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Red Bulls hire Hans Backe as new head coach (Updated)


The New York Red Bulls have announced the hiring of 57-year-old Swedish coach Hans Backe as the team's new head coach. A long-time confidant of Sven-Goran Eriksson, Backe most recently worked as head coach of English League two side Notts County, a job he quit after just seven weeks.

Richie Williams and Des McAlennen will remain with the Red Bulls as assistant coaches.

A veteran of the Scandinavian leagues, Backe has previously coached at FC Copenhagen and Aalborg BK in Denmark, as well as Swedish side Hammarby, SV Salzburg in Austria and Panathinaikos in Greece. He won four Danish titles with Copenhagen from 2000 to 2004.

Backe has worked closely with Eriksson on multiple occasions, including with Manchester City and as an assistant coach with Mexico during Eriksson's failed stint as manager of 'El Tri'.

What's the SBI take? Backe's resume is a strong one, but he also hasn't had a legitimate head coaching job in five years (unless you count the Notts County fiasco and an extremely brief spell with Panathanaikos). He has no working knowledge of MLS, which makes for a bad combination when coupled with general manager Erik Soler's limited knowledge of the league. Backe isn't the worst hire in the club's history, but the hiring can't be called a home run either.

Perhaps the most redeeming aspect of the announcement is the fact that Williams is being kept on as the team's lead assistant. As the only authority figure with any knowledge of MLS, Williams will wind up taking on a very important role in helping Backe and Soler adapt to MLS. Williams should also benefit fro working under a coach with Backe's experience, and he could also find himself in charge of the club yet again if Backe falls flat.

What do you think of the hire? Stunned? Impressed? Disappointed? Just glad the wait is over?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Didn’t Hans leave Notts County because he couldn’t get the money he wanted to sign players??? If so, welcome to the MLS.

    Hopefully NYRB have learned from LA and interviewed better and made sure that a foreign coach is familiar with most of the league and salary structure BEFORE they hire.

    That said I kind of hope he does well because it would be nice to see a greater variety of managers then the MLS merry go round of 2day.

  2. +1 on this.

    That blank stare picture is what he will look like for the next several months while coaching this team. I don’t expect him to be here long.

  3. Well that makes us friends, then, Mogens, because I am a supporter of SK Brann. (It was my father’s club when he was growing up in Bergen.) And thank you for your optimism about Hans Backe. I agree that his success and experience in Scandinavia bode well for RBNY.

  4. Let me be a little more organized. Ulrich, I get your argument about sample size. So let’s look at this directly: let’s define a “foreign” coach as someone who has no real soccer experience in MLS previous to taking the head-man job. So…if they were previously a USL coach (like JCO) or MLS assistant (like Gary Smith) or MLS player (like Steve Morrow) or coached in college than they don’t count. And actually, with hindsight, I’d probably eliminate Quieroz from the list of “foreign coaches” b/c he worked with Gaspar and did the USSF report on US soccer that gave him tremendous access to the American game.

    Here is a relatively complete list (I believe) of “foreign” coaches who’ve been in MLS:
    –Hans Westerhof (Chivas)
    –Carlos Alberto Parreira (Metros)
    –Walter Zenga (NE)
    –Frank Stapleton (NE)
    –Ruud Gullit (LAG)
    –John Carver (TFC)
    –Bobby Houghton (Colorado)
    I exclude Ivo Wortmann (who was an MLS assistant and before that US youth coach), Gary Smith (MLS assistant), Chris Cummins (MLS assistant for at least 1/2 a season), and Bora Miluntinovic (US Nat coach), Cacho Cordoba (coached in USL). Though you could include all of them and only Smith would look respectable in MLS based on record and results.

    While that’s a small sample size, here is something that is true of every one of those coaches:
    1. They were surrounded by Americans or a support system who supposedly knew the game in this country that was supposed to makeup for their lack of knowledge.
    2. Every single one of those examples I’ve just cited clearly expressed a lot of confusion, bafflement, frustration and anger at how MLS operates, at how players are acquired, at restrictions on the team, at the nature of the game.
    3. Most of them had real problems adjusting to working with American players. Frank Stapleton for instance, accused Alexi Lalas of betraying his club mates for wanting to be on the Olympic team–he couldn’t get why anyone would want to be on an Olympic team.
    4. No “foreign” coach in MLS (and you can include Quieroz and MIlintinovic on this list as well) as ever done better than 500, has ever won a playoff series, has ever won a piece of hardware (like the USOC). Sure it’s a small sample size. But shouldn’t there have been at least ONE foreign coach (especially when you look at a group that includes lots of veteran coaches, even a WC winner) who’s been over .500 or won at least one playoff series in a league where it used to be impossible to not make the playoffs?

