Opening the Door to Player Analytics in Football or The Max Kruse Problem

Scene: The board room of one of the top football clubs in England. The club Owner and Director of Football are sitting down to do an end of season recap.

The director’s assistant knocks on the door.

PA: Excuse me sir, there’s a package for you. It’s marked urgent.

DoF: Thank you, Anne.

The director opens the package. It contains a photo and four pieces of paper.

Owner: Who’s that in the photo?

DoF: Some guy named Max Kruse.

Owner: Who?

DoF: Max Kruse. Apparently he plays for Freiburg in Germany.

max_kruseOwner: They play football in Germany?


Owner: That was a joke. Of course I know they play football in Germany. I’m going to the Champions’ League match later this month, I know this.

DoF: The first piece of paper says, “They should have bought him.”

Owner: Who?

DoF: Everyone, apparently.

Owner: Everyone should have bought him?

DoF: Every football team in the English Premier League.

Owner: Why?

DoF: Take a look at the next piece of paper.

Player League Age Position Apps Goals Assists Shots Key Pass Drib PS%
Player A Bundes 25 AM, FWD 33(1) 11 8 2.4 2.7 2.7 82
Player B Bundes 20 AttMid 23(5) 10 9 1.9 2.3 3 83.7
Player C EPL 26 AttMid 36 4 4 2.3 2.7 1.7 87.4
Player D EPL 25 AttMid 31(4) 12 12 2 2.7 0.6 85.1

Owner: It’s just a bunch of stats with no names.

DoF: Yeah, I think this Max Kruse guy is probably one of the names on the list. I have no idea who the other guys are though.

Owner: Well no, obviously. I don’t even know why you would track most of these stats anyway – this isn’t baseball.

DoF: Here, this piece has the names.

Player League Age Position Apps Goals Assists Shots Key Pass Drib PS%
Max Kruse Bundes 25 AM, FWD 33(1) 11 8 2.4 2.7 2.7 82
Mario Goetze Bundes 20 AttMid 23(5) 10 9 1.9 2.3 3 83.7
Luka Modric EPL 26 AttMid 36 4 4 2.3 2.7 1.7 87.4
Juan Mata EPL 25 AttMid 31(4) 12 12 2 2.7 0.6 85.1

Owner: That’s a fairly impressive set of players there. Maybe we should buy this guy.

DoF: We can’t. This sheet says Borussia Moenchengladbach got there first, back in April.

Owner: Hang on, let me guess what they paid. What did these other guys sell for?

DoF: Last season Modric went to Madrid for £26.4M. Mata transferred from Valencia to Chelsea two years ago for £23.5M. Bayern Munich apparently activated Goetze’s release clause a couple of months ago and bought him for £32.5M, a price some German scouts I know thought was too cheap.

Owner: Let’s see then… I bet Kruse went for… £25 million?

DoF: *mumbles something*

Owner: What was that?

DoF: £2.25M. *cringes*



Owner: What’s the last piece of paper say?

DoF: “You’re doing it wrong.”

End scene.


6 responses to “Opening the Door to Player Analytics in Football or The Max Kruse Problem

  1. I get your point – although no reason to single out PL clubs over the other BL clubs who should be even more aware of Kruse – but wouldn’t it be more helpful to compare him within his own league? (Honestly, I have no idea how transferrable stats are between leagues – just an assumption). You compare him to Gotze, who is 5 years younger and has achieved as much in 10 fewer starts, from a deeper position. Why not compare him to other strikers – Lewandowski and Mandzukic are a similar age. He’s clearly a good player and excellent value, but it’s a bit much to suggest that every team in the PL should’ve bought him. Even with better team-mates, he probably won’t be a 30 goal striker for more than a season and at the top, isn’t that why you pay so much more? Excellence and consistency. Valid criticism for the budget conscious clubs like Everton (don’t they use analytics in scouting though?)

    • I’m not really singling out PL clubs – that just provided a useful fictional setting. Apparently Klopp called Kruse the best value transfer signing of the season, and that was based on his 500K euro move from St. Pauli. I’m also not doing a full comparative of guys who play his positions in this piece – that will come in bits and pieces somewhat later down the road.

      As for striker comparisons, Kruse doesn’t particularly profile like a striker, he profiles like the guys I compared him to as attacking mids.

      As for every team in the PL buying him – assuming you ignore the artistic license of the statement for a moment – I could see Chelsea not buying another attacking mid. They are the only ones. Every other team, including ManU and City, could absolutely, positively use this guy for £2.25M. We see £8-12M fees splashed around constantly for guys who deliver middling production week after week. A guy with this statistical profile, entering his prime, _at that price_ would be worth the risk for everyone.

  2. He’s usually the furthest man up for Freiburg and has the least defensive responsibility, but if you judge him as a creative mid, then his numbers are also comparable to Hunt and Arango. He’s also the set-piece taker so that contributes to his key pass/assist totals – no guarantee he’d get those in a better team (20% of Freiburg’s goals were from set-pieces). Don’t think he has the quality of Mata/Gotze and not sure he would displace Silva/Tevez/Rooney/Kagawa/ Cazorla/Wilshire.

    He’s excellent value, but that’s not the primary concern of the richest teams. If he’s not coming straight into the first XI and you’ve already got depth then he’s just getting in the way of youth products coming out of the very expensive academies. He’s a good player but I don’t think he’s on the verge of becoming a great player, which would make him a pointless signing. Not quite Young/Milner pointless and a cheaper mistake for sure, but not a CL quality player.

    I am being too pedantic here, which wasn’t really in the spirit of the piece. I prefer my stats with context though.

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