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Is Bradley Carnell about to leave the Red Bulls for Manchester United?

Assistant coach’s ties with Ralf Rangnick could lead him to the top of the sport within weeks

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SOCCER: MAY 29 MLS - Orlando City SC at New York Red Bulls
Red Bulls assistant coach Bradley Carnell (right) advises Patryk Klimala ahead of a game earlier this year.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a somewhat abrupt turn of events predicted by few, former Red Bull global soccer chief Ralf Rangnick is now the manager of Manchester United. The English giants had conspicuously dismissed Ole Gunnar Solskjær last month, and despite understandable links to managerial A-listers such as Zinedine Zidane and Mauricio Pochettino, United went against recent type and made a sensible move for a quieter figure who has made his name in the sport less for trophies won than for projects seen through.

Rangnick will be the club’s interim head coach for the remainder of the 2021-22 season before moving into a consultancy role that will likely oversee all footballing operations for United, who have still never installed a sporting executive above the manager since the club’s iconic emperor Alex Ferguson retired almost a decade ago. He had backed away from talks over a similar role with AC Milan last year when it became clear that club chieftains including legendary captain Paolo Maldini would not allow full autonomy for the process-obsessed German, and surely Rangnick would not have taken an even higher-pressure job in Manchester without full reign. With the United squad and staff bloated and unbalanced after years of poorly-planned spending sprees, the club is now entrusting one of the game’s most thorough and counterintuitive thinkers to build on his own terms — terms that could already lead the club’s recruiting activities to unusual places such as the New York Red Bulls.

On Thursday morning, South African reporter Mark Gleeson of MTN FC stated that one of the candidates to serve on Rangnick’s staff at Old Trafford is New York assistant coach Bradley Carnell and that the 44-year-old could make the move to England as early as this month. The former South Africa international left back has been a protege of Rangnick since the two worked together at Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart in the late 90s. After the two kept in touch while Carnell pursued a series of coaching gigs in South Africa’s college and professional ranks, Rangnick arranged for Carnell to secure his UEFA coaching badges and begin work in New York on Jesse Marsch’s Red Bulls staff in 2017.

SOCCER: NOV 08 MLS - Toronto FC at New York Red Bulls
Bradley Carnell steadied the ship for the Red Bulls as interim head coach in 2020.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Carnell has now participated in four different coaching regimes since his arrival in Harrison, including one stint in late 2020 in which he was the interim head coach following the dismissal of Chris Armas. But his influence in New York has seemingly plateaued over the recently-ended season with the arrival of Gerhard Struber. The Austrian with experience outside the Red Bull orbit has brought in a distinct new staff of his own and selected 27-year-old assistant Bernd Eibler over Carnell to manage the bench during a game against Atlanta last month for which Struber had been suspended.

Last year Carnell had stated that he turned down job offers from Europe to continue his commitment to the Red Bulls. But Carnell’s efforts later that season as the interim manager (leading the team into the playoffs after a dire start to the season under Armas) earned him plaudits as well as increased attention from non-Rangnick-administered entities as well. Reports in the fall indicated that Carnell was and still could be a candidate for the managerial job at planned expansion club St Louis City, and surely the South African has made it onto provisional shortlists for some of the many current coaching vacancies at existing MLS clubs. Even if Carnell does not end up with his longtime mentor at arguably the world’s biggest club this month, his career is undoubtedly on the rise and he will have a wide choice of paths whenever he decides to leave New York.

Until recently, the idea of a respected but low-profile MLS assistant coach jumping straight to a club as prestigious as Manchester United would have been the stuff of fantasy and 15-season Football Manager saves. But with MLS’s competitive quality and ties with the global recruitment scene continuing to grow, such stories will become more common as time goes on, particularly with a club like the Red Bulls that has doubled-down on its foreign network in recent years. Gerhard Struber himself continues to be linked to desirable European jobs despite an inconsistent first full season in New York, and the club has only recently begun to recover from the abrupt departure of Jesse Marsch to join Rangnick’s entourage at Red Bull’s European teams in 2018.

Bradley Carnell’s departure is unlikely to cause such a ripple effect throughout club planning, especially with the presence of well-regarded and meticulous sporting chief Kevin Thelwell. But his departure could be a foreshadowing of the deeper personnel upheaval the Red Bulls could face in the brave new world the club and its league exists in.