That first meeting told Alex Muzio all he needed to know. Not long after he and his business partner, the gambling tycoon Tony Bloom, bought Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, a Belgian soccer team, Muzio sat down with the club’s coach. He wanted to discuss potential recruits.
Muzio had never been a soccer player. He had never been a scout. He has spent his career working for Bloom’s Starlizard consultancy, which provides data and analysis for Bloom’s betting syndicate, widely regarded as the largest in Britain.
Starlizard’s business model is using data to find an edge. It has information on tens of thousands of players from across the world. Its bespoke algorithms are designed to trawl through it and spot opportunities first, then talent. Muzio’s plan in team ownership was to do the same.
Bloom already owned a team in England: The club he has always supported, Brighton, has been transformed into a mainstay of the Premier League by Bloom’s money and methods. But he and Muzio wanted to see what else their “I.P.” could achieve. “We wanted,” Muzio said, “to win a title.”
By May 2018, when Bloom completed his purchase of Union, Muzio was itching to get started. The club, which last celebrated a title in the years between world wars, was at the time mired in the second tier of Belgian soccer. It was staffed largely by volunteers. Its training facility in the suburbs of Brussels did not have showers. Muzio still cannot say with certainty that there was a toilet.
He did not intend for it to stay that way. The first step was to be promoted to Belgium’s top division within three years, and to do that, Muzio knew, the squad needed to be revamped. He presented the club’s experienced manager, Marc Grosjean, with a list of potential signings, all of them selected and assessed by Starlizard’s data.
Grosjean was not impressed. He used an expletive to describe Muzio’s suggestions, and then offered his own alternatives. “He told me that he would much rather sign a set of Belgian players, players that he knew,” Muzio said. It did not take long to find out what Starlizard’s metrics made of them. Muzio hardly relished it, but Grosjean was gone by the end of the month, his abrupt, if mutual, departure announced as “a difference of opinion on the sporting development of the club.”
“We have ways that we want to do things,” Muzio said. Resistance would only …….