Billy Beane's soccer ally

The A's general manager has helped shape the mind of one prominent soccer executive

Originally Published: September 23, 2011
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN Insider
ComolliAP Photo/Jon SuperLiverpool's Damien Comolli has been heavily influenced by Beane and "Moneyball."

In 1988, a teen from Beziers, France, named Damien Comolli moved with his mother and brother to San Francisco and there, as these things often happen, a peculiar passion was born. The family's time in the Bay Area was to be short lived, so Comolli quickly swallowed up all the particulars of the region. And at that time, there was no greater local passion than baseball, as the Bash Brother A's and the Humm Baby Giants were two of the top teams in baseball.

Comolli, a soccer player who had attracted attention from several club teams in France, became enthralled with the game played with a ball and bat.

Comolli returned to France in 1989 and signed with AS Monaco's youth team, though he admittedly wasn't very good -- and thus his playing days didn't last very long. He thrust himself into a post-playing career in soccer, first becoming a coach for AS Monaco's youth teams where he achieved a great deal of success. Yet Comolli never forgot about the A's and Giants and he often sought as much information about the teams as he could.

Comolli got his big break when Arsenal's legendary manager Arsene Wenger hired him as a scout in 1997. In many of his conversations with his mentor Wenger, Comolli was often reminded that while players could be fickle and a manager's perception may be subjective, the statistics never lied. Comolli had never thought about soccer in terms of numbers.

"[Wenger] looked at it from a perspective of 'when does he need to sell players?' " Comolli says. "He started using statistics, and I'm sure he was the first one, to look at players and see when they started to decline physically, especially in fitness. When I left Arsenal and went on my own, I grabbed his philosophy and I wanted to do more with it."

Around that time, Comolli's Oakland A's fandom led him to a book called "Moneyball," which, without overstating it, changed his life. Comolli became fascinated with how the cost-conscious A's had found a way to identify players using statistical analysis. He was particularly awed by the team's general manager and the book's protagonist, Billy Beane.

"I tried to understand how they use numbers, both in terms of trading, recruitment and how they analyze their teams," Comolli says. "My interest in baseball increased by getting into more details."

Comolli began to wonder whether statistical analysis could change the way English soccer teams operated. Through a mutual friend, Comolli contacted Beane in 2005 and the two became close friends. Beane, a soccer fanatic, was eager to share his ideas.