New Red Bulls general manager Erik Soler met the media on Monday and delivered his ideas and visions for what he wants to do with the club going forward as he takes over the reins of a team in disarray.
While Soler readily admits that he doesn't have a working knowledge of MLS, the former Norwegian international described a system that he will be putting in place that should help him operate a club in a league he is still learning about. The same could go for a new head coach if Soler chooses to hire a foreign coach with no MLS experience or knowledge, something he said is as possibility.
Soler answered questions on a broad range of topics, from the team's stance on a second designated player, to improving the working relationship between Red Bull New York and Red Bull Salzburg, which has been largely non-existent in recent years. He acknowledged that it would take time to get things going, but Soler was confident that he was capable of succeeding where so many before him have failed.
Here are Soler's answers to a variety of questions posed to him on Monday:
On the head coaching search:
“What we have done is try to figure out what kind of coach we would like to hire, what would be some major points. We are, at the moment, very open-minded, looking at different names, different places within the U.S., outside of the U.S., and that’s going to go on for a while until we find the right candidate and we can agree with it.”
"It would have been better if we already head (a coach), but we don't," Soler said. "I wouldn't rush into it in a way that was leading to a wrong (choice), or doing a mistake, or not getting the right one, but of course I feel the pressure. There's no doubt about that.
“I look upon the whole thing as a teamwork. We are going to have a number of coaches, we are going to have a number of people around the sporting area and we have to have the right balance in that team. If that includes a U.S. head coach or a foreign one I wouldn’t say, but we are certainly aware of the fact that we need a strong team that also that understands the soccer here in the U.S.”
On the qualities he’s looking for in a head coach:
“It will be someone with the experience. That means we’re not going to hire someone without coaching experience. That person could be in the MLS or outside or both. I think when you look at the circumstances that you’re working under, you need someone that is really on the pitch a lot because (like in the Scandinavian league) when you can’t buy the players you want to all of the time, you can’t say, ‘Well, our left fullback isn’t top class so I’ll call my owner and I’ll buy two new ones and I’ll get myself another striker.’ We need someone that is used to really work(ing) on developing players. That’s a very important point.”
On Richie Williams:
“I spent some time with him. I saw what he did here last year – I thought it was good and he’s been here four years, which is also an asset. Hopefully, we’re going to include him in one of the positions, but what position is not finalized.”
I won't comment on names because I'm totally fresh and new, but what I can say is I've been a manager of people for the past 20 years, so to try and understand before I act. I have to get to know these people and see what they work with and how they do their job, and on the basis of that I will see if we have what we need already here, or if we need to add something.
On stability within the organization:
“I think it’s quite different regarding what kind of league you’re looking into because in the U.K., you have a different system than what you have in Germany. There are many ways of doing things but if you look at the most successful clubs, they do tend to keep people longer on board because it’s more difficult to change people over time and, in that period, also have success. For myself, I’m looking upon this as a long-term thing over the course of the next few years and in that period we have to build a stable group of people and have the same goals and same ambition to build a successful franchise of soccer in New York.”
On his perspective of soccer:
“For me, football is about having fun, it’s about producing something that you like to watch that the players enjoy, that the coaches enjoy, that the spectators and media like. You’re not able to do that every week, unless you are Barcelona, and they don't even manage that all the time, but your basic philosophy has to be to, on your home turf to produce attractive football where you’re trying to win the games by playing an offensive sort of football."
On his familiarity with MLS:
“The guy who scored on the final kick in the MLS Final, Robbie Russell, was the first player I took (from the U.S.). I brought him directly out of college to a small club in Norway. I was very happy for him, but of course, I’m not going to claim that I’m a MLS expert. I’ve become a generalist in football, I’m an expert in European soccer, but I think I have a sensible ability to learn things quite quickly. The most important thing is for me to understand more in the coming weeks and months and also build a good team around me that has all the knowledge so that we as a soccer team, has the ability to deal with all of the special things that MLS has to offer.”
On the challenges for a foreigner to learn about the league:
“People keep on telling me it’s difficult. Well, difficult is not dangerous to me. It's difficult, and I respect that and I know there’s a lot of things I have to get in and try to understand. But, I have to look at my situation and this club and the future and I can’t dwell too much on what other people have done before me. I have a positive and open mind and I’m looking forward to it.”
On the team signing a second Designated Player
It's our goal to get another one, but at this very moment I can't say at the moment. I can't really say too much about it, but our goal is to have another one on board.
On what position he'd prefer a Designated Player to play
If you look at soccer, if you have to spend some serious money on something, it would be someone that it is in the offensive ballpark. I think it's easier, hopefully, and I may be wrong here in the U.S., but it is generally easier to find defenders that are not that expensive, that you can get.
On working with a salary cap
It's going to be interesting. Of course I have (had experience working with the salary cap). I've owned a club with my own money, and the salary cap there was not much bigger. Scandinavian soccer has so many things common with American soccer. If you look at the level, if you ask Clarence Goodson, Hunter Freeman or Robbie Russell, these guys that have played in both, they will say they are approximately the same kind of level.
