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Maximise upside or minimise downside?

Most of the time, we think about player recruitment in terms of the positions we need to cover or the attributes we want in our team. However, during this prolonged break, there’s time to think about the principles upon which we build our squad. Here’s one example principle to consider: do we recruit to maximise performance upside, or minimise performance downside?

The answer to this question depends on how good your team is relative to others in the division. A team that is an outsider for promotion might look to maximise upside, since there’s no major problems if things go wrong but big rewards if they go right. Meanwhile a team that is good enough to stay in the division but unlikely to compete for European places might choose to minimise downside, since the reward of performing above expectations is minimal but the cost of performing below expectations is massive.

Once we’ve established this principle, we can make decisions on how we build our squad through player recruitment. For example, concentrating spending on the key 6-10 players in our squad, while having a relatively weaker bench, can help maximise upside, as we’re effectively putting all our eggs in one basket in order to succeed. The opposite would be to spread the investment across 15-20 players, limiting the downside risk of injuries wreaking havoc on team performance levels.

An example of this in action can be seen at the top of the English Championship. Brentford and Leeds have built squads that rely heavily on the quality of their starting players. As clubs that don’t have parachute money and are therefore outsiders for automatic promotion, they have given themselves a chance of doing well by being top-heavy in their squad. If their best players get injured, they might slump down into mid-table, but the upside potential if not – Premier League promotion – is huge. Meanwhile Fulham and West Brom are expected to finish towards the top of the table; so rather than invest even more in their best players, they have built squads that are robust to injuries, suspensions and loss of form – and therefore minimising downside – by having bench players that are of a relatively higher standard.

While it is ultimately individual players who come together to win us individual matches, a season is shaped by how we build our squad. When the window for player recruitment opens, there is going to be huge uncertainty about how to navigate the market. Knowing whether you’re building a squad to maximise upside or minimise downside can help provide clarity on recruitment decisions.

About Omar Chaudhuri

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