Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #237 At the crossroads between Boston & Liverpool

This appears in the Monday, September 10, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

At the crossroads between Boston & Liverpool
by rick olivares

When the Fenway Sports Group purchased Liverpool Football Club in 2010, I hoped that whatever good mojo the new owners brought in the renaissance of the Boston Red Sox would rub off on the underachieving former English giants.

Aside from the obvious need in game-changing talent (that will not happen any time soon as no one will want to play for a now average English club and the lack of European play will not bring in much needed revenue), will the “moneyball” approach – introduced since FSG bought LFC -- work in football?

“Moneyball” was the cautious and sabermetric conscious approach by baseball’s the Oakland As in putting together a competitive team to go up against the richer ball clubs. While the new millennium Oakland teams were competitive, I decried the approach because at the end of the day, they didn’t beat the New York Yankees, the so-called anti-thesis of moneyball.

While some may point out to the Red Sox’s two World Series title teams as proof that rigorous statistical analyses does build a championship team, I will rebut that by saying that Boston’s payroll was second only to New York’s in terms of massiveness.

One other factor that prevented Oakland from going deeper into the playoffs is aside from the Yankees having players with stronger mental fortitude and post-season experience is that other teams also began to subscribe to their formula thus limiting the pool of young and low-priced talent available.

As for the Red Sox, look at them now. Their success has degenerated into excess. After the “beer, chicken and video games” season, you’d think they would have learned. Instead, the implosion continues. Was chemistry ever considered? They should have expected some discord when they signed Bobby Valentine as manager.

And now the incredible thing is not only are the Bosox dead last in the American League East but Liverpool is at eighteenth in the English Premier League. Boston fans say that FSG should have not expanded into LFC and now, Liverpool fans are saying once more that their American owners do not understand the English game. And for so long “1918” was like a curse on Boston fans (the last time their Red Sox won a World Series before they reversed the curse in 2004). For Liverpool fans “19-18” stands for Manchester United’s edge in English titles over LFC. Boston let go of its greatest manager ever in Terry Francona in a terrible way and conversely, FSG let go of Dalglish and first assistant Steve Clarke, who masterminded LFC’s tough defense, in a most horrible way.

Clarke’s revenge? His West Bromwich Albion beat Liverpool in Anfield 3-0! You want your sabermetrics, FSG? Liverpool conceded 12 goals from September to November of last season. In this first month on Premier League play they have surrendered seven goals!

Messy (not Messi), huh?

In Liverpool’s first huge splash of summer signings of 2011, the club brought in Jordan Henderson from Sunderland, Charlie Adam from Blackpool, and Stewart Downing from Aston Villa to advance the ball to players like Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez up front.

Blackpool manager Ian Holloway said of the role of a midfielder in his side: "It's all very well having a great pianist (the goal scorer) playing but it's no good if you haven't got anyone to get the piano on the stage in the first place, otherwise the pianist would be standing there with no bloody piano to play."

If moneyball is about slugging and on-base percentage, the football version should be making accurate passes that lead to goals.

Former Liverpool Director of Football Damien Comolli said of Henderson over a year ago, “He’s got the skills technically we needed. He’s good with the ball, creative, good with passing and is physically very good.” However, Henderson’s game dipped in the last half of his season with Sunderland and it continued all the way to Anfield.

Ditto with Downing who had a horrible first year in the Merseyside. Instead of being the adventurous sort who would create he became cautious and ineffective. Carroll proved to be not just an elusive target but one who could not replicate the success he had in Newcastle (although he did come on strong late last season).

Many of the signings of the previous years have been jettisoned and under Rodgers it is hoped that the tiki taka approach of Barcelona or his own Swansea team of last season will be just as successful in Liverpool.

First of all, it will be difficult to duplicate Barcelona’s success because LFC does not have the youth and grassroots program that the Spanish club. Many of the current players including the just returned Jordi Alba (and Cesc Fabregas the year before) grew up with the Barca style of play ingrained in them. They had to endure a little humiliation to Real Madrid and the departure of their free agent signings such as Ronaldinho before the young turks from La Masia took over. Remember that the first weeks under former Barca manager did not go well.

And Boston’s archrival, the Yankees, achieved a lot of success with the players who were promoted from their farm system – Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, and Joba Chamberlain. Who from Liverpool’s youth academy has played a prominent role in the Reds’ success since Steven Gerrard and Jaime Carragher were called up? Gerrard is in the downside of his career while Carra hardly gets off the bench.

What has happened is Liverpool tried to fast track the development by bringing in high-priced British talent that has underperformed. Another thing that has been overlooked is performance under pressure (that moneyball proponent Billy Beane did not have in his short-lived baseball career) because of the monumental task of brig Liverpool back to greatness. And right now, it isn’t about winning titles because it is all about survival. The club flirted with relegation last season and the fact that the club is literally in the red is cause for embarrassment and concern.

There are some that are angry of the failure of LFC to bring in a striker after they loaned out Carroll to West Ham. Some fan quarters seem to think that the moneyball being applied to Liverpool should be the moneyball applied to Manchester City where they buy and sign players to some massive contracts.

As painful as it is right now, the club has no choice but to be patient, take their licks however painful, and to go with what they have and that includes the young (and impressive Joe Allen), Nuri Sahin, and Fabio Borini. They were able to hold on to their few world-class players they have such as Luis Suarez, Daniel Agger, and Martin Skrtel so now the manager has to find a way to mesh everyone (maybe the international friendly break will help the team). Rodgers has already sounded that it will be painful before it gets better and I guess, there is no choice but to do that. At least until the next transfer window.

 For Boston, relief is when this nightmare of a season is done.

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