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Second Careers

From Midfield to Manager: Earnie Stewart's New Life

AZ's technical director chats with ASN about life after the United States national team, the value of American players, and why he always knew Jozy Altidore would succeed.
BY Noah Davis Posted
February 28, 2013
9:53 AM
Earnie Stewart earned 101 caps for the United States national team, scoring 17 goals, figuring in three World Cups, and getting inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame on June 4, 2011. But he may be even more successful in his post-playing career days.

After leaving D.C. United in 2004, the midfielder signed with VVV-Venlo, a small club in the southeast of his native Netherlands. Stewart played six games before abruptly retiring. He planned to be head of the youth academy when his contract ended, but club management offered him the technical director position and he jumped at the opportunity. A year later, Stewart moved to the same position at NAC Breda where he played between 1996 and 2003. He learned on the job and helped the club to an impressive third-place finish during the 2008-2009 Eredivisie campaign. A year later, Alkmaar Zaanstreek came calling and Stewart joined the storied franchise as technical director in June 2010.

He set about right AZ's listing financial ship, adopting a Moneyball philosophy, and he's pleased with the results so far. "Financially, we are very sound," he told ASN last week, although he admits the squad is struggling a bit in the table: "This year, playing-wise we've been alright, but result-wise it has not been the season that we would have liked."

One bright spot is the play of Jozy Altidore, who continues to pour in goals for the Cheese Farmers. Stewart was instrumental in bringing the young American to the club.

"A lot of people said it wasn't going to be possible because he was under contract with Villarreal, but one thing I've always learned is that if you don't ask, you'll never find out," he said. "I flew down to Houston to talk to Jozy about that. He was open to the task and his year and a half here have been really good."

A major reason for Altidore's improvement is the stability in his life, a selling point Stewart stressed during his discussions with the forward. "We always knew he had a certain amount of talent, but in the conversations I had with Jozy, I said thought it would be very important for him to finally have a home, a space for a couple of years to develop as a player and learn what kind of role he needs to provide for AZ," the technical director says. "The way he thinks about football and soccer now and the way he thinks about doing his business is fantastic. He went from a potentially good player who could score goals to somebody who is very good for the team and also scores goals. The combination of those two is fantastic."

Altidore, brought in on a free transfer, embodies the type of player Stewart needs to find to succeed at AZ. Although the club is no longer in desperate financial straits, the Moneyball idea will persist. Given that, I wondered if the technical director might look for more American players who are sometimes undervalued.

"I think [the undervaluation of Americans has] gone away," he said. "When I as a technical director look at players, we don't necessarily look where they come from. You look at the player and what his qualities are." (Take that with a grain of salt, though: If you were a technical director who knew about undervalued products, would you tell anyone about them?)

For Stewart, who turns 44 on March 28, the future is wide open.

"I'm not one of those planning types to say in five years I have to do this or that. I'm still developing myself as a technical director," he said. "I've been fortunate enough to have some of these opportunities that I've had. I work every day and I work very hard to maintain what I'm doing but also improve. Whatever comes, comes."

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