FC Midtjylland travel to Anfield for the first time tonight as they hope to cause a major upset.

Just 21 years ago there was no club named FC Midtjylland, now they prepare to face the Premier League champions in Europe’s top competition.

Using data analysis and statistics their rise to success has been more unique than any other club.

The story so far

With a population of just 50,000, FC Midtjylland is based in the small Danish town of Herning. But thanks to an innovative young British owner, Matthew Benham, they have gone on to win the Danish league three times and are now competing in the Champions League for the first time.

Benham, 37, made his fortunes through gambling and moved into football when he purchased Championship side Brentford in 2012, before acquiring FC Midtjylland in 2014, the year they first won the league.

Using the ‘Moneyball’ method made famous by Major League Baseball side, Oakland Athletics, in the 1990s, Benham has transformed the way Brentford and FC Midtjylland work.

Using his company – Smartodds – the two clubs have access to a huge database of footballers across Europe.

What is Moneyball?

 

The system focuses on performance analysis, measuring statistics such as chances created and crossing quality. This system drives the whole club, through youth recruitment to coaching to transfer policy.

It’s almost like Matthew Benham is playing a real-life game of Football Manager with FC Midtjylland.

Signing unknown players from South America and low-ranking European Leagues, before selling them on for huge profits.

Maybe the highest profile example of this is Alexander Sorloth. They signed him for £400,000 from Groningen before selling him for £9 million to Crystal Palace just a few months later. A sign of a working business model.

One of their first innovative moves was bringing in a ‘throw-in coach’, Thomas Gronnemark, who is now hired by Liverpool and has helped the reds become one of the best teams in Europe at retaining possession from throw ins – they were one of the worst in the Premier League for that statistic before Gronnemark’s arrival.

Jurgen Klopp himself is an admirer of the way Benham has worked with Brentford and FC Midtjylland, admitting he wanted to spend time at the clubs after leaving Borussia Dortmund to see how they operate.

The Liverpool manager said, “In my break I was interested in going there or Brentford for a while just to see what they do. But then I signed for Liverpool so I couldn’t, even five years ago it was an interesting approach!”

FC Midtjylland face Liverpool at Anfield tonight in a true David vs Goliath battle. They impressed Jurgen Klopp who in his pre match press conference said : “They have a clear plan. We have a clear plan as well, which is adaptable. We have to make a lot of good decisions in the game and show that we are ready for a proper fight.”

Midtjylland have made a great rise in the last 21 years. But could they take the next step in their unique story by shocking the world?

By Jack Circuit

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