How smaller European Football Clubs are punching above their weight

Using data and a smart, sophisticated approach, FC Helsingør is currently the most efficient club in the Danish 1st Division

Looking at the current table in any European Football League, it’s easy to see that often times the biggest, and highest spending clubs are having the most success. Manchester United and Manchester City top the English Premier League, Atlético and Real Madrid top La Liga, while perennial giant AC Milan top the table in Serie A. These clubs are spending hundreds of millions of Euros on players, both in wages and in transfer fees, with the sole purpose of winning domestic trophies and ultimately the UEFA Champions League. Even with a trend of more sophisticated investment coming into European Football, most clubs and their management teams unfortunately have little incentive to innovate, and run efficient businesses. The stereotypes of rich club owners funding seemingly unlimited losses is still very prevalent across Europe.

However, taking a deeper dive reveals a handful of clubs across Europe that are doing things a bit differently. They are not spending huge amounts on buying players and paying top wages. Instead, they are focused on developing players from within, using data and analytics in recruitment / scouting in order to identify undervalued talent, and overall are running incredibly efficient businesses.

After a successful promotion from the Danish 2nd Division in the summer of 2020, we had an interesting decision to make at FC Helsingør. The Danish 1st Division would now be the strongest ever, with a new media rights deal giving all the clubs more money to spend. Several big clubs, with good infrastructure and a history of large wage bills were going to be the favorites to win the 1st Division for the 2020/21 season. Instead of trying to outspend these competitors, we took a different approach. How could we maximize our results and performance by being the most efficient team in the Danish 1st Division? We would focus keeping as much of our roster intact from our promotion season as possible, we would focus on homegrown players, we would continue to spend wisely and construct our roster in the most efficient way possible. We would invest in player performance and injury prevention. We would take a data-focused approach in recruitment. Long story short, we would do more with less.

Even in some of the biggest leagues in Europe, some clubs are taking a similar approach. In Italy, the lowest spending club, Spezia are currently in 13th place, ahead of several clubs spending 2–3x more on player wages.

2020–21 Serie A Wage Bills [Gazzetta Dello Sport]

In France, for the 2018/19 season, Nimes finished a respectable 9th place with the 2nd lowest wage bill, and the 2nd lowest player transfer spend in all of Ligue 1. In Spain, Granada is set to face Napoli next month in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 with one of the lowest wage bills in La Liga.

For every club like Leicester City or Granada that punches well above their weight, there are countless examples of clubs that overspend, and get little return on their investment. I’m proud that we’ve finished the first half of our 2020–21 season as the most efficient club in the Danish 1st Division. Our wage spending (in Danish Kroner) per point is the best in the entire division. While there is a correlation between spending and success in European Football, we are proving at FC Helsingør that a more sophisticated, efficient approach can be just as effective.

Jordan Gardner is the Chairman & Co-Owner of Danish Football Club FC Helsingør. He is also a minority investor in Irish Football Club Dundalk FC and Swansea City AFC in Wales. Jordan has been featured in The Athletic, Sports Illustrated, and Forbes discussing American investment in European Football.

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