, have followed to the letter. Whilst never publicly claiming to be using this moneyball thesis, Southampton’s progressive development despite several managerial changes indicates that this club plan is in place.

Due to this long term system and careful spending in the transfer market, Southampton have gone from a lower mid-table table team, finishing 14th in 2012/13, to a team now annually mounting an increasingly impressive challenge for European football. Southampton then, have now created the ideal template for football clubs, to develop moneyball and can act as inspiration for other lower tier clubs.

Jeremy Dunn

Image courtesy of ‘Ben Sutherland’ via Flickr.com.

Video courtesy of youtube.com.

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