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Permanent distancing underway for New York and Red Bull Global?

The ripple effect from the departure of Paul Mitchell and the expected exit of Ralf Rangnick on the situation in Harrison

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RB Leipzig v Sport-Club Freiburg - Bundesliga
Red Bull Global Soccer sporting chief Ralf Rangnick (front, right) and CEO Oliver Mintzlaff (front, center) watching a closed-doors Bundesliga match last month
Photo by Jan Woitas/Pool via Getty Images

A massive leadership change appears to be taking place within Red Bull’s global soccer corporation after veteran German coach Ralf Rangnick’s nearly decade-long project put the organization at the cutting edge of the sport.

Amidst what has become months of speculation around Rangnick’s potential move to AC Milan, it was made official on Wednesday that French giants AS Monaco had hired Paul Mitchell, the English scout who quickly emerged as Rangnick’s chief recruiter after joining the organization from Tottenham Hotspur in early 2018.

During his short time in the organization, Mitchell was a crucial link as RB Leipzig continued their practice of mining young talent shut out from the high priced squads of the Premier League such as Everton’s Ademola Lookman and Arsenal’s Emile Smith-Rowe. It had been announced last year after an overhaul of the RB Bragantino club in Brazil that Mitchell (under the supervision of Rangnick) would be taking on an increased role monitoring both that club as well as the increasingly-listless New York Red Bulls club in the years to come. As Mitchell’s profile grew, so did speculation that he was an heir apparent to Rangnick’s position overseeing the whole operation as Red Bull sought to keep his expertise and professional network in-house.

But then last month reports emerged that Rangnick’s position in this arrangement was being taken over by Oliver Mintzlaff, the RB Leipzig CEO and de facto business director of the global Red Bull soccer operation. Paired with the increased speculation about both Rangnick and Mitchell’s moves elsewhere, it was apparent that any plans for the two to consolidate their power within Red Bull had been shelved.

Earlier this year New York Red Bulls announced the hiring of Wolverhampton Wanderers sporting director Kevin Thelwell in a new position entitled “head of sport” after a quietly disastrous 2019 season in which the team saw a sharp decline in league position as well as a mangling of a once tightly-engineered depth chart in the first full year under head coach Chris Armas. Thelwell, who left a well-financed Wolves team emerging into Premier League titans, had remarked on how enticing the chance to work with Mitchell (as well as accomplished Scottish scout Laurence Stewart, who will be joining Mitchell in Monaco) was in his decision to move to Red Bull and Major League Soccer. While the thought of Thelwell leaving New York so quickly - either voluntarily or forced out by possible new Red Bull leadership - is unlikely, surely his transition into the role will be made more difficult by the loss of the familiar faces who built the organization’s unique ethos.

Bolton Wanderers v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship
Kevin Thelwell (left) is the centerpiece of a new technical staff in New York as Red Bull’s European leadership transitions
Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

However, a look at the timeline of the RBNY technical operation before Thelwell’s hire implies a club that had already been preparing for a new era under less oversight from the European offices. Following a visit to New York last summer in which he observed “a vacuum of sporting expertise” Rangnick along with Mitchell began a conspicuous overhaul of the backroom staff in New York not seen since the installation of Jesse Marsch and his staff in early 2015.

English data/video analyst Natasha Patel was hired from Southampton (one of Mitchell’s former clubs) in October, followed by new head scout Paul Fernie, a fellow Briton who had been working in Germany for SV Wehen Wiesbaden. The hiring of Thelwell as the club’s new chief sporting executive (above sporting director Hamlett) shortly before the covid-19 lockdown cemented a British invasion that had already began in the New York first team squad with the signing of Mandela Egbo, an English fullback playing in Germany who surely came from the portfolio compiled by Fernie and Mitchell.

This pattern has continued in the trickle of transfer rumors that have emerged during the suspension of play, with RBNY linked with young English talents crowded out of Premier League action such as West Ham reserve winger Veron Parkes and former Newcastle loan exile Ivan Toney. While the suspension of play during its honeymoon period has dampened the visibility of this new Harrison backroom’s activity (likely to the organization’s pleasure) it is already putting its stamp on the club’s technical strategy whether the executives from Europe leave or not.

The previous time RBNY faced a leadership transition, outgoing manager Jesse Marsch used an eleventh-hour visit from Oliver Mintzlaff to convince Red Bull to leave behind only a skeletal staff headed by his assistants Hamlett and Armas so he could exit mid-season to take on a role with Rangnick at RB Leipzig. It appears through their attention to New York over the last several months that Ralf Rangnick and Paul Mitchell have been slightly more considerate as they head for their exits.