How Deportivo La Coruña bounce back
Sixteen years ago, Deportivo La Coruña were in the Champions League semi finals; this week, they were relegated to Segunda División B, albeit in unusual circumstances. It feels like a long road back to La Liga, but the planning should start today. The big question: how fast can it realistically be done?
The first thing to note is that Deportivo were unlucky to be relegated – beyond events conspiring against them on the final day. Our models rated them as the 17th-best team in the league based on underlying performance, and therefore just about good enough to stay up. If the club can avoid it, an overhaul of the squad is undesirable.
It also means the gap between the club today and where they want to get to – say, bottom-half in La Liga – is smaller than it might seem. In our World Super League (WSL) ratings, which allows us to compare performance across leagues and divisions, it is around 100 rating points. While it is a leap of two divisions, given the congestion in quality within the leagues it is actually equivalent to the difference between Villarreal and Real Madrid.
This still won’t be an easy improvement to make, though. Nearly 9-in-10 European teams since 2010 have failed to make this level of improvement, despite having had a decade to attempt to do so. But if we look at the teams that did improve 100 WSL points from 2010, about 45% did it in four seasons – or, crudely, in eight transfer windows. Not all these teams earned promotions – sometimes improving 100 points is equivalent to dramatically improving in the top division, like Aberdeen and Rijeka did from 2010 – but there are an array of case studies for Deportivo to study and learn from.
With this context, Deportivo can get to work. A four-year plan is ambitious, but not without precedent. Whether or not data is used as a tool within the club over the next four years, it should absolutely inform the strategic plan – how have teams that have successfully improved by 100 WSL points recruited, what has been their playing style, their head coach profile, their squad sizes, and so on? How much investment has been required, or how many have done it through promoting youth?
No other industry provides as many quantifiable blueprints for success as sport. At their lowest ebb, Deportivo can find hope, inspiration, and guidance from the data.