It’s Red Bull/Bundesliga manager tilt-a-whirl! Watch it spin! Where it stops...well, we actually have some idea. And where it stops provides yet another landmark for Americans in European soccer, this time the first Yank to manage in the Bundesliga.
In order to focus on Jesse Marsch, the man replacing Julian Nagelsmann at RB Leipzig, we’ll have to go in reverse order of events. Marsch has been the loyal servant for the Red Bull Football factory, or whatever its actual name is. Though he started his managerial career in Montreal, he moved to New York Red Bulls in 2015. Marsch won the Eastern Conference with them in both 2015 and 2016, before moving on to be an assistant for the big club in the family, RB Leipzig, in the middle of the 2018 season.
Being a company man works, as Marsch was then in prime position to take over at RB Salzburg, one step down on the chain for Red Bull (yes, they own all of these and more). Marsch guided RB Salzburg to the Austrian title last year and has them in pole position to do so again this year, which is about all you can ask of a manager of the biggest club in the country.
If there’s one criticism of Marsch, it’s that he didn’t really make a mark in European competition. Last year, Salzburg was in a Champions League group with Liverpool and Napoli, and this year with Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich. They finished third both times, but crashed out of the consolation Europa League in the Round of 32 both times.
That won’t be good enough for Leipzig.
Where Marsch will have expertise is in rebuilding a team on the fly. Last season, Salzburg lost Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino midseason to Dortmund and Liverpool, respectively, essentially being stripped of two-thirds of the frontline. They still cruised to the title.
That’s kind of the deal at Leipzig, too. They still don’t wield the financial power of Munich or other big clubs around Europe and are reliant on transfer fees coming in to fuel their scouting and own team-building, and are constantly being pilfered of their best players Timo Werner left for Chelsea after last season (but apparently left the feeling in his feet behind in Germany), and defender Dayot Upemecano is leaving after this season for Bayern. Yet still, Nagelsmann was able to guide them to a second-place currently, their highest ever should they maintain it along with their best points-total.
This is a huge step for Marsch, and could open the door for more American coaches in Europe in a way that Bob Bradley and others failed to do. It’s also another outlet for American players wanting to head over to Europe. Marsch had been rumored to be a candidate for the vacant Dortmund job, and even was whispered as a possible USMNT coach before they handed the job to the CCO’s brother. Marsch would probably have strong ideas on changes needed in US Soccer and the pedigree to ask for them, two things US Soccer has no interest in.
To Nagelsmann, whom Marsch is replacing, who is following the familiar path in Germany, as all roads eventually lead to Munich. Whether you’re a top manager or player, eventually Bayern comes calling, and very few turn them down. They are the Borg.
It’s hard to believe that a team that swept all before them last year in stunning fashion on the way to league, cup, and Champions League glory need something of an overhaul, but they just might. The only regular starters 25 or under are Kingsley Coman and Alphonso Davies. David Alaba is leaving for Madrid after the season, which is where Upemecano comes in.
It’s a nearly impossible job. Winning the league means basically nothing to Munich, it’s really about whether they win the Champions League or not. And to suggest they were bad and looked decrepit as they went out to PSG in the quarterfinals this time around is wholly inaccurate. Robert Lewandowski didn’t play due to injury, and had he you have to figure Munich would have converted more of the cruise-liner buffet of chances they created. This is still, at worst, the third best team in Europe.
But that wasn’t enough for Hans Flick, whom the club wasn’t all that snippy about letting out of his contract so he could replace Joachim Low as Germany manager after Euro 2020 (give me... your Joachim Low... like you might surrender to a dragon in your dream...). If Bayern are going to retool, they might as well use the hottest managerial prospect to do it. Naglesmann had both Tottenham and AS Roma hot and bothered, but chose to return to where he’s from in Bavaria.
Whereas Flick’s Munich teams tended to play one way and dared you to do anything about it, Nagelsmann is known for a more high-pressure, flexible style based on what’s called for. That might not sit well with half the roster that’s over 30, but that’s where the turnover comes in.
Flick might have to oversee his own overhaul of the German National Team, based on their recent home loss to North Macedonia and their plodding exit in the group stage of the last World Cup. Thankfully for him, Germany generally produces a fountain of young talent with which to do that.
Everyone got it? OK, let’s get off this ride.