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Struber, Simão emerge as earliest links to Red Bulls coaching position

Diverse records of well-traveled Austrian and Portuguese managers provide hints to what type of coach head of sport Kevin Thelwell is looking for

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Barnsley v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship
Austrian manager Gerhard Struber, seen here managing Barnsley FC, has been linked to the New York Red Bulls job
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

A report from U.K.-based freelance journalist Pete O’Rourke claims that New York Red Bulls are preparing an approach for Austrian manager Gerhard Struber, currently in charge of English second division club Barnsley.

Though the reports by O’Rourke as well as local Barnsley reporter Doug O’Kane indicate that the situation (should it exist) is still in the early stages and Struber is still present and working at the Football League Championship club, it marks one of the first links seen thus far as New York seeks a new head coach after dismissing Chris Armas earlier this month.

The 43-year-old Struber has been in charge of the Yorkshire side since last year, but is more notable for a long association with Red Bull’s global soccer network that firmly fits him in the “some guy from Germany or Austria” section of our managerial candidate report from earlier this week. After retirement from a quiet playing career on the fringes of the Austrian professional scene, Struber went on to become a fixture in the coaching structure at the original synergy club, Red Bull Salzburg.

After spending a decade on-and-off handling teams in the Red Bull academy (as well as his hometown amateur side SV Kuchl) while working as an insurance salesman, in 2017 Struber full committed to coaching as he took control of FC Liefering, Salzburg’s vaunted farm team in the Austrian second division. After a two season stint in which he largely shared control of the team with Janusz Góra, Struber amicably resigned from the Liefering position in late 2018. Soon after, Struber embarked on a short but successful spell in charge of first division side AC Wolfsberger, in which he lead the minnows to impressive Europa League results against Roma (1-1 draw) and Borussia Monchengladbach (4-0 victory) before being headhunted yet again in late 2019.

On the back of this success Struber jumped not to a Champions League powerhouse but small-town English club Barnsley FC. The Football League Championship side (recently taken over by Chinese-American businessman Chien Lee and famed baseball executive Billy Beane) reportedly paid a seven-digit transfer fee to acquire Struber’s services. At the time of his hiring in November Barnsley were at the bottom of the Championship having won only one game, but by the time league play wrapped up last month the club had narrowly avoided relegation.

Struber is very much a student of the Red Bull tactical philosophy of intense off-ball pressing and quick vertical passing when in possession. Struber’s successful turnaround and escape with Barnsley came out of a high-octane 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield as well as a 3-4-1-2 formation very similar to the 3-5-2 that Kevin Thelwell made his name writing about in the early portion of his career.

In addition, a source has revealed to OaM that Portuguese manager Jorge Simão is a potential candidate for the Red Bulls position. The 44-year-old Simão, who most recently managed Saudi Arabian side Al-Fayha, is a veteran of the Portuguese domestic scene, having moved up the ladder of the country’s amateur leagues after obtaining coaching badges and sports science degrees during a quiet playing career. The high point of Simão’s career thus far is managing first division clubs Braga and Boavista in successive seasons, though both jobs ended with his dismissal for inadequate results.

Jorge Simão, seen managing Boavista in 2018
Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images

Like many highly-credentialed Portuguese coaches, Simão speaks fluent English and was linked to Middlesbrough last year. Indeed Thelwell’s final managerial hire at Wolverhampton Wanderers was the Portuguese Nuno Espírito Santo - although Santo’s status as a client of superagent Jorge Mendes was perhaps the dominant factor in that arrangement, and Simão is not a Mendes client.

Even if neither Struber or Simão become Red Bulls manager, their mutual status as former part-timers who worked their way up from the bottom of the coaching business on the basis of expertise and results (as opposed to using a high-profile playing career to start near the top) provides a strong hint in to what sort of personality is being sought by Kevin Thelwell, himself a self-made coaching luminary and business school graduate who in his early 20s was one of the youngest people ever to obtain a UEFA pro license.

Thelwell does not appear to be looking for a celebrity to attract the attention of agents, journalists, and fair weather fans. With names like Struber and Simão as the earliest hints towards the next Red Bulls manager, he appears to want one of the coaching profession’s many quiet technicians who show a willingness to carry out a precise plan with whatever personnel and setting you give them, whether it be well-heeled pros in Yorkshire, construction workers in Austria, or Brazilian expats in Saudi Arabia.