Despite a constant push for increased synergy between the various Red Bull clubs, the gradual embrace appears to have slowed over the last year due to personnel issues exacerbated by an alleged “coronavirus hiring freeze.” Since the departures of head of international relations and scouting Ralf Rangnick, technical director Paul Mitchell, and head of scouting Laurence Stewart, the corporate structure of the global football department is a bit thin, especially after head of sport Kevin Thelwell cited “gaining additional experience” with the trio as a reason for moving stateside.
However, the company appears to be taking steps to fill at least one position that would directly oversee New York.
According to Bild, Red Bull continues to look for a “new head of sport for its international unit for the clubs in Leipzig, New York, and Brazil.” Managing director Oliver Mintzlaff is “planning for the future” and hopes to fill the position by the summer. The role was previously held by Rangnick from July of 2019 through July of 2020.
This hiring would be the latest in a series of moves to “strengthen the clubs and network them even better,” particularly in regards to “recruitment and management planning strategy.” Recently, former Leipzig sports coordinator Frank Aehlig was brought back into the fold. The head of the licensed player department at FC Köln is set to take over as technical director “for the soccer division” on July 1st, 2021.
Ownership reportedly made inquiries into the availability of Fredi Bobic, currently the sporting director at Eintracht Frankfurt and a “top candidate” for the manager position at Hertha Berlin. The former striker regularly “exchanges ideas” with Mintzlaff and enjoys “the USA, especially New York.” However, he is uninterested in the role, forcing Red Bull to pursue other options.
Last summer, Leeds United director of football Victor Orta was connected to the organization, a move that never materialized past the newspaper and rumor mill stage. RB Live speculates that Lazio sporting director Igli Tare could be a candidate for the position. The 47-year-old Albanian has been with the Italian club since 2005 as a player and member of the staff. He was also reportedly targeted for the same role with Leipzig, demonstrating the difficulty in reporting on the seemingly vague Red Bull corporate structure.
There is quite a bit of mystery baked into the oversight and responsibilities of the various technical and scouting designations, leading outsiders to attempt to fill the gaps in an attempt to determine under whose purview New York falls. Global positions are a difficult beast, requiring a high level of competency to balance the differing responsibilities of the United States and Brazil but not possessing the prestige of a similar role at the club level. With onboarding of local experts at Bragantino and an experienced brain trust in MLS, a reasonable assumption was that both were operating more as fiefdoms of their own, still exhibiting the Red Bull ethos but adapting in order to thrive on a local level.
When Bragantino fired Felipe Conceição in August, he shared his belief the club was floundering due to lack of support and a departure from the heralded up-tempo tactics. “The first phase of the Paulista was very good, except during the pandemic the entire international Red Bull technical staff left and Ralf [Rangnick] asked for the termination,” said the former manager. “From that, I felt that the path was no longer that of having a young team, to reformulate, I no longer had the support to make some movements that a coach needs to implement a philosophy… There were visits before the pandemic, video meetings. You can manage the process even from a distance… After they left, the contact became more here in Brazil.”
In the time since Jesse Marsch left New York for an assistant role with Salzburg, the club took steps both tactically and in the transfer market that could be bluntly described as “not Red Bull.” While ownership does allow for individual flair at the local level, the overreliance on possession soccer and a lack of high-paced play ran counter to the established style that delivered Supporters’ Shields in 2015 and 2018. The scouting of international players also left a lot to be desired, although many of those signings occurred under the previous well-regarded global regime.
The 2020 season was a transition year, with the introduction of new leadership in the front office. As the head of sport and head of scouting attempt to right the ship at the club level, additional assistance will be provided by heralded professionals sharing those same job titles affixed with an international spin. The only difference is their responsibilities involve making sure New York is pointed squarely in the direction of Europe.
While no corporate or sporting enterprise is ever truly opaque, Red Bull’s is significantly more ambiguous than those of MLS counterparts. The often indirectly described global directives are parsed together from various reports and interviews usually run through haphazard translation software, only to be dismissed by those who believe synergy detracts from a club’s individual pursuits. Increased oversight is coming with the goal of pushing increased collaboration through scouting and planning. The figures occupying these positions will likely remain in the shadows, only becoming notable upon their departures, but to ignore and remain ignorant of their existence leads to an incomplete understanding of what exactly is happening in New York.