The art and science of covering player losses – some teams do better than others

How did Southampton do it?

Graziano Pelle - Photo by Nazionale Calcio - CC-BY-2.0

Graziano Pelle – Photo by Nazionale CalcioCC-BY-2.0

Most experts picked Southampton to struggle after losing Luke Shaw (£27M), Adam Lallana (£25M), Dejan Lovren (£20M) and Calum Chambers (£16M) on the transfer market, yet they find themselves on 25 points (8 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses) after 11 games, which is eerily similar and slightly better than last season’s position after 11 rounds, which was 22 points (6 wins, 4 draws and 1 loss). Adding Dusan Tadic (£10.9M), Graziano Pelle (£8M), Fraser Forster (£10M), Florin Gardos (£4M), Shane Long (£12M), Sadio Mane (£11.8M) and £31.3M to the bottom line certainly helped but obviously it is more than that.

It’s interesting how clubs successfully counteract player losses – some clubs do it well, others not so much.

Liverpool has been pretty poor at replacing Suarez (losing Sturridge certainly didn’t help but Balotelli hasn’t set the world on fire either) and Tottenham have been poor at replacing Gareth Bale, although, having said that, the players that they bought will be world beaters one day, just not now. Whereas Atletico Madrid lost three world class players, really world class players in Diego Costa, David Villa and Thibaut Cortois, and brought in excellent replacements in Mario Mandzukic, Raul Jimenez and Jan Oblak. And so, they’re still there or thereabouts…(currently 4th in La Liga).

In Australia, the Brisbane Roar’s struggles without Besart Berisha (now with the Melbourne Victory) and Ivan Franjic (now playing for Torpedo Moscow (BTW how awesome is that name, surely right up there with Tractor Sazi and Nagoya Grampus on the pantheon of awesome names)). Injuries have not helped them either.

Sometimes there is addition by subtraction. Bill Simmons calls it the Ewing Theory (apparently invented by David Cirilli, a friend of the Sports Guy). BTW I think reading an old Bill Simmons article is like stepping back in time. For instance, this article mentions Colby from Survivor Australia (circa 2001), back when people watched Survivor. Wow. Anyways, Cirilli was convinced that Patrick Ewing’s teams (both at Georgetown and with the Knicks) inexplicably played better when Ewing was either injured or missing extended stretches because of foul trouble. The upshot of the theory is that some teams thrive in the absence of their star players because of an over-reliance on said stars. Clearly the Ewing Theory is not at play in Liverpool.

Simmons and Cirillo decided that two crucial elements needed to be in place for any situation to qualify for “Ewing” status as follows:

  1. A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series); and
  2. That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) — and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.

How do teams adequately cover player losses, Ewing theory notwithstanding?

  • Succession planning – This obviously applies to star players coming to the end of their career (Lakers fans nodding as Kobe jacks up long range jumper after long range jumper). Making a realistic and early call on the value of ageing stars is crucial, as is grooming their replacement or replacements. Loyalty plays a part but reality should as well. Segueing an older player into retirement without leaving a 5 year hole is extremely difficult. The Brisbane Broncos have taken 3 years to even begin to plug the hole Darren Lockyer left. Ironically, they plugged the hole Wayne Bennett left with…..Wayne Bennett. Succession planning doesn’t just mean changing the role of the outgoing player but also grooming younger and existing options to take over or recruiting for an adequate replacement.
  • Junior development – Investing in junior talent identification and development programs is a sure fire way of covering player losses. This obviously doesn’t apply in competitions where a player draft is in place but for everyone else investment in junior feeder systems is the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Changing strategy – If the team is rebuilding to replace departed star players it is a fairly good idea to modify a team’s strategy to utilise the new strengths of the team. Sticking with the same system and expecting the same results will probably not cut it in the long run, unless you are replacing a player with a carbon copy.
  • Recruitment – Recruiting the right players to adequately fill the holes left by departing players is surely one of the dark arts. It pulls together so many different skills within an organisation. Picking the right replacement has so many facets. Not only must the replacement or replacements fill the skill and athletic needs of the team but chemistry and style of play must also be determinative. Identifying the right replacement is only the first hurdle. Luring the right player into your team is twice as hard. In a more open market like Football or Baseball obtaining the right fit can be as simple as outbidding competing teams, however, often in these markets there are recruitment alternatives as well. In shallower markets like Basketball or Rugby League sometimes it is almost impossible to land the right free agent, which leads me to the next point.
  • Being an attractive destination – Half the battle in recruitment is being a team players want to play for. Sometimes it is the history of the club, however, it helps to have a marquee coach and also facilities make a big difference. Sometimes players will only move to a club if they will be first choice in their position. Teams that aren’t an attractive destination generally have to pay above market prices to secure a player, especially if the team has a history of losing. Being an attractive destination for free agents is half the battle when it comes to replacing departing players.

I’m certain about one thing, Southampton must have had some or all of the above in place.

What was sweeter than Jelly Bread?

