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Jesse Marsch hopes Red Bull Leipzig gives him wings

Sunday 22nd July 2018

Choosing to devote my full attention to the World Cup or keep abreast of events in Major League Soccer is like asking whether I would prefer chocolate ice cream or lima beans. Only an insane person or a vegan would opt for the latter.

Okay, maybe that was redundant.

The point is I was looking east when Jesse Marsch left the New York Red Bulls on Friday, 6 July, stating his intent to “seek a new opportunity,” and was then announced as Ralf Rangnick’s assistant at RB Leipzig on the following Monday. Give the man props for figuring out a way to pack his bags and catch a flight to his new opportunity in peace.

This particular stone thrown between two Red Bull Arenas on separate continents has left many ripples, said ripples being questions regarding the coach’s future, the message the move implies, what it bodes for other ambitious American coaches, and more.

Sit back while I pretend to have the answers.

How should Red Bulls fans feel?

If you check social media, the greater sentiment seems to be resignation.

Marsch wasn’t too welcome when he first arrived. His predecessor, Mike Petke, who is temporarily not coaching in MLS himself, was a local made good. In his two seasons, he won the Supporters Shield for best regular season record and made the Eastern Conference finals twice. He was sacked and Marsch hired to reach and win the MLS Cup.

Even though Marsch couldn’t do that, replicating Petke’s first season, then dropping to fourth and sixth in his two subsequent full seasons, he won the fanbase over with a well-balanced approach.

Nor did he lose support when it was revealed in the preseason that he had left the squad during preparations for a critical CONCACAF Champions League match to complete his UEFA coaching badges. Fans knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer but they wanted him to stay.

They should be angry over Red Bull’s attitude towards the franchise, however. Why shouldn't supporters feel anything but marginalised by an organisation that will take a coach who has his team in the title chase mid-season and make him an assistant at their European flagship club?

A loss to NYCFC in the Hudson River Derby drove that point home on the Monday his appointment to Leipzig was announced, although the club bounced back with a 3-2 victory over Sporting Kansas City on Sunday last.

Is Marsch opening a door for American coaches?

New York’s two MLS teams both lost their talented coaches mid-season. Patrick Vieira quickly ruled himself out of the Arsenal managerial search but just when ManCityLite fans were breathing easier over their beloved coach’s status; he bolted for OGC Nice in Ligue 1. Even though Vieira is French and was being welcomed home, eager MLS advocates took it as a sign of the North American league’s new legitimacy.

Now that Marsch has gone to Europe, where only Bob Bradley dared go before him, some are interpreting the move as European clubs opening their minds regarding Yank coaches. That theory would hold water if Marsch went to another club, especially Swansea. Leipzig is more a Red Bull club than a European one.

The German outfit is considered a Bundesliga outsider because it is situated in former East Germany, from which few clubs have risen to the top-flight, and it is corporate driven in a league that emphasises fan ownership. Among other things, the club had to name itself RasenBallsport Leipzig rather than Roten Bullen to not violate rules against corporate names for clubs. It also had to revise its crest several times to ‘significantly’ differentiate it from the corporate logo.

Marsch is not breaking down European barriers; he is sneaking in the back door.

Can Marsch peddle his no.2 role at Leipzig into a top spot at another European club?

For the same reasons stated above, it’s difficult to see this happening. Any success or failure in 2018/19 at Leipzig will belong to Ralf Rangnick. In 2019/20, Julian Nagelsmann arrives. Marsch’s two-year contract allegedly guarantees him a place on the lame duck Hoffenheim boss’ staff. Given the poor reputation American coaches have in Europe, only a Bundesliga title would put any weight behind a Red Bull recommendation on Marsch’s behalf if Nagelsmann had an issue with the arrangement.

On the other hand, Marsch may be in line for Marco Rose’s place at RB Salzburg. The German’s Europa League run with Red Bull’s Austrian affiliate has attracted attention. Further success could lure him to a bigger club. It would be the ideal opportunity for Marsch.

If that chance doesn’t materialise, Rangnick’s return to Leipzig suggests the door remains open and the light on for Marsch in New York.

Can Red Bull’s football management structure work for other clubs?

The energy drink consortium’s model is similar to City Football Group's. Manchester City holds partnerships with several clubs including New York City FC, Melbourne City, Yokohama F Marinos, Girona and Atletico Torque of Montevideo. The difference being Red Bull is the primary owner in all its clubs, comprising New York, Leipzig, Salzburg, Leifering and RB Brasil. Leifering is Salzburg’s B team. RB Brasil is a Sao Paolo side in the Campeonato Paulista and the fifth tier nationally.

Full ownership, or as close as one can get in the Bundesliga, allows Red Bull to call the shots and more easily interchange coaches, if not players. City is also restricted by Pep Guardiola’s presence at the top of the coaching food chain. Patrick Vieira was obviously not interested in waiting a season or more for Pep to get the travelling itch again. With all the Barcelona colleagues Guardiola valued now in Manchester, said itch may be permanently scratched.

That said, a cabal of smaller clubs combining forces to combat the elite isn’t a bad idea. Surely, Red Bull has explored the possibility of establishing clubs in England, France and Spain. With some patience and continued investment, your grandchildren may one day be watching the Red Bull rather than Champions League. Ugh, talk about your dystopia.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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