With Red Bull Salzburg’s recent announcement of Jesse Marsch as next year’s head coach, he joins an impressive group of talented American coaches who applied their trade abroad.
Most would be proud to accomplish what the likes of Greg Berhalter and Bob Bradley have already achieved in their careers. The former, now leading the US Men’s National Team’s revival, while the latter is setting a new standard for expansion teams with free flowing and fun football in Los Angeles. Despite what some less informed people might perceive as failure at Swansea for Bradley, his previous coaching record, alongside with Swansea’s demise since his departure, quite clearly indicate where the real issues lie in South Wales.
Bradley and Berhalter will likely, and quite rightly end up in US Soccer’s hall of fame.
The brightest prospect out of the New York Red Bull system is clearly Tyler Adams. Already looking like a true star in Germany, he will have helped fill out Marsch’s job application nicely. However, in a time of over-inflated transfer fees and at disastrous miss-allocation of resources in most top-tier European clubs, the sheer quantity of game-ready youngsters produced during Marsch’s time at the helm is equally as impressive. Repeating this in Europe can and will save a club millions of Euros each year.
Game ready youngsters and results on the field are the end product, but to truly understand the likes of Marsch, Bradley and Berhalter, we must take a look at the process. After all, without good processes, results are only temporary. 21st Club do an excellent job of explaining why in this article
So, what might we expect to see in Austria next year? And what did Jesse Marsch do in New York to propel himself forward in the Red Bull family?
Marsch is quite clearly a man of strong principles. His first professional head-coaching role at Montreal Impact ended due to a “difference in coaching philosophies” rather than a string of unacceptable results.
Known for encouraging his players to take ownership of their own performances and development, he chose to empower the Red Bull locker room, through strong personalities such as Dax McCarthy, Sacha Kljesistan and Mr. MLS congeniality – Felipe. With this group of leaders, it’s fair to say that Marsch’s Red Bulls thrived holistically, rather than being dragged upwards by a few high paid stars.
A tip of the hat here must go to Ali Curtis along with Marsch, for the foresight and bravery to move the organization away from it’s previous model.
It’s easy to talk of locker room cohesion and holistic approaches, but what specifically does that look like? What made New York Red Bull’s different under Marsch? And what lessons may be learned by aspiring coaches, GM’s, scouts and analysts?
First and perhaps most importantly, Marsch and Curtis defined a clear club philosophy. Who had what input on this? We’ll likely never know. but more importantly, they believed it, recruited towards it and coached it.
In it’s most simple form here’s what they decided:
- Press high & press hard – turn the ball over centrally in the opposition half
- Pass forward first, especially following a turnover
- Play centrally, creating high leverage opportunities for the #9
- Destroy you on set pieces
Want to know what total and unfaltering buy-in does for an organization? This first video is Jesse Marsch presenting his philosophy.
And the second is New York Red Bull’s USL analyst discussing the importance of a defined philosophy for CoachTech’s Evidence Based Coaching & Match Analysis Course.
This is clearly a club who’s staff and players are on the same page about tactical expectations.
The impact of this however, goes so much further than players having a better tactical understanding of what they should be doing (although this on it’s own is a solid start). Within a professional club, resources aren’t limited to what money is spent on wages and transfer fees. Arguably, the most valuable resources are two things everybody shares equally– time, and the ability to communicate clearly.
Let’s use two departments of a club to illustrate this. Recruitment and Sports Performance (fitness, strength & conditioning).
A clearly defined playing philosophy and set of expectations allows a set of filters to be implemented for recruitment. Within hours, even an average data analyst using basic metrics like tackles and interceptions, can filter a list of thousands into a more manageable 15-20 players of interest. Finding the top 5 central midfielders in Argentina for defensive contribution, for example might be a good starting point.
A good data analyst, will be able to factor in team playing styles to find a few more obscure players and filter out some false positives. Nonetheless, a recruitment department can find itself instantly searching in all the right places for it’s next acquisition. Having a list of 5 – 10 players in any given league rather than a far less manageable 50 can be invaluable. In this scenario, time and money are both saved, before we even consider that the final decision is more likely to be a good one.
Following this starting point, the traditional scouting methods can then help to further identify certain aspects of a player’s game, like tactical awareness, and key personality traits, which indicate whether our newest signing can play ball with the likes of McCarty and Felipe.
Even the best recruitment departments miss on it’s targets, and the recent struggles of a juggernaut like Man Utd, show us that money alone can’t buy you happiness in the transfer market. The likes or Tottenham, Liverpool and anybody who has studied the work of Monchi, will tell you it’s much easier to recruit when your potential player pool is limited to 80% hits rather than 80% misses. Recruitment is fundamentally about managing risk, and having a well defined philosophy stacks the cards in your favor.
On the physical side, modern day training session design is a long way from the coaching staff sitting down a few hours before hand, and thinking about what the team should work on today. Tactical and physical periodization is now a necessity, and often sessions are planned weeks or even months ahead of time – certainly from a physical point of view.
Under Marsch, the Red Bull conditioning team will have known exactly the demands of a player is their intense high-pressing system. A library of drills was likely created, all designed to fine-tune the Red Bull players and their energy systems into what they needed to be – a pressing machine.
“Yes, we can work on possession today or chance creation today or finishing today, and we do it in a way that matches our physical needs too. We have 6 drills pre-designed to match our physical output along with the tactical requirements”
If you don’t believe this was a common conversation in the Red Bull coaches office, you’re behind the times.
Moneyball isn’t limited to money, it’s about all resources, and time is an invaluable one. On a Saturday-Saturday game week, you likely have 4 real training sessions lasting 90 mins to shape the team ready for the weekend’s game. Communication and clarity in expectations can result in some extra time to work on something just a little bit more than others. Perhaps set-pieces?
There’s no better insight into the value of them than this from Stats Bomb. Which is why we have a whole module dedicated to them on our Evidence-Based Coaching & Match Analysis Course.
The video below may offer an insight into whether the Red Bull’s did a little more than most in this area under Jesse Marsch.
Mike Tyson famously said “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”
It’s a tale as old as time – draw up a nice sounding philosophy, create a few PowerPoint’s to show ownership, GM’s and even the players, then abandon it a few weeks into the season when you lose at home unexpectedly.
What separates most teams in modern day football is the ability and courage to stick to the plan and see it through.
Most good plans are drawn up by smart people based on evidence, with the ability to consider dozens of factors objectively over time. Bad plans are reactive, short sighted and quite often based upon fear. Short term gains come at the expense of long term success (refer back to the 21st club article above).
So, did the Red Bulls and Jesse Marsch stay the course? This is by no means a deep analytical dive into all aspects on the Red Bull’s performances, but from open-play during the 2017 & 2018 season’s until Marsch left for Germany, here’s what Major League Soccer looked like based on some very basic metrics:
Press high & press hard – turn the ball over centrally in the opposition half:
Pass forward first, especially following a turnover:
The goal-scoring numbers for Bradley Wright Phillips in this system speak for themselves, and set pieces have been addressed earlier.
Ultimately, the way Jesse Marsch’s team set up to play in next season in Austria may not be completely up to him, but there’s 2 things we can say with absolute certainty.
- However they set-up, Marsch and his coaching team will be totally bought in – they clearly see the value in this culture.
- If they choose to press high, Marsch has already shown he can build and coach a team capable of being the best in the league.