Charlie Adam proves that Liverpool still value fantasy over winning
Charlie Adam may or may not be on the verge of a move to Liverpool. That’s not what’s important. Liverpool’s interest in him is what matters. It matters because it makes talk of them employing Moneyball strategy look off; and it points towards more failure. The thing is, Charlie Adam probably shouldn’t be what comes out when you create a formula for signing footballers.
Adam had an excellent first season in the Premier League with Blackpool. The self-perpetuating cycle of anti-consensus backlash, anti-backclash and anti-anti-backlash doesn’t disguise a contribution which came very close to stealing Blackpool another season in the top flight. 12 goals and eight assists won his team points they weren’t entitled to win.
Yet the fact remains that Liverpool are looking into buying him for his potential, not his past record. At 25, Adam has only just begun to show and sustain his top form, and even last season kept a degree of inconsistency that clubs looking to win things probably can’t afford to carry. On top of that, most people will tell you that one year in the Premier League with a team only hoping to stay there proves relatively little about a player’s quality.
His potential is what Liverpool, if they are indeed offering a nod to Moneyball strategy, are interested in. Moneyball teaches that potential is still, despite recent inflation, undervalued because it’s difficult to predict. Proponents of it believe that by analysing the stats, they can find bargains in the basement.
Damien Comolli has been hired in as director of sport to partner Kenny Dalglish in identifying targets. He has forged a reputation for implementing the new method.
That partnership arouses suspicion though. Dalglish and Comolli together smacks of compromise – new wave brought in, whilst fans are appeased with a taste of old school. The problem is, there’s no place for compromise: analysing players on stats, not instinct, requires full commitment.
Charlie Adam might have some outstanding figures for last season, but if he was to be compared to anyone in the Liverpool squad, it wouldn’t be a recent Moneyball signing like Luis Suarez or Andy Carroll; it would be Steven Gerrard. Who knows how discussions between Comolli and Dalglish work, but Adam seems to be a mixture of some statistical potential, and, far more, old-fashioned Anfield fantasism – that love of watching someone hit the ball as hard as they can and seeing it go in sometimes.
That kind of player is being lost to the statistical revolution, and it’s a shame, but for Liverpool, it has to be one or the other. Adam, the numbers will tell you – look at the limited distance he covers in a game, for example – is not the kind of player that will win midfield tussles against Luka Modricor Yaya Toure. He’s good to watch, but it’s difficult to believe that Comolli’s analysis picked him out as a league winner.
Time will reveal all, of course, but there isn’t room to compromise in the transfer market. Done well, and Comolli has proved himself capable already, working through the facts will win league titles. Fantasy players like Adam will always be enjoyable to watch, but they are, in the age of fitness regimes and possession football, best left to the fantasists. Actually, maybe he’ll fit in well at Liverpool.