Billy Beane is kind of a big deal. The subject of a bestselling book? Tick. An Oscar nominated film adaptation of said book? Tick. Angelina Jolie orgasm supplier playing him in said film? Tick. As most sports enter the age of Nate Silver where statistics and analytics play a bigger role in scouting and recruitment decisions, Beane stands at the forefront as the innovator of the much discussed Moneyball model to baseball analysis.
Billy Beane's closest football ally is Arsene Wenger. His methods tally with Wenger's innate sense of economic responsibility and he is on record as describing the Frenchman as " undoubtedly the sports executive whom I admire most". In a recent interview with Rory Smith of the Times, he says of Wenger's Arsenal " Every year they are in the top four. They are paying down their debts. They have a stadium. If you are looking for a model, that is the one you look at". Smith highlights the sense of kinship between the two by writing "Both men, after all are pioneers. Just as Wenger's arrival in North London heralded a sea -change in English football's attitudes to nutrition, preparation, tactics and scouting, so Beane's devotion to analytics turned baseball on its head. "
Just as Beane used statistical analysis to shape his recruitment strategy, Wenger, a trained economist stood at that forefront in football. Simon Kuper, the Dutch writer who has made a name writing sports profiles for the Financial Times amongst other publications and is also one of the great authorities on football economics tells that when seeking a midfielder who could grow to replace Patrick Vieira, Wenger scoured the databases at his access looking for midfielders who covered the most distance in games. One of the names that returned caught Wenger, a man credited as being one of the all knowing oracles of modern football by surprise: Mathieu Flamini, then yet to receive a professional contract at Olympic Marseille. After further scouting, Flamini would find himself on the way to Arsenal's London Colney training ground to continue the next chapter of his life. Whilst football caught up with Wenger, he and Arsenal have made a bold attempt to gain a lead on their rivals. One of the big revelations from the recent annual general meeting was the purchase of an American company specializing in data management linking to the impact of statistics in todays climate. A clever move in that by purchasing this piece of intellectual property, they gain exclusivity whilst gaining a lead on their rivals who at the best would be forced to outsource or try and create a rival which would surely be a time consuming excercise.
Kuper was present at the first meeting between Wenger and Beane "In the speakers' room of a conference in London in October 2010, I watched Wenger and Beane sit on a sofa (with, bizarrely, Alastair Campbell) talking for two or three hours. They had never met before. It was a case of mutual fascination, love at first sight" .
These days, Beane is pushing a new approach. It is a recruitment strategy built on ensuring that "We did not have any bad players". It sounds somewhat obvious in the sense that one is forced to wonder what manager wants to pick his team from a pool containing bad players. Then again, it's also strange to have someone on record as saying it's a paert of some conscious self developed philosophy. He explains further "We started managing from the bottom. Every update on player performance we got, we would just cut the guy from the bottom. We did it unconsciously at first, but then it became a conscious effort". I might be reaching but I can draw parallels to Arsenal's transfer strategy this summer. For the last four years, if you asked the average Arsenal fan to detail their ideal summer transfer business, high on it would be to "Get rid of the "deadwood" referring to those players retained on the wage bill but made little or no contributions of note.
This year, it was taken very serious. The likes of Andrey Arshavin and Sebastian Squillaci who had become expensive pensioners did not find their contracts renewed getting their heavy wages off the wage bill. The Ivorien forward, Gervinho blessed with great dribbling ability and cursed with a habit of missing sitters and worrisome end product found himself off to Rome. The Italian goalkeeper, Vito Mannone joined Paolo di Canio's Sunderland Italian revolution. They didn't stop there. Some mutually terminated their contracts meaning Arsenal effectively paid off the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Andre Santos and Denilson to leave. Those like the central defenders, Johan Djourou and Ignasi Miquel were sent on loan despite Arsenal having only three recognised centre backs in Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen(who has missed the start of the season with injury). The only one blot would be Nicklas Bendtner who apparently was going to earn himself a 3million pay off and the opportunity to join Chamakh at Crystal Palace but found himself unable to when Arsenal failed to recruit a new striker on deadline day.
The impact of this being that although the team is deficient in terms of numbers, those left are all of sufficient quality and no member of the squad could be patently termed a "weak point" in the way Andre Santos earned for himself in that match at Old Trafford. This has also ensured that the cream of the youngsters have found a clearer path to the first team. It is difficult to fathom Serge Gnabry starting three games in a 6 day period and scoring his first Premier League goal in the last of those games had the likes of Gervinho and Arshavin still been around.
The greatest genius lies in simplicity. Beane is proof of this. Wenger used to be proof of this. If his philosophy continues to resemble Beane's, he might just rediscover the touch that made him the greatest foreigner in British football whilst shutting up those naysayers who have turned him into a punch line.
Mean Lean's Response
Thank you, that was a good read. It was only a few weeks ago that I was listening to the Arsenal America podcast and the host Chris had Billy Beane on the show to talk about his methods in baseball and also about Arsene Wenger.
It was a very interesting read, and his way of thinking reminded me of Arsene Wenger. The manager also seems one step ahead of everyone else, even if that step ahead doesn't quite come off.
This recent piece by Sporting Intelligence covers pretty much every detail about the managers performance which puts it in black and white how good he has been for our club.
Long may it continue I say.