    It doesn’t mean that Bache can’t be successful. It just means that he’ll be setting a precedent.

  5. Ulrich….

    1. Bora was quite successful as a club coach in Mexico.

    2. My point is that the coaches who didn’t have experience previously in North America have all exclaimed about how bewildering MLS was, how it didn’t make sense to them as a league. That included Quieroz.

    3. Coaches also yell at refs. My point is not that it’s a fatal flaw, but there is all sorts of somewhat unique knowledge about soccer in MLS that comes from having been involved here. You evaluate talent for the draft. Since there are so few scouts, a lot of that evaluation is affected by stuff like: which coaches always tout their players and overstate their value and which college coaches are realistic. None of this stuff is a deal breaker. But consider this: arguably Houston has been the most consistent high-performing MLS side over the past 5 years. And what they’ve made a point of doing is focusing mostly on MLS talent (and preferring to acquire players from within MLS than outside). And when asked about that, Kinnear says it’s b/c they know the MLS players best and can determine who would fit in (on the field and in the clubhouse). So getting a foreign coach means you miss out on all of that.

    4. You can say that Queiroz had the MetroStars playing great soccer. At a time when the league wasn’t very strong, they still weren’t a strong team. And Quieroz still was baffled by the league (and this after having produced the Gasper-Quieroz report which analyzed US soccer). Jeff Bradley likes to tell the story that when Quieroz saw bad refereeing in MLS games, he was convinced it was b/c the refs were corrupt and had been paid off to throw games. Bradley had to convince him it was just incompetence–b/c no-one in the US would care enough to bribe refs to throw matches.

    5. You’re right, that there have been more American coaches than any other group so you (statistically speaking) should see more successes and failures with Americans. But there haven’t been that many Canadians yet you see a disproportiante number of MLS titles won by Canadians. And even if there are fewer foreign coaches, you’d think that the ratio of successes should at least be consistent. But you go through the list of Zenga, Stapleton, Quieroz, JCO (and we probably should consider him “foreign” b/c he coached in USL, assisted Metro, coached Chicago and then NYRB), Miluntonic, Gullitt and on and on. Who are the guys who came to MLS without experience in North America who have won a title? Or made a final?

    Again, that doesn’t prove that a foreign coach is doomed to fail. You just can find a lot of examples of guys who came to MLS without some experience in US soccer (as an assistant, USL head man, college coach or former player in the US) who have succeeded. There is no precedent for Hans Backe being a successful coach. He might be one in MLS. But if so, he’s breaking the mold.

  6. Hey Ives,

    I am really perplexed by the knee jerk reaction in regards to this announcement and to the apparent phobia to a foreign coach. I have a couple of questions about this issue:

    Given the number of foreign coaches that have passed through MLS and failed, is there a statistical analysis of the average time of employment at their MLS teams and their club records prior to joining the league? Is there a similar comparison for coaches from within the league or with some kind of MLS experience?

    Most every American publication and blog bring up the issue of necessary MLS experience as a requirement, but the question is up to what point are we making it something obscure as voodoo when it is really not?

    Let me frame the question differently. You have a neophyte MLS coach (soccer is young in the US and the league is not even two decades old) who knows the quirkiness of the system on one side, and a foreign coach who does not know MLS but has plenty of experience evaluating, teaching, handling players and competing at higher levels on the other. If you had to invest two years to make up for each others’ deficiency, which one would you take? Do you think that if given the time, a foreign coach will not learn the way MLS works? I say two years because I do not believe any of the foreign coaches has had that much time to accomplish anything.

    I am not going to deny that some really bad coaching decisions have been made for the wrong reasons, but this one seems different because the new RB GM gave the parameters of what they are looking for, why they are doing it that way, and they know what to expect to accomplish.

    Now, everyone likes to harp about how bad the JCO regime was, and there is no doubt that it was atrocious, but it is also be pointed that he had the assistance of a MLS insider in Agoos and still managed to screw the whole thing. Take the case of Dave Checketts who has had some success with RSL, he is not an MLS insider but he knows how to run a sports organization.

    In the end, the problem with recycling or sticking to MLS people only is like inbreeding. You can only take the gene pool so far until you run into problems.


  7. Well, I guess you haven’t been following the conversation, but we were obviously talking about head coaching positions. Also, in case you haven’t noticed, Sven isn’t coaching now either. Also, “definately intact with the football world” doesn’t mean anything in English.

