Moneyball: coming soon to a Dutch soccer stadium near you

As if having Hollywood tell your life story and being played on screen by Brad Pitt wasn’t enough, now Billy Beane’s got a job in European soccer.

Mr Moneyball’s going to be an advisor at AZ Alkmaar, which is currently fourth in the Dutch Eredivisie. Why Alkmaar? Well, their technical director is USMNT legend Earnie Stewart, for a start.

There’s also a link with Jozy Altidore, who had such a prolific couple of years in the cheese-producing city that he earned a high-profile, big-money move to Sunder… oh.

Anyway, why soccer? For years, Beane’s been telling everyone how much he loves the game, especially Arsenal. He listens to podcasts, watches games and has long cultivated links with the sport.

In a 2010 interview with the Financial Times he compared Arsène Wenger with Warren Buffett and said Wenger is “the sports executive I admire most” – even though the Oakland A’s general manager is a Spurs fan. “Does that sound like an American, to be both a Spurs fan and a Wenger fan?” he asked. Possibly, if by “American” he means “soccer-lover who prizes objectivity and rationality and is not blinded by prejudice.”

He told the Guardian that he became interested in English soccer on a trip to London in 2003, when he saw first-hand the emotions stirred by the sport and wondered if they were leading to business decisions based more on passion than reason. (Yup – at least, before the rise in statistical analysis and the increase in foreign owners only interested in soccer for the money.)

He also wanted to find out how many of the Sabermetrics-inspired principles that helped turn the low-budget Athletics into overachieving MLB contenders could apply to a more fluid and unequal sport. And he has a stake in the San Jose Earthquakes, who have the same owners as Oakland. The Earthquakes cultivated a formal relationship with Spurs, and Beane became friends with the former Tottenham and Liverpool director of soccer Damien Comolli, who was the English game’s Beane equivalent, only without the success.

Naturally, with Boston Red Sox head honcho John W. Henry in charge at Anfield, Liverpool wanted to deploy some of the same approaches to scouting, transfers and performance that did the impossible: caused horror guru Stephen King to write a book about being happy.

Alas, it did not go well for Comoli. For Carl Crawford’s seven-year, $142m contract at Fenway, read Andy Carroll’s $52m transfer from Newcastle.

Still, should be worth watching. According to a club statement, Beane will advise AZ “in the areas of high performance and innovation” from the US and visit Alkmaar a couple of times a year.

As the Washington Post asks: “How do you say Moneyball in Dutch?”

To which the appropriate answer is: who cares? Almost everyone there speaks English.


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