While more and more American players populate the playing squads of clubs across Europe, that hasn’t spurred more esteem for American managers in the game’s bedrock. After today, only Pelligrino Matarazzo of Stuttgart remains in the Big 5 leagues, or really anywhere significant. That’s because, after just four months, Jesse Marsch has been shitcanned by RB Leipzig.
If any Yank was going to make a fist of it as a manager in Europe’s top tier, it was supposed to be Marsch. He was brought through every level of Red Bull’s system, from New York to Salzburg to Leipzig. He had won two titles at Salzburg and oversaw the rise of several players who were sold to much bigger clubs (Erling Halaand, Patson Daka, Takumi Minamino, Hwang Hee-chan, Dominik Szoboszlai to name a few). With the way Red Bull operate all of their clubs, selling off players for big fees to finance the next crop is a major tenet of the job. While Marsch didn’t get out of the group stage in the Champions League with Salzburg, many observers couldn’t take their eyes off the swashbuckling ways his teams played. That’s always been the Red Bull way, and it stood to reason that he was ready to take the top club in the system on.
It didn’t work out that way. Marsch was pretty behind the eight-ball before his team even laced up the boots, as their best defender, Dayot Upamecano, was sold to Munich and he was joined by Leipzig’s captain, Marcel Sabitzer. That was basically the majority of the spine of last year’s second-place team ripped out. There has been a raft of new signings to bed in this year, which definitely made Leipzig look disjointed at times.
But that doesn’t absolve Marsch, as Leipzig were pretty defensively woeful. They’ve only kept five clean sheets in 21 matches through all competitions. Leipzig could be wondrous on their day — they smashed Stuttgart in their home opener 4-0, they put up a touchdown on Hertha Berlin, their last Champions League game saw them paddle Club Brugge 5-0. But they could also be horsed just as easily. Munich touched them up for four goals. Manchester City put a touchdown on them.
It’s those Champions League results that put the spotlight on Marsch, which might not have been totally fair. Yeah, the six goals given up to City in the first game is always going to look bad. Losing to Brugge at home is a black eye. But Leipzig outplayed PSG at home pretty thoroughly and could only get a 2-2 draw out of it thanks to some wonky finishing. One goal there and they’d be still alive for going through in a group with the two richest clubs in the world.
While Leipzig’s underlying numbers suggest there wasn’t anything wrong with the attack (second-best xG behind Munich), their xGA was only 13th in the league. Quite simply, the new recruits didn’t really suit the high-pressing, chaotic style that Leipzig had featured under Julian Nagelsmann and Marsch had used in Salzburg. And, according to this thread, Marsch seemed to recognize that pretty quickly. While Leipzig are still attempting to press high up the field as much as they used to, it gets torn through much more often. This is a pretty solid breakdown of what Marsch attempted to do at the club after replacing Nagelsmann. Without Upamecano, Leipzig don’t have the same pace in defense and can simply be run past. It also probably didn’t help Marsch’s cause that Nagelsmann has kept Munich at their galactic standard, causing Leipzig fans to cast longing eyes at their former hero.
In the end, Marsch’s tenure is going to be remembered a lot like Bob Bradley’s attempt at the Premier League, over before there was time to unpack the moving boxes.. Marsch’s success at Salzburg should be enough to get him another job in Europe if he wants one. Though after these four months, he might find clubs regarding his success as due to the Red Bull system more than his own coaching.
While MLS is proving a fertile breeding ground for players to hop across the pond, it’s still easy to see why it’s not yet a proving ground for coaches. With no relegation, the weird scheduling, a playoff system that can reward or punish a team randomly, byzantine financial/transfer rules, it is its own unique atmosphere to navigate that really isn’t replicated anywhere else. Marsch was able to make the jump to Austria with the help of the most talented squad in that country by some distance.
While American players have been able to shed the stigma associated with “Yanks” by European football, you get the feeling any managerial candidates may still be viewed through a “Lasso” lens. Marsch’s stay in Leipzig won’t help that.