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Gerhard Struber’s history of “emotional explosion” and why the Red Bulls should hope it continues

The sprint to join players in celebration over the weekend was not a new move for the exuberant manager

MLS: CF Montreal at New York Red Bulls
Gerhard Struber was in the middle of things as his team celebrated a crucial late win over Montreal.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

“I think it’s sometimes the moment for an emotional explosion, and today, yes.”

Though it earned him a yellow card, New York Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber made no apologies for his decision to sprint downfield and celebrate Fábio’s stoppage time winner over CF Montréal on Saturday night. Struber and assistant Bernd Eibler excitedly joined the scrum in front of the South Ward to embrace the Brazilian forward and place an exclamation point on the latest cathartic moment for this once-written off team.

“You need an outstanding attitude to win games, and always a good tactical plan. But I think today was a good mix between the tactical plan and also about the X-factor in our team. In the end, we have a celebration, of course. I think we live every day with 120 percent (effort), and for success in the end, when we realize that, I felt I had to celebrate together with my boys together in this moment.”

In this site’s recap of Saturday’s win 1-0 over Montréal, Struber’s exuberance on Saturday night was compared to then-Porto manager José Mourinho’s iconic sprinting celebration of Costinha’s goal (on a spilled rebound from MetroStars great Tim Howard) to eliminate Manchester United from the 2004 UEFA Champions League knockouts.

But, as reminded by OaM’s associate editor and resident archivist Ross Haley later on, the analogy was a gratuitous one that could have been skipped entirely. Indeed, one of the more recent managers to have made physically joining his players’ goal celebrations part of his motivational repertoire is...Gerhard Struber himself

At the close of Barnsley’s 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest during their escape from the relegation zone under Struber in 2020, the Austrian is seen sprinting not just along the sideline but directly into the middle of pitch to join his team after a dramatic goal. He leaps into the arms of goalscorer Patrick Schmidt, who had just scrambled home a stoppage time winner off a scramble in the penalty area not dissimilar to Fabio’s goal on Saturday.

Just three days later, as Barnsley inched closer to their unlikely survival with a 2-1 win over Brentford, Struber again joined the late celebration huddle (seen here at the 1:55 mark) following Clarke Odour’s winner.

The jury is still out on Gerhard Struber’s work in New York. With two regular season games left this week, his Red Bulls team needs at least one victory to ensure what has been a valiant recovery from rough summer form ends with a playoff berth rather than an ignominious mid-table ticket to the memory hole. But in his first season in Major League Soccer, the 44-year-old has made a distinct personal impression even with the lingering effects of the covid-19 pandemic restricting much of the personal interaction that gives sport its life.

While proficient in English, the Austrian’s sometimes curious vocabulary choices and German-originated idioms have stood out in fan discourse around the team. Whether heavily enunciating his emphasis on “identity”, praising his team as “sharp like a knife” after positive performances, or conceding that a negative result was “not so sexy” and something the team needs to “get from our chest” and forget, Struber has been admirably extroverted in a non-native tongue in a way that has largely endeared him to New York fans.

A perhaps more controversial but distinct character trait developed by Struber this season has been his promotion of cans of Red Bull energy drink during press conferences. Usually in celebration of a win and with a sly grin and chuckle towards the camera, Struber has promoted the yellow flavor as his personal favorite and directly credited Red Bull for the team’s stamina in games and in recovery during the week. As not only the Austrian-owned club’s first Austrian manager but a long-term product of Red Bull’s flagship football operation in Salzburg, Struber appears to have made a conscious choice to lean into his perceived company man status with comic effect rather than shy away from it.

MLS: CF Montreal at New York Red Bulls
Struber earned a yellow card from referee Chris Penso for his exuberance on Saturday night.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Struber’s personality is central to his relationship with not just fans and the press but his own squad. Red Bulls sporting chief Kevin Thelwell told OaM last month that Struber is seen as “young at heart” by the club and that his ability to motivate and connect with developing players in need of confidence was a key factor in his hiring last year. During his stint with Barnsley, Struber acknowledged that he was something “like a dad” with his young team playing in the unfamiliar circumstances of the pandemic lockdown.

New York captain Sean Davis said following the team’s victory over Cincinnati last month that this Red Bulls squad “wants to run through a wall for that guy” and that Struber’s personal approach has helped a young team at the start of a club transition mature over the course of an often-challenging 2021 campaign. At the end of his triumphant relegation escape with Barnsley last year, Struber’s emotions went viral as thousands watched the manager breaking into tears of happiness while describing the team’s eleventh-hour survival. While Struber’s chance to earn a similar moment through obtaining a playoff berth still hangs in the balance with this week’s matches against Atlanta and Nashville, he’s already left a somewhat rich personal legacy on the hot seat in Harrison.