A Dive into Brentford’s “Moneyball” Approach to Football

Brentford F.C. have become somewhat famous in recent years due to their owner Matthew Benham’s moneyball approach in the transfer market. Having made his money from sports betting, Benham initially made waves in 2015, when he sacked his manager Mark Warburton, just after the club gained promotion to the Championship. Ever since then, however, Brentford have been on the rise, and have generated significant profit in every single transfer window.

Matthew Benham took Brentford over when they were in a $500k hole, and has since turned them into a profit-generating machine.

Statistics, Statistics, and more Statistics

In 2014, when Borussia Dortmund found themselves in the Bundesliga relegation zone, Benham went on record saying that they were still the second best team in the league. He claimed they were statistically amazing, but had just been terribly unlucky all season. This exact theory is why Warburton was sacked just after gaining Brentford promotion. Despite being so high up in the league table, Benham believed they were outperforming their actual expected point total, and therefore had been extremely fortunate to gain promotion.

After gaining promotion in 2015, Brentford did not make a single purchase above the $3.19 mark until the 2019/20 season. In fact, during this 4 year period, Benham managed a total profit margin of about $57 million, solely from transfers. In the summer of 2019, despite having purchased $38 million worth of players, Brentford showed $45 million worth of players the exit door, maintaining their goal of consistently turning a profit.

Players originally brought in on the cheap side were being flipped for profit. Notable sales of names you’ve probably heard of included Andre Gray to Burnley ($14 million), Scott Hogan to Aston Villa ($12 million), Jota to Birmingham (8 million), Chris Mepham to Bournemouth ($15 million), and Neal Maupay to Brighton ($25 million!!!). Brentford look like geniuses for cashing in on these players now, as none of them have truly lived up to either those fees or their potential at the time of those sales.

Similarly, Brentford’s current star players, and those rumored with moves to the Premier League, cost close to nothing. Rico Henry arrived from Walsall for $2 million. He could be on the way to the Premier League for a massive fee, relative to that 2 million figure. Saïd Benrahama, one of the candidates for Championship POTS, was brought in from Nice for just $2million, too. Ollie Watkins, originally purchased from Exeter City for $2 million, finished the recent campaign with 25 non-penalty goals, good enough for second (after Mitrovic) in the Golden Boot race.

You get the idea. Benham’s new model has brought tremendous success to Brentford, both on and off the pitch. The club is unveiling a newer, bigger stadium for this upcoming season, and despite having just missed promotion this year, will likely be one of the favorites to go up next season.

Brentford are set to unveil their new stadium, leaving behind their beloved Griffin Park. The fans haven’t taken so poorly to this transition, something English clubs don’t experience very often. This can only point to the trust the club and the fans have in Matthew Benham.

Danish Blood

As there is with any success story in this sport, there is always more to the plot than what the naked eye can see. In this case, Benham is also the owner of Danish SuperLiga team F.C. Midtjylland. When looking at the core of this Brentford side, one immediately notices a vast Scandinavian influence, namely a Danish one. The new manager, Thomas Frank, arrived from Brondby in 2018. Several key players, such as Emiliano Marcondes, Henrik Dalsgaard, and Christian Nørgaard, are also all Danish.

Matthew Benham, as the owner of two fairly successful teams, has used his leverage in the Danish league to scout and filter players for his beloved Brentford side. The only other side I can think of with such an association with Danish players is Celta Vigo, in Spain. This sort of coalition has historically proven to be highly effective in terms of the development of young players, scouting unknown talent, and keeping smaller clubs afloat.

As the Danish SuperLiga contains what Matthew Benham finds to be a very untapped market, he has given Brentford a crucial head start in recruiting players. Their transfer business, partially thanks to the Danish market, seems almost foolproof going forward.

The Quest for Promotion

Despite becoming renown for their moneyball-style business, Benham and Brentford will still feel like they have a long way to go. Losing the playoff final to Fulham was definitely a huge blow, as the club may now struggle to hold on to several key players. If they manage to do so, they will undoubtedly be one of the favorites for promotion in 2020/21. However, even if they don’t, the never ending cycle of buy-cheap/sell-high will undoubtedly produce new stars and help Brentford achieve their dream of Premier League football.

Despite a successful campaign, Brentford will be gutted they couldn’t clinch promotion to the Premier League. This will only add extra motivation for their budding stars, like Benrahma, Watkins, and Mbeumo.

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