The upcoming transfer window promises to be a heated session of wheeling-and-dealing. As the market has grown and developed, teams are now increasing the technology by which they evaluate and now acquire players. One such platform has become fully adopted by Major League Soccer, although the New York Red Bulls appear to already be dedicated users.
Recently, Mark J. Burns of the Sports Business Journal reported that the league signed a three-year deal with TransferRoom. Launched in 2017, the “online transfer marketplace” has been growing in prominence, allowing clubs to “conduct business in a coronavirus-affected environment.” The online platform is designed to cut out the middleman and various intermediaries, allowing for direct contact and expedited sales of players. As of 2019, subscriptions cost “between 5,000 and 15,000 euros per year.”
Tifo Football provided some background on TransferRoom. The software is described as an “online network that allows [clubs] to advertise their own recruitment requirements and list the players they’re willing to let go.” This modern technology has “taken the place of the old transfer list, which used to be faxed around in the pre-Internet days.”
The Red Bulls – as well as RB Leipzig – are early adopters of the service, appearing in multiple graphics on the TransferRoom website. Additionally, head of sport Kevin Thelwell is a fierce proponent of the software. He prominently features in a testimonial, discussing the product’s benefits.
“It’s a great opportunity to build a lot of relationships,” Thelwell said in 2019 while still at Wolverhampton. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to communicate and cooperate with lots of clubs. It’s also a good idea to share lots of ideas about how people want to work in the recruitment and talent ID space as well as maybe build some relationships for the future. There is a much greater opportunity to get some direct communication and that can only be beneficial when clubs talk directly to other football clubs.”
Red Bull has always been on the cutting edge of technology, using every possible angle to succeed in the transfer market and properly outfit the army of employees. The organization’s unique tactical demands often arouse imagery of hunting for a needle in a haystack, with some of the greatest successes being uncovered in seldom-visited scouting grounds such as the Tanzanian second division. Streamlined negotiations should, in theory, benefit the organization. A LinkedIn-style approach to dealings befits clubs already accused of being too corporate and staid in dealings.
A few months ago, Nizaar Kinsella of Goal heralded Red Bull as “the scouting kings of Europe,” claiming that other clubs are “forced to play catch-up when it comes to talent identification.” The success is largely attributed to Ralf Rangnick – the organization’s seraphic multi-hyphenate now at Lokomotiv Moscow – due to his “clear playing style” and the strength of his coaching tree. His club building involved intense work not only from himself but also from the entirety of the staff, all in service of the well-defined, signature vision. This ideally creates a feedback loop of signing the correct players, which supports the growth of the system, and leads to future archetypical additions.
“It is always to put the philosophy first,” said Vitesse sporting director and former Leipzig chief scout Johannes Spors. “This is very important and a big difference from Red Bull to other clubs. It is a key factor to a successful club: to try and innovate in every department each season.”
Perhaps other clubs under the Red Bull umbrella are attempting to emulate this growth mindset, with admittedly mixed or slower results. New York has already begun preparations for the winter window, jettisoning a few salaries and opening space on the roster. The previous season was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and bookended by the relatedly cataclysmic but cosmically meaningless change of managers. The 2021 campaign has likely not gone according to plan, amid vague discussions of a five-year plan and comments that could reasonably be inferred as promising a better future to offset the current disappointment.
Unless Red Bull is completely attempting to rebuild from scratch and has completely abandoned the corporate ethos of high performance, Thelwell and Struber cannot repeat the failures of this season, many of which could lie in the transfer market. At many clubs, a year is not considered enough time for adjustment to a new club, but the strict nature of MLS roster regulations can create an environment requiring immediate success. While some players have failed to make an impact and have gradually receded into the background, half could be classified as successful, satisfactory, or encroaching upon fitting those designations. Whether that is a high enough hit rate is a question for boardroom decision makers.
The head of sport’s responsibilities are not limited to signing players, also including “the academy, coaching, performance analysis, sport science, and recruitment.” Thelwell appears to be performing those tasks, strengthening the club’s foundation with increased and improved staff, notably in the scouting and analysis departments. Having performed a key role in Wolverhampton reaching Category One status, his experience and work at the youth level should benefit the Red Bulls for years to come.
However, the most public aspect of Thelwell’s job is the transfer market, where clubs cannot win trophies, but they can certainly lose them. To the crowd and the media, a sporting executive is only as good as his last signing, a harsh metric adjudicated by the most tenuous of weighted thumbs. The upcoming window could see an influx of similar under-the-radar signings or more attempted career revivals of former youth internationals, ignoring the increasingly louder cries and possibly need for stable veterans and in-demand talent. Whatever business is to be conducted, expect at least some part to occur in the TransferRoom.