As summer continues, the focus in MLS shifts to the opening of the secondary transfer window. Plenty of players arrive and a few leave, with FC Dallas’ Mauro Diaz the latest player to depart. But this time there has been a different kind of MLS export: some of the league’s managers.
Last month it was Patrick Vieira leaving New York City FC for Ligue 1 side OGC Nice. Now it appears that Vieira’s Hudson River rival, the New York Red Bulls’ Jesse Marsch, could be following him across the pond. Marsch’s departure from the Red Bulls was confirmed Friday and various reports have him in negotiations with sister club RB Leipzig to take on an unspecified role.
The interest in Marsch from a Bundesliga side is flattering on a level that in some respects eclipses Vieira’s move. Vieira has the benefit of being a former player of immense renown, with the Frenchman carrying with him the kind of reputation that immediately opens doors.
Vieira has served a lengthy apprenticeship — first taking charge of Manchester City’s reserve team and later spending parts of three seasons with NYCFC — but his name alone generates interest, even beyond the home country to which he has now returned.
Marsch’s modest playing career — spent entirely in MLS and consisting of just two appearances with the U.S. men’s national team — affords him no favors when it comes to climbing the international coaching ladder. He’s every bit a product of the domestic system, having started out as an assistant for the U.S. under Bob Bradley, and later managing the Montreal Impact and finally the Red Bulls.
The fact that Leipzig feel Marsch is ready for the next step speaks to the fact that he’s well regarded within the Red Bull GmbH hierarchy. Given the skepticism that surrounds American soccer in general and U.S. coaches in particular — only a handful have so much as managed a professional side in Europe — that is no small feat.
Just how highly regarded Marsch is to his bosses in Europe is still unknown at this point given that his future role hasn’t been revealed and, let’s face it, the managerial situation at Leipzig registers at least 11 on the awkward meter.
Leipzig’s managerial post is vacant at the moment, but not in the way that Nice’s was when the club started pursuing Vieira. Die Roten Bullen may not have a manager for this season, but they do have Julian Nagelsmann lined up for the 2019-20 campaign once he finishes his duties with fellow Bundesliga side Hoffenheim. So basically Leipzig need someone to keep the managerial seat warm for 12 months until the guy they really like is free of his contractual obligations.
If that sounds like a sub-optimal way of getting a coaching gig in Europe, it is.
If Marsch is to assume the managerial post at Leipzig on a caretaker basis for one season, he’ll be a lame duck the moment he arrives. Granted, if the team does well under his stewardship, the amount of street cred Marsch would earn would be enormous — and more than his mentor Bradley had when he began trying to land coaching gigs in Europe following his stint with Egypt’s national team — but walking into a room full of players who know you won’t be around for the long haul is not a recipe for success.
The more logical approach would be for Leipzig’s sporting director, Ralf Rangnick, to take over the managerial reins with Marsch by his side.
Rangnick has extensive managerial experience, including a previous stint with Leipzig. This way, Rangnick and the rest of the Red Bull hierarchy can heap as much responsibility on Marsch as they feel comfortable with while allowing him to acclimatize himself with the broader soccer culture of the country. The players could get used to Marsch and vice versa, while shielding him from the expectations attached to a club that expect to contend for a Champions League place this season. That puts Red Bull in the position to promote from within — be it with Leipzig or Red Bull Salzburg — at a later date.
The question of course is: Would Marsch be willing to go along with such an approach after being the man in charge for five seasons already? That would depend on the fine details he works out with Red Bull, but for a man intent on testing himself in Europe, it would likely increase his chances of success without going all in on the first hand.
Marsch has waited his entire career for the chance to prove himself overseas. Taking the next step — as opposed to a giant leap — may ensure that he stays there for the long term.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.