Sports | May 17, 2021 6:46 pm

Billy Beane Has Lowly Barnsley on the Brink of a Moneyball-Fueled Promotion

It's a stunning turnaround for the Yorkshire club

Barnsley fans arrive at the stadium ahead of the Sky Bet Championship Playoff Semi Final, First Leg match at Oakwell Stadium, Barnsley.
Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

Founded in 1887, Barnsley Football Club has a lot of history. What it doesn’t have, unfortunately, is a lot of time in the top division of English soccer. It’s spent all of one season there — but that might be on the verge of changing. Barnsley is currently in the midst of a playoff battle for promotion to the Premier League. (On Monday, they lost the first leg to Swansea, 1-0; the teams will play again on Saturday.) That Barnsley is this close to promotion is especially impressive given the club’s relatively small budget.

That they’ve been able to succeed without a large sum of money backing them has to do with a number of factors — including the work of coach Valérien Ismaël. But some of the team’s success can also be attributed to the advice of one of its owners, Billy Beane. As in Moneyball Billy Beane.

At The Wall Street Journal, Joshua Robinson explored how Barnsley has accomplished what could be a landmark season for them. It doesn’t hurt that the front office has a keen eye for talent — including American striker Daryl Dike, currently in the midst of “one of the best-ever loan spells by an American,” in the words of The Athletic’s Joseph Lowery.

Dane Murphy, Barnsley’s chief executive, told the Wall Street Journal that the club had sought out a significantly different operational model than many of their peers in the second division. “Our approach at the club has to be completely different from the norm, or else there’s no chance we can compete,” Murphy said.

That approach involves multiple algorithms, making for what Robinson calls “one of the more radical squad-building experiments that English soccer has ever seen.” And so far, it’s worked. For now, Barnsley and its supporters are waiting for Saturday’s match and hoping the team can pull off the next step in an already-remarkable story.