  8. what are you talking about? He has been svens assistant for three years now and he was just manager at notes but resigned because it was really below him and he didnt have a good budget. He is definately intact with the football world, maybe not MLS, but richie will help him with that

  9. Apologies Ives. I’m in the middle of a 12hr work day and in the rush of a quick break didn’t see my own comment. It wasn’t deleted. Would still like to see you in the comments more frequently though.


  10. IVES

    Please take us out of our misery where is Agoos now?

    Pleeze tell us all he has parted ways with RB.and hopefully the door hit him HARD on the way OUT?


    PS Josh You are kidding right? So you are saying that RB should settle for mediocre,that’s all we should expect from our team is winning an occ game on the road eh? Pretty pathetic if you ask me Gee I thought with a new stadium ( albeit it no parking) we were going to get a little something better than last place?

  11. WTF? Ives, I took time out of my day to write a nice and well thought out comment stating that many people would like to see you interact more in the comments section and you delete it? I even made a point of complimenting the site. It’s disappointing that instead of responding to one of your readers (and fans) requests, you delete the comment. Please don’t let success go to your head.

  12. In answer to
    Hi In answer t to Culeero
    Sure I know there is no real Scandanavian League per se I was simply referring to those teams that actually do play in Denmark, Sweden or Norway. Their league std is a lot lower than the premier leagues I mentioned earlier ergo Jeremiah White STILL not called up to the Nats despite a terrific season.Perhaps Bob realizes the competition is suspect?
    Coach K

    culeeero has replied to your comment:

    You do know that there is no Scandanavian League, right? That “Scandinavia” is a general region of the world that encompasses a number of different nations? Just checkin’, big guy.

  13. So disappointed : (…I really wanted to see Richie Williams get the job, but of course they had to make a stupid move in getting a guy who has no knowledge of MLS…Just prove me wrong Backe

  14. As a Notts County fan, who lives in New York and follows the Red Bulls, I think this is a great signing for the organization. He is an incredible practice coach which I think in this league is needed to gel and develop a group of players who range in age and ability. Although he wasn’t at Notts long enough to form an true picture of his match coaching ability, he was able to turn the team around right away and get them playing attacking, passing football with a wide range of player tactics utilized (complicated set pieces, formation changes and effective subbing) every match which was impressive. I think he’ll be great here and I look forward to following the team this season. I hope he signs a few Notts players too, I could recommend a few!

  15. The play-offs are great as a cup! But whats the point in working so hard all season when it all starts again at the end with so many teams on equal terms. Either have a league that means something or a cup that means something, dont mush the two together so whoever wins the league doesn’t get any real credit. Thats the one that should mean the most.

  16. I think its a good hire. We now have a GM that has a better relationship with the Austrians. The GM hired a coach he knows he can work with. And most importantly he was able to keep the assistant coach who has the MLS experience.
    To me that sounds like a solid foundation to start building a new and stronger team from.
    So I’m looking forward to this new season and can’t wait to go to the awesome looking Redbull arena.

  17. Easy there Alexandria, don’t try reading between the lines with some Homer attitude. I never once made any reference to Europe not having playoffs and thus being “right,” all I said was that MLS’ version of playoffs are a pathetic excuse for (said playoffs). All of the examples you give as competitions that use playoffs, except for MLS, take the absolute best teams to face off against each other. MLS has consistently allowed sub-par teams with records below .500 to enter the fray for the sole purpose of ticket sales – more teams = more money. Eight of sixteen teams making the playoffs is a joke. Allow only 4 (25% of the league) and you add some integrity to the format.

    If you want a crappy team to play for the championship because they happen to get hot then fine, but all that does is dismiss the achievements of the good teams all season. Then again, that’s what a domestic cup competition is about – everybody gets a chance to play regardless of league form – but in a league, inferior teams shouldn’t be able to tank the majority of a season only to get lucky/hot because they make the playoffs with a losing record.

  18. Of course it is going to be a disaster… and it will be hilarious to watch.

    I am looking forward to visiting the new stadium though. Bullpen?

  19. I really think someone in Hollywood should take a serious look at creating a TV show based on the NYRB. Remember the scenarios on Seinfeld with George Costanza and the New York Yankees? The NYRB could be much funnier. The Bad News Bears of soccer and their hapless foreign owners. Good stuff.

    Seriously, are they kidding? Are they trying to solve problems with comic relief now? Even if Back Hand is a good coach, (and he must be if he was coaching Notts County in England’s lowest division, right?) this hardly inspires confidence and even suggests that the owner’s are continuing on their path of being completely out of touch with American soccer and MLS. I’m just surprised they didn’t hire someone from Austria.