The money isn't that big in the Scandinavian leagues. We are competing with the big European clubs all the time and if you produce a player, just like here, there will be scouts, agents and people who will look to get these players out of your club.
You have to be good at scouting and building players so that you can educate them and sell them to make money. I'm not used to working with an unlimited salary cap.
On hiring an American coach or a foreign coach
I've tried to look for the best solution, and at the moment we have to do a wider search and then we will narrow it over the coming weeks and finally make the right decision.
On the fact that no foreign coach without MLS experience has ever won an MLS title.
It's an important point, but again, people would never do anything new if they always did what people have already done. The only thing I can say is that I will try to look for what I think is the best thing for the club and will give us the best chances to win something.
On who he will be working with and getting help as the team prepares for the draft and other team moves
I will work with the people we have here already, and discuss with them and we'll be very serious about it and discuss it. I can't be totally paranoid. I have to trust people so I will do that, but we will definitely discuss things.
On working with the person, and likely relying on the person, he is essentially replacing (Jeff Agoos).
I have no problem with that at all. I have one thing in my mind, and that is trying to do the best thing for this club. We have to organize us the best way. Of course, we will spend the coming weeks looking at the organization, who's doing what, who's good at what, who should do something else. We'll figure that out over the coming weeks.
On whether the team is prepared to pay transfer fees to sign players
Basically, we will go for Bosman players (players out of contract). I have no problem with that. If you look at it, of course its more difficult, but it's also more fun. When you really have to be good at this job, to find these Bosman players that will be good enough and will be the good players in the positions where you need them. That's a challenge, and of course I will fall asleep sometimes and think, 'If I had 10 million pounds it woul be perfect', but I don't, and I know I don't, so I'm not going to fantasize about that too many nights.
The drafting thing will be important, I've already understood that. That's where we can find top talent. I've also understood we are in a good position in this upcoming draft because we have good picks. We will have to also look around the league to see what swaps we can do, and what we can possibly buy. We will also then have to look at other continents and see if there is anything sensible, any good players that we can get in, young and old, that can strengthen the team.
We also have to think of two levels. One is the short-term level. We are opening a new stadium and there will be expectations. We have to have a quite sensible team on that pitch from the first day. That's something that's going to keep me working quite long hours with my colleagues here to get that going. In addition to that, we also have to work on the long-term planning of what we're going to do in the sporting area in the coming years.
On Red Bull New York having a better relationship with Salzburg
We have to, in both directions, look upon it as a strength that we have bigger resources than other clubs. When you come to the area of scouting for instance. We can build a huge scouting system without taking all the costs here. We can share it with the Austrians. We are also building a club in Germany, we have a club in Brazil, we have an academy in Ghana. I look upon all this as opportunities for us to become stronger. That can be some advantage for us.
I also understand that it hasn't been an advantage really so far, but now with Didi, who is really intent on building this as a system, and I have a really good relationship with him, a professional one, I'm definitely going to try and get whatever resources I can.
On what attracted him to the position:
“I would say from a personal point of view, I like challenges. I like to do things that seem to be a little bit difficult. When I went on the Internet and looked at the league for the season that was about to end, of course, I saw that they were not the top team. I think that was one point that attracted me. The second point i I believe this area must be a great possibility to build a really good soccer base here. It’s a great area, a lot of people, a lot of soccer interest. I see that as one opportunity. It’s a new thing, it’s a challenge, it’s something I don’t know too much about, but as I said, I’m not scared by that. I fell that just attracts my interest even more.”
“We are going into this fantastic stadium and we need to get (25,000) people into it. I think it’s a great challenge to fill that stadium for every game. You are all soccer people and you know what soccer is all about. It’s about to fill the stadiums, and to fill the stadiums you have to play a type of soccer people like. You have to attract people with players they like to watch. And then there are millions of things you have to do with the team and within the organization to be able to produce what people like to watch.”
So what were the good things? An improved working relationship with Salzburg would be a major boost, and there's reason to believe that Soler will have access to Salzburg in a way that his predecessors did not. It also sounds as though the club is ready to spend some serious money on building a technical team to work on things such as scouting. This is an area where a club like the Red Bulls can gain an edge on other teams because they have an owner with some real money to spend (of course, the club still needs to actually hire competent people).
Also good news is hearing that the club will try to keep Richie Williams on, even if it means in a position other than head coach. Soler's comment about wanting someone with experience as head coach may ultimately be why the club passes on Williams, who has been an interim head coach twice, but never a full-time head coach. Reports suggest that Williams is out of the running for the D.C. United job, but sources tell me he is being considered for the Chicago Fire job. If Williams doesn't land the Fire job, the Red Bulls could offer him an improved deal to stay on as the team's lead assistant coach.
The bad things? It sounds as though the club may not hire a head coach for a few more weeks, which means the club will lean on Jeff Agoos and the current staff to prepare the team for the 2010 MLS Draft. Considering how important that draft is, and considering the Red Bulls have three of the top 18 picks, Soler could be risking the wasting of some valuable draft picks by leaving them in the hands of someone who has already shown imcompetence as a draft evaluator.
What do you think of Soler's answers? Still worried the Red Bulls are doomed for more failure? Think he might have more success than those who came before him?
Share your thoughts below.