  • The Four Nations. A final befitting of a wonderful tournament.
  • The NZ forward pack, in particular Martin Tapau. They were unstoppable.
  • Shaun Johnson – Leveraged off the best series his forwards have played in some time but executed despite taking a battering from the Australian kick chase.

What wasn’t?

  • Four Nations Final crowd. I thought even though the crowd was 25,000+, it was a little disappointing. Unless those yellow spaces were Australian supporters, I think the Cake Tin had plenty more room.

Other random thoughts 

Corey Parker - Photo by Paddynapper - CC-BY-SA-2.0

Corey Parker – Photo by PaddynapperCC-BY-SA-2.0

  • Broncos are looking very strong now. Out – Anthony Griffin, Ben Barba, Josh Hoffman, Jake Granville, David Hala, Martin Kennedy and Ben Hannant. In – Wayne Bennett, Darius Boyd, Anthony Milford, Mitch Garbutt, James Gavet and Adam Blair. Obviously they have recruited the best coach in the history of the game, so there’s that. Last year they were all backrowers, all the time. This year their pack will be a lot stronger. I think Adam Blair is the final piece of the puzzle, although I’m sure that Broncos fans will accept more recruitment good news (if there is any). Their spine is much better as well. I think top 4 is a given and a premiership a definite possibility, especially given the re-distribution of talent across the competition. 

EPL Tips for Matchday 12 

Chelsea vs West Brom – Chelsea 3-1 (The Baggies have been playing better of late (except for their last outing against Newcastle) but no-one in their right mind would pick against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge at the moment)

Everton vs West Ham – Everton 2-1 (Both teams come into this game with relatively good form. The Toffees are certainly playing better after a shaky start to the season. I can’t believe the Hammers currently find themselves in the hunt for a Champion’s League berth, however, it is just reward for a consistent start to the season. In the end I think Everton will be too good at Goodison Park)

Leicester vs Sunderland – Leicester 1-0 (Leicester have lost 4 on the trot and will be desperate to atone against the Black Cats who themselves are trying to erase the sting of that shellacking from Southampton)

Man City vs Swansea – City 2-1 (This will be a brilliant game and I wouldn’t count Swansea out of the contest and a draw is certainly a possibility. City will not want to drop more points to Chelsea though)

Newcastle vs QPR – Newcastle 2-0 (Newcastle are in red hot form but haven’t played well against the bottom teams in the last few years. They have also been accruing injuries. Still can’t see QPR getting up though)

Stoke vs Burnley – Stoke 2-0 (Burnley have their first win of the season now but I think Stoke will have enough to keep them waiting for their second)

Arsenal vs Man U – Arsenal 2-1 (This will be a close one as well and I’m leaning towards Arsenal predominantly on the basis that they are playing at home and Sanchez (who is playing lights out) will be the difference in the sides. Man U are coping with a new raft of injuries too)

Crystal Palace vs Liverpool – Liverpool 2-1 (I have no faith in the Reds at the moment, especially away from home. They are missing Sturridge immensely. Balotelli is trying quite hard to make something happen but would benefit from some help up front)

Hull vs Tottenham – Tottenham 2-1 (Ditto Tottenham. They should win this one but the Spurs are like a box of chocolates at the moment)

Aston Villa vs Southampton – Southampton 2-0 (The Southampton bubble will burst eventually but not this week. When it does eventually burst, it won’t be GFC bad but it might be Tech Bubble bad. At any rate I don’t see them keeping this pace up all season)

I’ve adopted the scoring system utilised by Mark Lawrenson on the BBC (a correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth ONE point and picking an exact score THREE points) and even though he wouldn’t know me from Adam we are going head to head all season long. It’s on like Donkey Kong (unless I get a letter from his lawyer or Donkey Kong’s lawyer and then I’m tipping against myself again).

Last week – Me – 5 (3 from 10 with 1 perfect score) and Lawro – 8 (4 from 10 with 2 perfect scores) 

Season so far – Me – 82 and Lawro – 83 (The Empire Strikes Back) 

Fantasy Premier League

Transfer of the week

Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) for Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea) – I have been pretty keen on working Sanchez into my line up for a while and the injury cloud over Fabregas is the perfect opportunity. Sanchez has hit a purple patch of form (just when Diego Costa has cooled off). Unfortunately, there is an injury cloud over Leighton Baines and Dusan Tadic as well and I’ve already gone and used my Wildcard in a previous round. Not good.

My team this week

Forster (Southampton), Bertrand (Southampton), Ivanovic (Chelsea), Baines (Everton), Chadli (Spurs), Tadic (Southampton), Sanchez (Arsenal), Sigurdsson (Swansea), Downing (West Ham), Berahino (WBA) and Aguero (Man City) with Jakupovic (Hull), Sakho (West Ham), Duff (Burnley) and Wisdom (WBA) on the bench.

Current Position

455,884 from 3,360,889

Creeping very slowly up the ladder.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Thursday, 27 November 2014 titled ‘Team chemistry, does it matter?’

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