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Red Bulls Round-Up: December 26, 2020

The Kaku transfer rumors swirl, Dietrich Mateschitz steps out of hiding for a moment, and the saga of Anatole Abang continues in this week’s links

SOCCER: JUN 20 MLS - Whitecaps at Redbulls Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to the Red Bulls Round-Up presented by Once a Metro.

The new season is right around the corner. Well, perhaps it’s a slightly further distance than that. The new season is right around the corner after next. Actually, opening day is probably a little more than two corners away. Why don’t you keep going around corners for the time being? Before you know it, the 2021 New York Red Bulls season will be here, ready to thrill and enthrall you. Until that beautiful day comes, keep reading or don’t. Whatever you want to do is fine. I’m a desperate people pleaser.

Here’s this week’s top story.

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Whether you want it to or not, the Kaku transfer saga slowly advances. The story is much the same as it was, with Xolos the most interested suitor, but more details have been reported on his contract situation. According to AM, his deal “expires on December 31st, but has a two-year extension clause in favor of the club.”

Kaku was reportedly “verbally” notified of the contract extension and not “in a legal manner.” The player could possibly be a free agent, able to sign with Xolos. In the event of a lawsuit, his representation “is confident that FIFA would agree with him.”

There’s a long and complicated history with Major League Soccer and expansion clauses, with a few players testing their limits with varied success. This story appears far from over. January could be a very interesting month, with all sorts of twists and turns. Stay tuned.

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The owner speaks! Dietrich Mateschitz had an interview with Austrian outlet Laola1, discussing coronavirus, Formula 1, and even a little soccer. As for the pandemic, he claims the company didn’t sustain any “real damage” and there was “no difference to previous years in terms of demand.”

Interestingly enough, he reveals that Red Bull’s Austrian club does not exist to advance in Europe’s premier continental competition. “It is not up to Salzburg to go far in the Champions League,” said the 76-year-old. “We have to qualify, yes, but if we manage to finish third in the group with the youngest team in the entire Champions League, that’s good, so we can play in the Europa League and try to get as far as possible there.”

As for the new boys in Brazil, the academy at Bragantino is an upgrade over the existing outlet in São Paulo. Now that there’s an entrant in the top division, the organization can “get all the talents [they] want there.” The opportunity to compete in Série A motivates players, which is likely doubled by the possibility of a future move to Europe.

Mateschitz didn’t mention anything about New York. I’m sure that was an accident.

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Everyone wants to learn more about Caden Clark. He was a bright spot for American soccer amidst a dreary season interrupted by the global pandemic. The young Red Bull hit the interview circuit last week, talking to American Soccer Now and Transfermarkt.

Speaking with Brian Sciaretta, Clark shared the thought process behind signing with the Red Bulls over the Philadelphia Union. “It was neck and neck,” said the 17-year-old. “They just had too many kids. With too many kids coming it is not easy breaking through at Philly. For me, I just wanted to be somewhere where they could really focus on a couple of youth players and give them opportunities.”

According to his interview with Transfermarkt, New York contacted Clark after he spent time with the sister club. “They contacted me after I had gone to Germany to visit RB Leipzig,” he told Manuel Veth. “Sean McCafferty, my coach at Barça academy, was now at [the] New York Red Bulls and helped guide me to the club. Overall, [the] Red Bulls have given me countless opportunities to show my soccer ability.”

It’s going to be an exciting 2021, especially if Clark is given a greater role in the attack.

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Barnsley is back and flying up the table. Once threatened with a sure relegation, the club is now in 13th place and eyeing an easily attainable spot in the promotion playoffs. That’s not to say Gerhard Struber was asleep at the wheel before he left for MLS. One of his former players was complimentary of the Austrian’s lasting changes.

“Gerhard, though, did a good job and after the first lockdown we came back and [were] able to play the way he wanted,” said midfielder Alex Mowatt. “One thing he brought in was training on the day of a game. This involved coming into training at 10 a.m. on the day we had a 3 p.m. kick-off to work on set-pieces, long throws, and stuff – and the lads bought into it.”

New Barnsley manager Valérien Ismaël has continued this practice with the intention of getting players out of bed early and focused on the match. Struber has a lot of ideas and appears to be a motivator in the vein of Jesse Marsch. When the Red Bulls lose next season, it won’t be due to a lack of focus or preparation.

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On that same note, Total Football Analysis did a full tactical breakdown of Gerhard Struber. Writer David Seymour endeavored to show “how the 43-year-old Austrian has already sought to instate [his principles and tactics] throughout the Red Bulls’ play.” The vertical attacking, high press defending system is well-known, but the unique wrinkles and complexities are worth exploring.