    For all the people defending this move and the NYRB organization in general, if American soccer and coaching is of such a low level, why is it so hard for this foreign organization with it’s money, experienced staff, and links to “quality” players, to be anything other than a joke? (A hot streak for a few games at the end of last year does not count!)

  20. And whats so pathetic about playoffs? oh i get it, europe doesn’t do them right, right… so if playoffs are so pathetic why is it that every major competition is set up just like them, euro, world cup, champions league, MlS Cup, maybe its just me.

  21. So I guess Miller coming to the team makes sense as it is obvious the new coach had him in mind as he played in Scandinavia… I will reserve judgement until after a month into the season…if there is one with a strike looming…

  22. Yes, I am Danish American and played for AGF Aarhus many many years ago, Bergen Norway was our friendship club at that time. I follow Danish Superliga, in my judgement the best teams in Denmark play more attractive soccer than the best teams in the MLS, but I am delighted with the progress of MLS.

  23. could be good, could be bad, howsabout we wait and see, eh? Keeping Richie Williams seemed to be a necessity in this circumstance.

  24. You do know that there is no Scandanavian League, right? That “Scandinavia” is a general region of the world that encompasses a number of different nations? Just checkin’, big guy.

    (SBI-Hence the PLURAL “Scandinavian Leagues”. He coached in Denmark and Sweden, two Scandinavian countries, and therefore is a veteran of the Scandinavian leagues.)

  25. Seriously, you’re kidding right????

    You honestly think it’s a Head Coach’s responsibility to tell the players which Ref they can argue with? That’s a conversation a player has with another in the locker room.

    And Danny Dichio’s inability to play after travel does not translate to the coach not being able to coach after a 4-hour flight… Kind of makes you wonder how the NBA & NHL is able to criss-cross the country weekly and still play? I’d wager that just like any other professional coach, Backe will conduct fitness tests prior to each game and if a Dichio happens to be on RBNY’s roster and has dead legs after a flight, Backe is smart enough not to start him.

    As to your examples of foreign coaches that haven’t been able to hack it in MLS, you cherry-picked some good ones. Bora is not known as a club coach but rather as a carpetbagging national team coach/mercenary – he has never done well when leading club ball in any other league. Queroz was doing quite well when leading the Metrostars – they played attractive ball and were winning, so you’re wrong about that one. And while Osorio has had success in Columbia, he hasn’t done much anywhere else as a head coach….

    So, I’ll reiterate that it is all about the statistics…. saying a foreign coach can’t hack it in the league when so few have really been given the opportunity all comes down to percentages and the law of averages. If 8 foreign coaches were in MLS next year, I’d wager one of them wins the league, but when only 1 of 16 is foreign it’s fairly likely that they won’t….. and then the naysayers will start pointing fingers at not knowing which ref you can yell at….

  26. why keep Des McAlennen he is by far the worse GK trainer i have ever seing just look at Conway and Cepedo they never improve his practices are a joke

  27. DC Josh is different from the REAL Josh… Josh D (who is interestingly enough a huge DC fan : ))

    And I hate to break it to you but in the current economy, MLS is not going to go for the, as you say, “World Beaters.” MLS is not a league for that. We are a league that loves the ignored. Those who are good enough but not bankable. Those who fall through the cracks but can play the game. Those who blew their one shot at greatness. Those looking to rebound from failure.

    The new GM has connections far beyond the Nordic areas, based on his company. You do not become friends with Sven and not “get around.” Anyway, it is not the amount of players you know but those you can identify as a good player and those you can convince to play.

    The Head Coach has far too many details than can be written in this little box. His two biggest are getting his team ready for the 90 minutes and the 90 minutes. Motivation falls within those because if you can’t motivate you can not coach winning teams. Based on his track record, he need not worry. Angel and Henry are not expecting a Ferguson at NY. Players want a coach capable of leading a team, capable of leading them and capable of convincing them to play. Henry will come to NY, not to be world class, but to hide from the media, play soccer for the fun of it and enjoy the pay.

    You will find a far, far better coach capable of “nourishing” youth in Europe then in the US/Canada. If youth is your concern, a European coach should be your pick.

    I think you misunderstand the connect MLS has with Scandinavian leagues. Both get their players stolen from bigger clubs. Both are relatively small with the same financial constraints. Both rely a great great deal on home grown talent to make the numbers. Etc, etc. Fact is, of all the outside coaches, a Scandinavian coach is the closest you can get to understanding our league.


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