London may not be calling, but other cities in England certainly are.
Everton is searching for a new executive after the departure of Marcel Brands. According to Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail, the primary candidate is Steve Hitchen who most recently served as director of technical performance for Tottenham. The back-up option appears to be none other than New York Red Bulls head of sport Kevin Thelwell.
The Toffees are “in the midst of the review of their recruitment and executive operations.” Thelwell has “his admirers” at Goodison Park and “emerged as a contender.” However, Hitchen is the clubhouse favorite as the situation develops. Thelwell and the Red Bulls declined to comment on the story when approached by OaM this week.
In October, Thelwell was linked to the sporting director positon at Newcastle United, also reported by the Daily Mail. He was also connected with roles at the English FA and the Premier League. For now, the 48-year-old remains in Major League Soccer, but two major pings on the rumor mill radar in less than six months are difficult to ignore.
Thelwell joined the Red Bulls as head of sport in February of 2020 following a long, career-defining tenure at Wolverhampton. After the pandemic break, he made two immediate moves by dismissing Chris Armas and appointing Gerhard Struber to the manager position. Since those heady first months, the executive has remained largely in the background, focused on shifting the club’s infrastructure and streamlining the development pathway to better fit ownership’s desires.
Thelwell has the résumé to interest an upper-mid-table Premier League outfit or those with the desires to inhabit the standing. He helped the Wolverhampton academy reach the coveted Category One status and climbed the corporate ladder in lockstep with the club’s ascent, fueled by shrewd transfer dealings. A position with Red Bull adds an intriguing wrinkle of experience as the billionaire class increasingly looks to broaden sporting reach, with multi-team ownership no longer eliciting the gasps or pearl-clutching of years past.
As for the Red Bulls, Everton calls at an inopportune time in the near and far, with the transfer window open for a few months and moves still being made. The 2022 season would be the midpoint of a hypothesized five-year plan, after which the club would ideally be in the self-sustaining position to regularly compete for titles and develop young players akin to sisters Bragantino and Salzburg. Thelwell’s departure, at this juncture or in the immediate future, would necessitate the arduous process of an executive job search, with all associated stops, starts, delays, and decisions made by interims. Leipzig, for example, is still without a sporting director, and ownership only recently filled the long-vacant global technical director role.
Industry demand and an ever-churning rumor mill go part and parcel with the hiring of well-regarded sporting personnel possessing international pedigree. As the market determines value, Thelwell being in reported discussion for top positions indicates some level of approval for his work, at least with Wolverhampton. Interest from Newcastle and Everton does little to quell the questions surrounding his future-oriented transfer dealings for the Red Bulls, the most public-facing and easily scrutinized aspects of his tenure.
With each passing rumor, the likelihood that Thelwell departs before harvesting the fruits of his long-term efforts appears to increase. Two years is an eternity in the executive class where seat-swapping is free from judgment. Everton will probably look elsewhere, having reportedly determined another candidate the top pick. The next club to come calling may come to a different conclusion.