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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

January 3, 2013
Red Bulls apparent in-fighting doesn't help at all

Andy Roxburgh wants an American or someone who is familiar with MLS to coach the team.
Andy Roxburgh wants an American or someone who is familiar with MLS to coach the team.
Photo by Michael Lewis
By Michael Lewis

Even before Major League Soccer kicks off its 18th season in two months, the Red Bulls apparently have encountered their first opponent and obstacle -- themselves.

It's about who should coach the team.

According to sources, the three most important men in the decision-making process are not in agreement as to who they want to coach the team.

On one side is Frenchman Gerard Houllier, the Red Bulls head of global soccer, who has been pushing for former Scotland international Gary McAllister as coach. McAllister played for Houllier at Liverpool and replaced him as Aston Villa coach when the Frenchman had some heart problems.

On the other side are general manager and Frenchman Jerome de Bontin and sporting director and Scotsman Andy Roxburgh, who have backed an American or someone who is familiar with the league, the salary cap and the sometimes complicated rules and regulations.

"There is apparently so much in-fighting already," said one source within the league. "Not a great start. They need the right players to make this happen and a leader."

In his first interview with the team media on Nov. 20, Roxburgh said he wanted to name a coach to succeed Hans Backe by the beginning of the new year.

"We need him to be here by January before we start the season," he said at the time.

Well, it's three days into January and there has been no official coaching announcement.

On Wednesday, reported that the Red Bulls had picked McAllister. reported that McAllister had not been offered the position.

When the Red Bulls had their last major shake-up, after the 2009 season, Norwegian Erik Soler was named sporting director and general manager and Backe, a Swede, was selected as coach. Backe was introduced to the media only days prior to the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.

Their European backgrounds and steadfast ways did not help. They certainly were not patient with and did not respect American players. While the team grabbed defender Tim Ream and goalkeeper Ryan Meara in the MLS SuperDraft, the Red Bulls missed out on developing younger U.S. talent. Like it or not, but the Red Bulls have forged a reputation as where young Americans' hopes die.

Moreover, the bottom line was that the team did not get out of the conference semifinals for three consecutive years under their watch, despite boasting a league-topping payroll of $16.5 million in 2012.

So, here we are back at square one, with no coach, which should have been appointed weeks ago (Backe was told his contract would not be extended on Nov. 9, a day after the Red Bulls' playoff elimination).

The MLS combine is set for southern Florida next week with the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis two weeks from today.

While the Red Bulls plan to have representatives at the combine, having a coach there to evaluate the talent should be mandatory.

Just as importantly, decisions on players -- coming and going -- have been made without a coach to give his opinion. Do the new acquisitions such as Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave fit in with the new coach's plans and playing style? Would he want someone else in those roles?

There is precedent for getting late starts and being successful --the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001. They hired Frank Yallop only two days prior to the draft. Yallop played for the Canadian National League and understood the league (he played with the Tampa Bay Mutiny and was an assistant with TB and D.C. United) only two days prior to the draft. Yallop went on to direct the Quakes to the 2001 and 2003 MLS Cup titles.

The Red Bulls, however, are a different animal because of their strong European ties.

Will history repeat itself with the club in 2013 and beyond?

Can the Red Bulls overcome this unneeded delay?

This much is known: every day there is no coach is another day where so much can be accomplished, such as building the team and planning for the season. That's where the team should be preparing to fight its most important battles -- on the field.
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