Meeting English Football’s Mr. Moneyball
Matthew Benham is just like you and me, except, well, he isn’t. A little over ten years ago, he was just another punter trying to make it big off the gambling industry.
Keys To Success
A decade later he owns his own betting firm and two football clubs: one in England and one in Denmark – and the latter, Midtjylland, is on the cusp of winning its first ever league title.
Benham – a former hedge fund manager and professional gambler – caused a stir in the media earlier on in the season when Brentford – the English club he now owns – announced that manager, Mark Warburton, would be replaced at the end of the season despite the club still duking it out for promotion to the Premier League.
The decision left many baffled but Benham – a lifelong Bees’ supporter – was unperturbed. He has peace of mind on each and every decision he makes because he bases those decisions on a mathematical model that has put him in a position to buy two football clubs in the first place. It is his bible, so to speak.
Quite obviously, only those closest to him know the exact workings of the model but from some snippets, he has managed to devise a formula that helps calculate statistical odds that spot value where others can’t or refuse to look.
Results are not the be-all, end-all for Benham; he strives to take them apart brick-by-brick to understand exactly how and why they happened. The phrase ‘It’s the result that matters’ is the laziest of clichés in his case.
Earlier in the campaign, when Brentford lay 5th in the Championship, his model suggested that, going on his system, the team should only have been 11th – now known as one of the reasons for Warburton’s departure – but by the final game of the season, it had them placed in 5th, the exact place they finished in.
If you have seen the film ‘Moneyball’ or read the book it was based on by Bill James, essentially, you are watching the footballing version of it happening right now at Griffin Park and Midtjylland in Denmark.
Magic In Midtjylland
The Danish club he now owns was founded just sixteen years ago but finds itself just days away from its first ever league championship. It was bought by Benham last summer, for all intents and purposes, to trial his mathematical model and test how it would work. To say it has been success is an understatement.
The unfashionable club have come from relatively nowhere to usurp traditional powerhouses like Copenhagen and Brondby, leading the table by nine points, just one win away from title glory.
Based on his analytics, the club – among many other things – have attempted to recruit players from teams who are underrated and performing much better than their league position suggests.
The signing of Tim Sparv from Greuter Furth – a club rated highly by Benham’s model – raised eyebrows initially. The Finn was traditionally looked upon as an average player with no stand-out attributes but his consistency in a number of departments was viewed as the main reason for Furth’s performances.
The use of technical analysis isn’t just a pre or post-game practise. Coaches are texted data during games to pass on certain information to players as it happens.
It’s paying huge dividends, too. Midtjylland have managed to score, on average, one set piece goal a game. In one match alone, they scored four.
The Long Game
Much like in the baseball film Moneyball, the football traditionalists despise the notion of taking the human element of decision-making out of the game; it flies in the face of all their logic and notions from over a century of development, and Benham has taken huge criticism throughout the season but his Danish guinea pig has not only survived but thrived.
Brentford ultimately failed in their bid for promotion, beaten handsomely by Middlesbrough in the play-offs, but that won’t unduly worry their new owner.
They have come an enormous way in such a short space of time under his revolutionary stewardship but there is still much to do – he is playing the long game, the numbers game.