October 6, 2012
THE BIG OBJECTIVE
De Bontin: 'turning this franchise into the top soccer organization in North America'
By Michael Lewis
|Jerome de Bontin spoke with the Red Bulls media on Saturday.
Photo by Keith Furman/First Row Photos
HARRISON, N.J. -- Jerome de Bontin made no bones about what he has to do as the new man in charge of the Red Bulls
After talking to Red Bulls owner Dietrich Mateschitz, his objective "clearly described to me as turning this franchise into the top soccer organization in North America."
De Bontin met the media for the first time on Saturday afternoon, prior to the Red Bulls-Chicago game, touching on several topics, including attendance, the future of coach Hans Backe, his background and Erik Soler, the man he replaced.
Prior to the game, Backe had directed the Red Bulls to a 15-8-8 record. His contract runs through this season and there is speculation that the new regime will replace him regardless what transpires the rest of the way, including winning MLS Cup.
"Unequivocally today, we are behind Hans," de Bontin said. "We are going to be with him through the end of the season. As to next season, we don't know right now."
That will be up to the new sports director, who will be hired soon.
"Clearly at his stage, the only decision that is really made has been in all of our clubs has been to split the GM and sports director responsibilities into two," de Bontin said. "Therefore, Gerard Houllier [Red Bull global director] at some point in the near future will appoint a sports director for here in New York. And in due time, that sports director will himself evaluate what direction to go next year."
The crowds, or lack thereof at Red Bull Arena, has to be a concern. The Red Bulls entered Saturday 11th in the league in attendance, averaging, 17.627. The league average this season has been 18,512.
De Bontin said it was a high priority.
"I think I should exercise some humility answering this question," he said. "I'm sure my predecessors had expectations that in the end were not met that disappointed you, the fans, and potentially our shareholders as well. What I can tell you our shareholders back home are fully committed to the sport, are fully committed to this team.”
He might be French by birth and background, but de Bontin has a working knowledge of Major League Soccer. He has been on the U.S. Soccer Foundation board since 1998. He mentioned that the foundation loaned money to the league in its early days and "for many years we carried that loan. Therefore, I am quite familiar with the way the MLS is structured. None of us really agreed with everything, but for the most part supportive of what was put together."
De Bontin added that he has Ricardo Campos on his staff, "probably a walking bible regarding the rules and regulations of MLS. I think regardless of who comes in and what happens, we are very much on top of our game, regarding those rules and regulations."
Even before he was hired, de Bontin had ties to Salzburg, Australia, the Red Bulls' headquarters and to its owner, Dietrich Mateschitz. His wife hails from Salzburg, where they were married and where his daughter was born. He also had contact over the years with Mateschtiz. De Bontin added that he and Gerard Houllier, who heads Red Bull Globall Sports, are long-time friends.
"I tried to hire him as a head coach in Monaco, but that did not work out," he said. "He approached me at the end of July. it took a month, eventually he brought me into Salzburg to meet with Mr. Mateschitz and what got me really excited was the commitment I talked about a few minutes ago, that clearly red bull wants to be in soccer the way they have demonstrated their abilities in Formula One. They want to be first, they want to win and they are willing to commit the resources and the time."
Soler was asked to remain on board as an internal advisor as the Red Bulls look for a sports director.
"It will be his decision as to how long it will be," de Bontin said. "He very graciously and very enthusiastically agreed to that. In fact, and he and i had lunch yesterday and spent a couple of hours going over the important issues that I am facing in my chair."