As most should be aware, news often breaks because it is ready to break. On Tuesday, February 28, 2017, New York Red Bulls beat reporter Kristian Dyer dropped a nugget of not-unexpected, but nevertheless gratefully received news:
Per source, hearing #RBNY will officially make Denis Hamlett the sporting director sometime this week. Big move for the club. #MLSisBack— Kristian Dyer (@KristianRDyer) February 28, 2017
In less than an hour, RBNY had an official release out, announcing Denis Hamlett's appointment as Sporting Director.
NEWS: New York Red Bulls Name Denis Hamlett Sporting Director. https://t.co/2pXHVUiqVR#REDTogether #RBNY pic.twitter.com/OVNLNDmwOG— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) February 28, 2017
Hamlett fills the vacancy left by Ali Curtis, the sporting director technically responsible for appointing RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch and the coaching staff of which Hamlett was a part until his promotion to the SD job.
Well, the SD job might be a promotion for Hamlett. There is more to a organization's structure than the simple hierarchy implied by job titles. Hamlett was technically subordinate to Marsch on arrival at RBNY: the first assistant to the head coach. Hamlett was an assistant coach at Chicago Fire during Marsch's playing days at the club, going on to be head coach of the team for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He has since taken a succession of assistant coach positions - first at Vancouver Whitecaps in 2011, then brought to Montreal Impact by Marsch (in his first MLS head coaching job), and subsequently joining Marsch's team at RBNY.
Hamlett has spent most of his coaching career working with Jesse Marsch in some capacity. Now RBNY needs a Sporting Director to work with its head coach, Hamlett is an obvious choice for the role: some assistants assist more than others; the impression has long been that Hamlett is not an assistant in place to learn from the head coach but to advise and teach from the perspective of (slightly - Hamlett is only five years older than Marsch) greater experience.
The appointment does further challenge the narrative RBNY tried to establish in 2015, when Ali Curtis introduced himself to the club by firing its most loyal servant, Mike Petke, who had guided the team to its first-ever major trophy, the 2013 Supporters' Shield as a novice head coach with little to recommend him to the job beyond the fact he happened to be around when the Red Bulls urgently needed someone to coach the first team.
For the past two seasons, the near-official line of RBNY is that it is following the vision of Ali Curtis' 300-page plan. It is hard to sustain that line in the absence of Curtis, who presumably didn't write himself out of his own plan. Nor has RBNY has shown any sign of changing course, despite its disagreement with the man supposedly responsible for putting it on its current course in the first place.
It has become increasingly clear that RBNY's path can be predicted by watching Red Bulls Leipzig and Salzburg. And the press release announcing Denis Hamlett's ascent to the SD job contains more evidence that the MLS part of the Red Bull Global Soccer family is drawing ever closer to its sibling clubs.
Hamlett's appointment was not acknowledged in the club's official statement by Jesse Marsch - that would be weird, given that head coaches do not traditionally appoint sporting directors. Nor was Hamlett greeted officially in the release by General Manager, Marc de Grandpre - who was the RBNY executive quoted in the announcement of Ali Curtis' appointment. The official quoted in RBNY's release on Hamlett's appointment is Red Bull Head of Global Soccer, Oliver Mintzlaff:
Denis has vast experience in Major League Soccer and an excellent understanding of our global philosophy. We are confident that Denis has the vision to further our goal of winning MLS Cup.
That is more or less what is said in every release about the appointment of a new member of staff. Mintzlaff was hardly going to say "Denis and Jesse go way back; we're confident they see eye to eye on most things and so we hopefully won't need to be looking for a new SD any time soon."
But the "more" part of that statement is the reference to "our global philosophy": the global philosophy Once A Metro likes to call RalfBall, and RBNY has invested a surprising amount of time (which is to say, any time at all was surprising) seeking to distance itself from.
As noted by Huan Nguyen more than a year ago, RBNY has never substantially denied it was working to a Red Bull Global Soccer plan, but local media seemed insistent on crediting Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch with the ideas introduced to the club in 2015 - and the club just seemed to run with it for a while.
It is not unprecedented for a senior Red Bull Global Soccer exec to be quoted in RBNY press releases: Gerard Houllier provided the official statement for Andy Roxburgh's appointment as Sporting Director in 2012.
But the references to RBNY's alignment with a global philosophy are increasingly hard to miss. And now they are coming straight to us from RB Global's top executive. Don't expect to ever hear RBNY use the term "RalfBall" - it's pretty clearly regarded as pejorative inside the club - but for quite some time Red Bull Global Soccer seemed content to accept its portrayal in MLS circles as an absentee, uncaring, and frequently irrelevant foreign owner. But perhaps Papa Red Bull - or Marsch and Hamlett, on Papa's behalf - is getting ready to step out of the shadows and speak a little more freely about the philosophy in place at Red Bull Global Soccer, and how it is made to work in MLS.