If you’ve found your way to this guide, then I’m guessing you’ve watched the film ‘Moneyball’ with Brad Pitt, based upon the true story of Billy Beane and his quest to change the fortunes of Oakland’s baseball team, and thought to yourself, ‘I fancy a bit of that’.
There are lots of real-life examples of football teams taking this data-grounded theory, the most famous here in the UK being Brentford, who narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premier League in 2020.
Whilst the economic theory behind Moneyball may be relatively complex, the reason why it’s so tempting to base your FM save on this principle, is that it allows you to go hunting for hidden gems and turn them into superstars.
The football you end up playing may not always be pretty on the eye, but boy is it effective. And here’s how you do it.
What is Moneyball?
Before we get to a few basic rules, it’s worth understanding a little bit more about where this came from. We’ve already mentioned the 2011 film about baseball, but in football terms, books such as ‘Soccernomics’, ‘The Numbers Game’ and ‘Football Hackers’ look at applying data principles to the beautiful game in incredible detail. Between them, you can almost see the blueprint teams like FC Midjtylland are using to run their club.
Now, as much as this pains me to say given my success on the game, Football Manager isn’t real life. Sad times. So, some of the rules outlined in these books aren’t really applicable when playing the game, and whilst there are dozens of rules you could choose to base your save around, these have never failed me.
The formation is king
The analyst and scouting reports you receive ahead of every game give you tremendous insight into how your opposition will likely line up and what their strengths and weaknesses are. If you’re playing Moneyball, that doesn’t matter.
The formation you choose to adopt is the most important thing, and you should never waver from it. Whether it’s a cup-game against weaker opposition or a must-win promotion clash, stick to your formation. It doesn’t actually matter what that formation is, although when managing lower league and younger players I would recommend keeping it as simple as possible.
One last tip on formations, clean sheets are worth the equivalent of two-goals in ‘Soccernomics’, so defensive stability is key to any potential success.
Only sign players under-25
Football Manager games may have created a generation of fans that think players are over the hill once they reach 30, and of course, this isn’t true. Except for playing Moneyball, it kind of is. The system relies on being able to develop younger, cheaper players in the hope of eventually selling for a profit.
Just like with younger players in real-life, you shouldn’t be expecting brilliant performances week-in-week-out, so remember to temper your expectations and keep the bigger picture in mind.
Accept any offer over the player’s value
This is the rule that quite often puts people off playing Moneyball rules, but providing you’re utilising your scouting network properly, really shouldn’t be causing you any headaches. It all hinges on the concept of ‘value’ which underpins every transaction.
Whilst you’re looking for transfer-listed or out-of-contract players available for way under their market value, if someone is willing to pay more than your player is worth, accept that offer every time.
Sometimes this won’t sit well with you, club-legends can end up being sold for £1k over their value, but get your scouting in order and make sure you have players on your shortlist, or even better in your youth teams, ready to step up in any position.
Never buy players you don’t need
The main danger of constantly looking at transfer-listed players is that you’ll find some incredible players, right in your price range, and that fit your Moneyball rules. You’d, unfortunately, be wrong. You’re forgetting about the very first rule I told you.
Formation is king, so unbalancing your squad to accommodate a new player that either doesn’t fit the system, or that takes budget away from the areas of the squad that really needs the attention is a massive ‘no’. It sounds the most killjoy of all the rules to follow, but trust me, it should prevent any financial woes or an unhappy squad later down the line.
This rule also applies if you have youth players ready to take their chance. Of course, it can be tempting to sign that star striker and forsake the 18-year-old waiting in the wings. It seems like the safer option surely. But actually, all you’ve done is waste the money you’ve spent on developing that player.
Treat the money as if it’s your own
This might say more about me than the Moneyball rules itself, but for me, this is the most important rule to remember. Every penny you spend as a lower league club should be spent with ROI in mind. In my current save, 8 seasons in, with 12 trophies in the bag, I haven’t paid one single loyalty bonus or agent fee. Not one.
Every aspect of a transfer needs to be considered, from the payment structure, clauses and bonuses, through to player contract details. If you’re used to managing Man City or PSG, no judgement here, this may sound a little excessive, but being frugal can sometimes mean the difference between administration or not in lower league saves. More importantly, it means you can build the killer squad you want.
Playing Moneyball rules on Football Manager can be as complicated as you want to make it, believe me, there are more than enough options to choose from if you want to dive deeper. But if you follow the simple rules I’ve outlined above, you’ll set yourself on the road to success.