The reign of Kevin Thelwell is over.
After a little over two years, the head of sport is departing the New York Red Bulls for the previously vacant director of football position at Everton. He was first named as a candidate by the Daily Mail earlier this month and was connected with a similar role at Newcastle United last October. There are reports that former New York star Tim Cahill was reportedly involved and “pivotal” in the hire.
“I’m so pleased to be joining Everton and to have the opportunity to play a part in the Club’s ambitious journey,” Thelwell told the Toffees official website. “I’m greatly looking forward to working with Frank [Lampard] and the players and to helping the Owner and Board achieve their long-term footballing objectives. The Owner, the Chairman and the CEO all presented compelling reasons for me to join this great club and I am really excited to have the opportunity to work with them all and to move Everton forward. I can’t get wait to get started.”
The Everton position is a fairly significant role in global football, with the club firmly entrenched in the Premier League and forever looking to make the leap into the elite level. Thelwell, with his extensive experience building Wolverhampton to prominence, was an appealing candidate and easily poached from the relative backwater of Major League Soccer. The ups, downs, and in-betweens of his Red Bull tenure are irrelevant to European decision-makers.
Thelwell leaves behind a complicated legacy, a series of actions that waned from the forefront to the backroom throughout the course of his tenure. He made an immediate splash by removing Chris Armas from the manager role and appointing a hot commodity in Gerhard Struber, fresh off a great escape with Barnsley. However, his transfer dealings have progressively leaned toward the future, with many additions appearing unable to provide immediate contributions. While never explicitly stated, the looming influence of Red Bull indicated the drive to establish New York as a self-sustaining conveyor belt for young prospects, matching the financial and silverware output of Salzburg and Bragantino.
Much of his behind-the-scenes toiling – involving everything from infrastructure to rebuilding the sporting and analytics department – will yield future benefits but scarcely be attributed to him, as roses are rarely given to predecessors. Thelwell was perhaps a minor victim of the current shift at Red Bull, as the footballing department searches for meaning and direction following the departure of the talismanic Ralf Rangnick. He was never able to work with Paul Mitchell and Laurence Stewart who left for AS Monaco, both cited as a reason for his initial move stateside.
The enduring memory of Thelwell will likely be the controversial loan moves thought to be born out of pandemic difficulties. The Red Bulls brought in several key players on a temporary basis during the 2021 season, seen at the time as a “try before you buy” transfer strategy. Many of the key performers would not return and, along with the departure of several other lineup stalwarts, left holes in the roster yet to be filled mere hours from Opening Day.
His move to Everton comes at a highly inopportune time for the Red Bulls, both in the immediate and long-term future. The club is still engaged in transfer dealings, as Struber criticized roster composition and lowered expectations at his first press conference of the season. The “five-year plan” is around halfway completed, with the development pipeline and new training complex in varying stages of figurative and literal construction. His marquee signings – namely Dru Yearwood and Patryk Klimala – have shown promise but are yet to hit the desired heights bestowed upon any player entering MLS via a multi-million dollar transfer fee.
New York is now forced to endure the saga of an executive search, beginning “an extensive hunt for a new Head of Sport,” with responsibilities being assumed by long-tenured front office operator Denis Hamlett. Red Bull Global has had some recent issues filling positions. The Leipzig sporting director position remains open, and global technical director was only recently filled by Mario Gómez.
Clubs are supposed to coalesce during the preseason and commence playing with some sense of identity. The Red Bulls are doing things a little differently in 2022, forced to repair the bus without dropping below 50 miles per hour. An organizational ethos preaching a structured system and plug-in replacements at all levels will be put to the test at the outpost that has long been the most resistant to ownership’s grand designs.