So it turns out the Head of Sport role still exists at New York Red Bulls.
After a three-month period where the club operated without a lead sporting executive following the departure of Kevin Thelwell to Everton, New York announced the hiring of former RB Leipzig and FC Schalke sporting chief Jochen Schneider to the role on Friday morning. Schneider will assume Thelwell’s role plotting the club’s broader sporting objectives while sporting director Denis Hamlett will continue to handle the day-to-day operations of the first team and Gerhard Struber remains as head coach.
Schneider arrives in New York with extensive experience in the European game, including brushing shoulders with Struber and being a long-term friend and colleague of former Red Bull Global emperor Ralf Rangnick. Schneider first became professionally acquainted with Rangnick while working in the front office of the VfB Stuttgart operation where Rangnick was head coach in the late 90s.
Described as the “shadow man of the successes” at the Red Bull setup under Rangnick over the last decade, Schneider joined the Red Bull organization in September of 2015, responsible for coordinating the various clubs under the umbrella. The Ralf Rangnick confidant was tasked with “better linking locations together to continue the sustained way,” which sounds like a fascinating job that was ultimately abandoned for the more prestigious head of sport role at Leipzig. As for what was likely his most direct involvement with New York, he served as a contact for current interim Bradley Carnell, helping his former Stuttgart player to secure a role in the organization.
Schneider’s most recent role outside of the Red Bull orbit did not go as smoothly. Schneider oversaw the eventual relegation of Bundesliga quasi-giants FC Schalke 04 in 2021, after an ambitious transfer window in which the club signed big names such as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Shkodran Mustafi only to cycle through five different managers after a poor start under former Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner.
But Schneider now returns to an old stomping ground where his tendencies will likely be a better fit. The hiring of Schneider and continued existence of the Head of Sport role implies that Red Bull is still conscious of the lessons learned from the rudderless era that fell upon New York after Jesse Marsch’s abrupt exit in 2018. The first man to hold the role, former Wolverhampton Wanderers chief Kevin Thelwell, oversaw a massive overhaul of the club in the last two years, including the hiring of a new manager in Struber, an extensive revamp of the playing squad, a reorganization of the academy and reserves chain, and the planning of a new training facility in Morristown.
With much of the repair work already handled, Schneider’s task will be to build on the platforms set by Thelwell to establish New York as a consistent talent developer and trophy winner. The risk of New York becoming detached from the ownership’s global sporting apparatus and turning into a run-of-the-mill MLS club punching in the dark as they were in post-Marsch malaise of 2019 is being avoided.
With Hamlett remaining to advise on the local landscape and navigate the nuts and bolts of MLS regulations, Schneider will likely focus on continuing Thelwell’s big picture work with the academy and training infrastructure. In the immediate short term, Schneider will help plot the club’s activity in the upcoming summer transfer window. Gerhard Struber said on Thursday that he wished to keep his current squad together and would “fight to keep every single player” who has played a role in the team’s strong start to 2022. But with positions such a left back and center forward likely requiring reinforcement soon, Schneider may get a chance to flex his professional muscles rather soon.