Struber’s wide play comes from either full-backs or wing-backs, which “gives freedom to the centre-forwards to drift into wide areas and engage in quick passing sequences,” which somewhat aligns with striker Tom Barlow. Individual players on the back-line are “pretty aggressive” when challenging attackers, due to the compact nature of the formation. The key player in the squad is a pivot midfielder providing defensive cover and serving as the first passing option during the build-up.

I’ll stop the bland summary because the whole article should be consumed, celebrated, and referenced in the future by Red Bulls fans. The team has a plan and a defined style of play, with a devout manager who will live and die by his system. For a real sliding doors moment, consider Watford recently firing Vladimir Ivić. The runner-up for that position was Struber, whose “expansive style” was eschewed for “the Serb’s pragmatism.”

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Here’s a story that was submitted to the Round-Up by Little Austin of Winscombe.

Following the end of FC Cincinnati’s 2020 season, beloved former Red Bull Hassan Ndam saw his contract option declined. While the towering center back faces an uncertain future, he was able to make a trip to his hometown in Cameroon. Like everyone returning to the old stomping ground, the 22-year-old did the regular tour, seeing family members and… posing with a mural painted in his honor.

Ndam was kind enough to explain the meaning of “No Milick,” sharing the mantra of “no fear, no regrets, no negativity, [and] trying to be successful in all the ways!” This appears to be his second mural in Cameroon. The first features the player in a Red Bulls jersey, forever projecting a beautiful alternate universe in which many wish to inhabit. A better view of the art can be seen in the “No Milick” music video by Statois d’afrik.

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What happened to the starting goalkeeper from the New York Red Bulls U-23’s NPSL Championship season? I’m glad you asked. That player, Michael Lansing, has been doing the whole “Scandinavia thing” that all of your cool friends do after college while you were stuck making minimum wage as a temporary data entry clerk.

Since graduating from Bucknell University, the Randolph, New Jersey native played for Vejle, Aalborg, and AC Horsens in Denmark. Now he’s making the jump to Norway, having recently signed with Aalesunds FK on a three-year contract in advance of the upcoming 2021 season. The Tangotrøyene (Tangoshirts) were relegated from the Eliteserien and will compete in the 1. divisjon.

Enjoy the fishing, Michael.

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The fallout from the recent Champions League match between İstanbul Başakşehir and Paris Saint-Germain – tangentially involving Fredrik Gulbrandsen arguing on behalf of his teammate – has generated discussion in all corners of the globe. Former Red Bull Muhamed Keita sadly empathizes, claiming exposure to racism while playing in Norway. He shared his opinion on the situation with NRK, believing the response of governing bodies “will show the way forward for everything.”

“[Claiming language confusion] makes the situation worse,” said the 30-year-old. “That’s the dumbest excuse. It’s not okay to talk like that. It is unfortunate that it comes from a fourth referee, but now we got a clear picture that it happens on the inner court as well. Why say black or white? Why separate people by skin color?”

Keita played for the Red Bulls from July of 2017 through February of 2018. Following his time at the club, he made a brief return to Norway for a third spell with Strømsgodset. Most recently, the native of the Gambia was with Ohod Al-Medina of the second-tier Saudi First Division. However, his short-term contract appears to have not been renewed.

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The Anderlecht fan base wants, nay, demands more Kemar Lawrence. The left back impressed in his four appearances this season but mostly has been kept out of the squad since November. According to manager Vincent Kompany, a hamstring issue is to blame. The club is being “very careful with the player” after he missed almost a year of training due to the COVID-19 pandemic and personal matters.

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Staying in Belgium, Cercle Brugge is growing under the leadership of sporting director Paul Mitchell. The former technical director for Red Bull is focused on “strengthening ties” with parent club AS Monaco, providing talented players with an additional step in the development chain. Synergy is the name of the game, an organizational ethos increasing in global frequency as the sport modernizes.

“I would say that our project, my project, that of AS Monaco, is to have a clear strategy and a synergy between Cercle Brugge and AS Monaco,” Mitchell told CodeSport Monaco. “Our strategy is to have objectives aligned between the two clubs. You have to find the right formula, the right mix. I was talking about style of play, so it is the case, but you also have to find the right environment, the right formula.”

Obviously, Mitchell has oodles of experience with synergy and umbrella ownership following his time at Red Bull. As discussed in a previous Round-Up, he is still aided by former New York defender Damien Perrinelle. The Frenchman is “in charge of monitoring Brugge players, including those on loan from AS Monaco.”

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Former Red Bulls Academy player Matthew Olosunde is doing well in England. After joining Rotherham United from Manchester United, he thrived in League One and the Championship, turning heads and garnering attention. According to Larry Henry of Soccer By Ives, Sheffield Wednesday is interested, which is nice, but current table leaders Norwich may also throw in a bid. It would be quite the roller coaster ride to go from an MLS Academy to the Premier League to League One and back to the top division in a few years.

