The seemingly interminable search for a new coach in New York reached its conclusion at the start of training camp on Wednesday, according to Red Bulls sporting director Andy Roxburgh.
After scouring through a litany of managerial options and watching several high-profile candidates grace back pages across Europe, the Red Bulls could not postpone their decision any longer. Everyone – Roxburgh, head of global soccer Gérard Houllier and the overarching executives in Austria – agreed this carousel needed to stop.
“We've sort of collectively been together in all of this, discussing everything that has been going on,” Roxburgh said during a conference call on Thursday. “As I've said before, we certainly tried to find out what our options were. We had ideas. We wrote down what we'd like to have. And then we tried to see who would fit the bill, who would be appropriate in this context and who would do something for this club.”
The search committee took several months to wade through potential appointments as Houllier and Roxburgh came to grips with the scope of the task ahead in Harrison. As they evaluated potential possibilities externally, Roxburgh kept careful watch over interim boss Mike Petke. The former Red Bulls defender did not possess the managerial credentials carried by other mooted candidates, but his passion for the club and his proximity to the situation kept him in the mix nonetheless.
It ended up working out wonderfully for Petke. The long list of possible choices – a smattering of possible bosses on this side of the pond, plus the likes of former Coventry and Leeds United manager Gary McAllister (Houllier's assistant at Aston Villa) and ex-Swansea City manager Paulo Sousa – eventually dwindled for one reason or another. By the time the Red Bulls were ready to make their final decision, the interim manager stood atop the heap. Roxburgh discussed the remaining options with Houllier and his bosses in Austria and reached the consensus they needed to move forward with the hire. And then he met with Petke on Wednesday to offer him the job.
“In terms of the last 24 hours, it's really straightforward,” Roxburgh said. “Once we got here into camp, this was the moment then to finalize everything. So I just sat down with Mike yesterday. We had a chat. It was probably the shortest discussion in the history of man when it comes to sporting director with a new coach because it was finalized in not quite two minutes flat. It was a very, very short discussion that we had. I outlined what we wanted him to do and that we'd like to have him do the job for us.”
Most of the scrutiny in the short-term will rest on exactly how much the Red Bulls actually wanted Petke to perform this particular task. The evidence isn't particularly convincing given the finer points of the process. Both McAllister and Sousa were reportedly in advanced discussions with the club about taking the job before the negotiations dissolved. For better or for worse, Petke looks like the last man standing in a race against time instead of the top choice.
“I just got named the head coach of the New York Red Bulls, owned by a company that's a billion dollar company,” Petke said as he pondered that conundrum. “I cannot, in my mind, think that they would make a decision just because they were close to something like the season and they needed to rush something.”
Petke's place in the pecking order matters far less than his ability to assume the role just handed to him. On that count, there isn't much evidence for or against at the moment. He must convince his squad – and Thierry Henry, in particular – that he is up to the task in short order to consolidate his authority and place this team on the right path. It isn't an easy brief to fulfill, but Petke can take solace in the fact that several of his peers have followed this path successfully in recent years.
For now, the Red Bulls can place thoughts about the future to one side and rest easy knowing that they finally have a coach in place for the upcoming season. The process took far too long by any reasonable measure, but it has concluded nonetheless with a new coach eager to embrace the role ahead of the upcoming season. Now the onus rests on Petke and his players to ensure the final result of this protracted ordeal validates the circuitous process used to reach it.
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