MICHAEL Lewis’ brilliant book Moneyball is the real-life tale of startling sporting success on a shoestring. When baseball stattos demonstrated that the nitty-gritty players who actually win matches were greatly undervalued, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane sat up and took note. Out went the scouts, in came a Wall Street bean counter who signed a bunch of apparent no-marks for peanuts, and the cut-price A’s started to mix it with Major League Baseball’s big spenders.
The book makes the compelling case that much baseball wisdom is wrong, and for a brief period its football stock was rising too. But with Moneyball‘s leading UK practitioner, Aidy Boothroyd, now out of work alongside fellow number crunchers Sam Allardyce, Iain Dowie and Alan Pardew, football’s proving to be a rather different ball game.
Beane’s own attempts to shake up the San Jose Earthquakes, with the help of one-time Leeds United meltdown egghead Bill Gerrard and ‘English Legend’ Darren Huckerby, have left the side dead last in Major League Soccer’s western conference with only 8 wins from 30.
In the east, Red Bull New York finished just two wins better off, but in a development more goofball than moneyball, they face Columbus Crew in tonight’s final – and nobody, not even the geeks, know how they did it.
How come, they’re all asking, a sub .500 side – that is, one which won less than half its regular season games – can earn a shot at winning the whole damn caboodle? With a win percentage almost identical to last season’s West Ham, it would be as zany as Alan Curbishley winning the Premier League. Any other team, said MLS commissioner Don Garber to the New York Times, and this ‘would be heralded as an incredible sports story. But when the Red Bulls do it people think it’s a joke.’
It’s a joke that’s already wearing thin. Only Red Bull’s North American scum standing on the brink of success could have Americans doubting the single thing that underpins their team sports. Red Bull New York suck. If they succeed, then the playoffs suck too.
They may well be badged up like the Village People, but a victory for fellow first-time finalists Columbus Crew at LA’s Home Depot Center tonight is the only hope for reason. According to New York’s official site, should the unthinkable happen a celebration will occur at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday. They’d better get a move on with it, then. Here’s hoping they don’t have to bother.