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It’s been a rough few weeks for Victor Pálsson. First, the Darmstadt midfielder had a finger operation for a torn tendon, but also suffered from knee problems. Both issues will likely keep him out of 2. Bundesliga play through January.

More devastating is the loss of his mother, who passed at the age of 47 after a long personal battle. Pálsson memorialized her on his personal Instagram account, stating she “will always be in [his] heart.” It’s a difficult time for the 29-year-old, but he will persevere and endure.

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Former Red Bulls Academy goalkeeping coach Andrew Sparkes has climbed the ladder and is now the first-team goalkeeping coach with Premier League club Southampton. He’s made the traditional zig-zag career path required of today’s ambitious sporting professionals. The 35-year-old began his career with Swansea before finding his way to New York in 2005. After several years with the club, Salzburg retained his services. A quick return stateside was followed by stints with Swansea, Sierra Leone, and Orlando Pirates of the South African DStv Premiership.

Sparkes joined Southampton in 2019, completing the desired ascent to the top of the global game. Despite having been away from the club for over a decade, he’s been a proponent of Red Bull’s and the Red Bulls’ success. “The sharing of knowledge across all organisations was amazing,” he told the Daily Mail. “I couldn’t do that with any other teams. It was having that access to different philosophies and coaching ideas that made Red Bull so different to work for.”

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Congratulations, you potentially have a new favorite team. Markus Holgersson is one of five proposed new board members for Swedish club Helsingborgs IF, a role assumed in addition to owning and operating Råå Bryggeri (Brewery). Following relegation from the Allsvenskan to the Superettan, the club is set to undergo a massive change in leadership.

Holgersson is “happy” to be nominated for the election taking place on January 11th. “I will strengthen HIF in the local area, especially towards local clubs,” the recently retired defender told Fotbollskanalen. I’m already doing it today and running some lectures… I have some contacts with clubs. This can be deepened and refined, so that HIF can both become better at being seen and heard.”

Holgersson’s position would entail “football collaborations” and run for a term of two years. He believes the HIF needs to build an identity with academy players and acquire a spine of experienced veterans while also maintaining traditions at the 113-year institution of Swedish football. The 35-year-old was with Di Röe (the red ones) as a youth player and spent two professional tenures at the club, including a swansong during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

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One might hear “I Will Survive” blasting in the offices at Portimonense because the club is fed up and moving on from Anatole Abang. After making the heralded signing with a flashy €20 million termination clause, the Cameroonian striker never showed up in Portugal due to what is termed “bureaucratic problems.” The search has begun for a new striker, sorely needed amid a scoring drought.

Hopefully, Portimonense got a clue when Abang was reportedly spotted on trial with CSKA Sofia. He didn’t stick around with the Bulgarian club, meaning that his grand global tour continues. What will be the next country stamped on his passport? Stay tuned and keep those fingers primed and ready to delve the depths of Google search results.

BEEP-BUH BEEP BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP

What’s this? There’s some incoming breaking news on the wire.

Santa delivered what everyone wanted: an update on Abang. As expected for a player of his caliber and talent level, the Yaoundé native did not have to wait long for a berth. What’s the new team? It’s Keşlə Futbol Klubu of the Azerbaijan Premier League.

Abang joins the club as a free agent, having most recently played with Sheriff Tiraspol in the Moldovan National Division. Keşla, or Keshla, is in dire need of help. The club, based in a town of 16,000 people, is at the bottom of the table with 13 points from 13 matches, a sharp decline after last season’s third place finish.

I’m not sure what network covers the Azerbaijan Premier League, but thumb through your cable package and you’ll find it.

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Thankfully, Rubén Bover has recovered from COVID-19. “Personally, I’m fine, but people have had symptoms and are a little weaker,” he told El Periòdic d’Andorra. “The most important thing is that nothing serious has happened and now we can start all together again. Before the start of the season we knew that this could happen, but it would have been better if almost the whole team had gone through it now so that we could get on track for the season without stopping.”

Bover’s club, FC Andorra, was recently profiled by Forbes. Writer Henry Flynn delved into Gerard Piqué’s ownership and the upward trajectory through the Spanish footballing pyramid. Although third-tier Els Tricolors were bounced out of the Copa del Rey, optimism and excitement abounds despite a looming relegation battle.

Here’s a joke that was submitted by Sybil of South Orange.

A club located in the Pyrenees should have no trouble climbing the table.

Thank you, Sybil. People like you are the reason I continue waking up every morning..

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Do you have a story you’d like to submit to the Weekly News Bulletin? Email us at bencorkOAM@gmail.com or send a DM to @Once_A_Metro on Twitter.