Yesterday, we posted an article profiling former New York Red Bulls Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh. The conversation that helped birth that profile was long, in depth, enlightening, and contained a number of points that we simply could not get to writing up without the article being over 3000 words.
As a service to our readers, we are posting the full interview transcript below so everyone can read the full conversation. This interview has been edited for clarity:
Once a Metro: Just wanted to ask you about your new role with the AFC and looking back at your time with the New York Red Bulls. You've taken the role of technical director here in Kuala Lumpur, what led you to take the job with the AFC? How would you describe your current duties?
Andy Roxburgh: The first thing you have to know is I've got a long standing connection with Asian football. I did my first course here in Shanghai, I've been to Kuala Lumpur many occasions and I've done a whole lot of coaching courses for them, I've worked in places like Saudi Arabia, and every two years I was in Japan, working in their football conference. I've worked in Korea as well, so I have a longstanding connection with them. The people who were in charge knew me. They approached me and asked me [to join], and so I finished [with the Red Bulls] and the moment I finished at the end of the year they came back and asked me if i would be interested in joining them. The arrangement was that I do the same job I did at UEFA for 18 and a half years, which is basically to be the technical director, which means developing the Game on a continental basis. The thing in Asia is, its a completely different environment from Europe, but the main thing is we have all the information, all the background of how that was done and therefore that will help to accelerate the process. We hope so. Also to do things like a grassroots chapter, these things are all called endorsement programs that you work with the national associations. We set standards and the guidelines and evaluate them and so on. So you know we need to work on the youth level as well and one of the major spin offs to all of this is to increase the amount of exchange between technicians, so for example I'll run a national coaches conference in Kuala Lumpur this August when all the national coaches and technical directors. That kind of thing is invaluable and you can get experiences and we can keep them up to date and be able to help them in Asia. I'll look to European football and I was at the Champions League Final for example in Berlin, and I've been gathering a lot of information about them so that is basically the idea behind it, and I'm splitting my time between Europe and Asia in general being in Kuala Lumpur, and that means I'll do a lot of the research for them.
OaM: So you mentioned that coaching convention that's taking place in August, how have you began to develop that? I remember that being one of the first things you talked about when you took this job in Kuala Lumpur.
AR: There's two things the national coaches conference, that's in August, will be to reflect on what happened at the Asian Cup in Australia, which I actually attended for a week, that will be one of the elements in this national coaches conference. The coaching license is another story, that's something we have to create a group and that's the first thing that I'll do. I mean one of my tasks here is to replace me is because clearly I'm not going to be here forever and so in Europe I will still continue the work in Europe and so this I've set them in the direction and then someone else in the group will take over the leadership, but the main thing is the group will continue and we can have that coaching license of it and the grassroots chapter and then the elite youth team so that's the first step. When you work in Red Bull your job was...you're trying to win some title, that's different when you're a technical director, where you are trying to be winning the next 5 to 10 years and that's what you're doing. You're trying to help the national associations to be successful so they actually develop the game in their territories and their teams become successful, so its more of a long-term project when you're a technical director being a sporting director when I was in New York is coaching is more of a year and out.
OaM: So switching gears back to MLS, have you kept up with the Red Bulls since you left?
AR: Oh yeah yeah yeah I've been in touch, and I've been in communication regularly with a lot of the players we dealt with, a number of the staff, I speak to a number of them there as well, obviously New York Red Bulls was a fantastic experience for me, and I spoke to mister Mateschitz at a time and he said during this two year stint, he said can you try to make it more professional and secondly can you try to win something. Now we were fortunate enough to win the supporters shield, which was fantastic, and I think most people would definitely agree, and it's not solely because of me because the work of a lot of people, is far more professional. The new training facility completely transformed...the stadium of course is magnificent, and the fans were just special. And so we also had an outstanding academy as well. So it was a fairly straightforward in many way that side of it, the place was evolving, Mr. Mateschitz what he's done there with his investment and the New York Red Bulls have been fantastic. There were a whole lot of things. People like Dan, the groundsman, I've been watching some of the MLS games and I think of the stadium in New York Red Bulls, Dan the groundsman was just fantastic. Chris da Silva was just brilliant and going in and analyzing all the team and scouting all the players for us, until the federation realized how good he was, and guys like our tech man, and our medical staff, it really is a really professional setup there. And I think they made a wise move in bringing in Ali Curtis because I must admit it was quite negative [the reaction], to me as an outsider, the MLS rules the salary cap the traveling all these things were quite complicated for someone like me, and I think bringing in someone like Ali Curtis, is clearly a smart move. In the case of Jesse Marsch, I mean he's a good guy. I actually interviewed him believe it or not 2 years ago when we were looking for an assistant. And at the time I was very impressed and I said I hope you get a job as a first team coach sooner rather than later, this was 2 years ago. We had some really good young boys like Matt Miazga and I remember sitting with Matt and his mother and father persuading him to stay in New York Red Bulls because all the choices of college and European clubs and fortunately the boy's heart was in Red Bull. So he stayed so many excellent lads that are still there. Luis Robles was outstanding as our goalkeeper for the two years I was there and continues to be that. Young guys like Chris Duvall and Dax McCarty is now the captain. Dax was always leadership material and of course Lloyd Sam and Bradley they are very good players. I've also got high hopes for young Marius Obekop because I felt he had talent its just weather he wants it or not we'll soon find out and he's certainly got the talent. And young guys like Connor Lade who's not young anymore he seems to be eternally young. And Damien came in and started the season very well. A lot of them I know really well. There's things about this club really. Number one was the one that hit me right away when I ran there is there is enormous potential. Everybody for them is trying to realize that potential and we are seeing signs of that in recent years. The second thing to me is optimism. I've been extremely optimistic that this club can really be something in the MLS, it is something, but it can consistently deliver in the top flight in the US.
OaM: Going off that where you mention the change in professionalism and everything, the club is really in the past 2-3 years worked to bridge the academy which you mentioned guys like Miazga and Sean Davis and the first team. How involved were you with bringing the USL affiliate to NYRB?
AR: Yeah, yeah the first thing to me was the academy was vital. And they had a great reputation and the trouble was there was no home. When I came there I was appalled, they didn't know from one day to the next where they would be training, and so this was another advantage of the new training facility. It was built only for the first team but almost within the blink of an eye I made sure we also got youth training facilities and the new locker rooms were built for them. It's their home now too. So we made sure the academy was fully integrated with the coaching staff and also with the young players. [For NYRB II] the MLS side of it was it had to close and it was very important doing a lot of research where would be the best place to play. As you know one of the things we should definitely do is definitely is try to play in our backyard, and I'm sure you know the arrangement we made before I left was that they would playing at the university in Manhattan and they would also play some of the games as doubleheaders at Red Bull Arena. So a lot went on in that actually that's another very important part of this. So you've got the academy, you've got the college kids, and you've also got the second team and I think that if you're first team has a few of the players in this system then that creates the heart and soul of the team. They are people that the fans can immediately identify so yeah you will always need to trade and you will always need to buy in players, but the heart of the soul comes from your own development process.
OaM: You mentioned Matt Miazga earlier, working very very hard to sign him you said persuading his parents. What made him stand out to you when watching him in the academy?
AR: In this world there are some players, when you see them at first they look so good they convince you they can't play. And the other ones that don't particularly look like players and they've got to convince you they can play. And I'll have to watch very closely to see if he is really good as he appears, and the answer to that [with Matt] yes. So that he was an example of someone who looked good in on first impression, and then the more you saw him the more you started to appreciate who he was. He can not only play, but he has all the attributes. Of course he's a young guy he'll inevitably make mistakes, he's learning the game, but back to that word again potential, he's an example of someone with that enormous potential the fact that he just played in the U-20 world cup underlines that potential he's got and I hope that at some point down the line people will recognize him as a top professional.
OaM: In the past you were very outspoken on how academy players can move from one club to another and for example if they leave Red Bull, we receive no compensation. Do you see MLS being able to change this? Or will the league struggle to not retain and not be compensated for its elite young talent?
AR: Oof well that's an interesting question. The fact that the league has a very, very solid base to it and the fact that the league is developing and being recognized they've done so many things. They can't solve every problem. This is one area where they know there is an issue and they know they have to find solutions, but of course FIFA rules as well and often the difficulty to get those implemented. Anybody I'm sure must understand. [We had this player] with us for five years, and the next day he suddenly signed for a club in Europe you know and his family wrote and said "thank you very much," now that was very nice of them but it wasn't enough, this is just a nonsense. If a club is going to invest heavily in a youth academy and for the fans sake and the clubs sake for the owners sake there has to be some compensation. If you like basic fair play. Finding the solution to that, an acceptable solution, is clearly something that both the federation and the MLS have been working on, and I don't know exactly where they are on that, but that clearly is something that has to be resolved because then owners all over america would say 'why would we invest in this? we're only training our players to give them to somebody else for nothing.'
OaM: There appears to be effort recently to bring all the Red Bull teams around the world together in terms of playing style, and perhaps certain aspects of playing development. Was this an initiative that was discussed or possibly even implemented during your time at the club? Did you contribute to any of this plan, if it was, before you left?
AR: Well when you're talking about style of play first of all you have to remember in my period they had superstar level players, key players for NYRB, and clearly the style of play that the club had at that time was very pragmatic I would protest. It was geared towards highlighting the strengths we had at that time and minimizing any weaknesses we had. So that was the approach I would say, it was flexible and it was very good at counter attacking, and we were very good at dominating the play as well. In terms of the possession play. I would say then the style of play which we know the red bulls play in Austria and Germany, now with the loss of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill they were able if you like start again in terms of bringing in players to suit a system. This time round they were able to implement a philosophy and bring in players that suit the philosophy. This would be the slight difference if you like, no matter what the players who played at that point and who played now, there were obviously a number of similarities.
OaM: Is there anything about New York you miss?
AR: I miss the people. Because the people first of all around the club the staff, the players, they enjoy going to work everyday. And we worked with so many good players, good people, and great people in the organization. So yes I certainly miss all of that. I don't particularly miss all the geographical travel to away matches, and I was never a great fan of playing on artificial soccer fields. But there is no doubt yes when you ask the question, I miss the people and of course I miss the fans, they were just incredible. Some of those days, that night that we beat Chicago when we won the supporters fields at home, that was just something you'd find at anywhere in Europe. I must be honest I miss that, I miss the atmosphere of Red Bull on a big night.
OaM: How involved was Austria in the day-to-day activities of running the club?
AR: I don't know really know how to answer that. I mean all that I got from Austria was support. In terms of day to day, as I say Mr. Mateschitz is a very charismatic businessman and he's the kind of person that when he picks someone to do the job, he trusts them to do it. And that's exactly what happened, we had all the support, all the backing that was necessary. The problem in the US is because of the salary cap. Here in France or Germany or someplace you can go to the owner and say "can i get a couple of million to buy a player," [you can't do that in MLS]. The support was excellent I had absolutely 100% grateful in terms of everything that happened.
OaM: how close were you to adding a third designated player.
AR: Yeah that's an interesting one. We thought about it. There was a lot of flying around. There is another thing you know when you've got this discovery list, which is a novelty I must be honest. I found that to be extremely novel, that you could name a lot of players, and one of the players that I named right up front that I wanted to have very up front was Xavi. Xavi from Barcelona is one of the best players of the last decades and during that time he wasn't going to move from Barcelona, and you see he now left and he's now going to Qatar so he would have been the kind of player that I think would have been fantastic you can see that Frank Lampard and Stevie G are coming to the MLS and I'm sure they are going to help the teams they are going to. So players of that kind of charisma that ability to read the game and dominate the game they can have a big big impact. So I guess we never to pin down somebody what we needed at that time that was the trouble. We couldn't pin down somebody that would be available at the right price.
OaM: Can you possibly tell the story behind the Lady Gaga jacket you gave to Lloyd Sam?
AR: [laughs] That's a funny one that one. So what happened was Lloyd is a character. And one of the things, he's not only a great player he's a character, and he is always very well dressed. Because at my age everybody looks 20 but anyway, so he was always looking trendy and he had been talking about fashion one of the days, and it just so happened that night me and my woman we used to go this place called Joannes and its near the park near Central Park. So we went there the evening after we had been talking to Lloyd and he had been talking about fashion and so they had these jackets with lady Gaga across the back so I couldn't resist as a joke to take one of these jackets and the next I gave it to Lloyd, and said you can give it to your girlfriend! So in that moment Lloyd and the girlfriend had parted, so Lloyd simply hung it up as a kind of lucky charm in his locker. And the strange thing was from the moment he put it there if i recall correctly this was in the august or something like that and from that moment [we went on a winning streak] and players and this became our standing joke with Lloyd that this was a lucky charm. This was the background to it, this was all tongue and cheek and all because Lloyd was so trendy.
OaM: Anything else you want to talk about?
AR: I just wanted to say I wish the team all the best. The academy to the college kids to the second team and of course Jesse and Ali and the first team players and all the team keep winning. Let's hope they can deliver one of the titles and make the Red Bull supporters extremely happy.
The one thing I didn't mention and I would like to comment is Mike Petke. And I would like to just say that I think that Mike did a really good job in the two years he was a head coach. Of course you know he continues to be a legend as a player and he was a very brave boy to take on, when I asked him to take on the job of the head coach. He had no experience he had no background but because it was Red Bull he did it. He really developed a lot in the two years and all I can say is that I just wish Mike all the best, I gather he is doing some TV things and things like that and I hope he'll come back into the Game in a technical capacity in some point.
Once again, thank you Andy Roxburgh for speaking to us. Everyone here at Once a Metro was very appreciative.