Manager spotlight

After record start in Austria, Marsch holds high expectations for Salzburg

It's been a record breaking start to the season for Jesse Marsch at Red Bull Salzburg. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke at length with the Wiconsin native about his journey to this point and the road ahead. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
August 26, 2019
5:00 PM
THROUGH FIVE rounds of the Austrian Bundesliga, Red Bull Salzburg are off to a record start under American manager Jesse Marsch and the numbers are impressive.

Not only is Marsch the first manager in league history to win its first five games, but it also has a whopping +19 goal differential with 22 goals scored and just three conceded. With American managers having such limited success in Europe, Marsch’s start is indeed historic.

ASN had a long talk with Marsch about his journey to this point, his early success, the big games ahead, and much, much more.

BRIAN SCIARETTA FOR ASN: Obviously congratulations on the start to the season. You guys are undefeated and you are off the best start in league history. What are your thoughts on the big start?

MARSCH: We knew we had a good group and we had a lot of talented players there. Because the club had sold in the last two windows almost $90 million [in transfers] and so there's been a lot of questions in Austria. Like is this team good enough? But the sport director and I worked together a lot before the season started and looking carefully at our roster, we thought this is a really good young group of players that has big potential. And so we knew we had it. We knew we had a good group but it's come together rather quickly and I think that the adaptation to my coaching and to my leadership has been really good. And I think we know that this team has a lot of potential.

ASN: I know you’re defending champion and the team is a perennial contender. What is it like to coach like a team like that? What are the specific challenges like when the expectations are so high? How do you maintain a consistent level and not having to play down to the level of an opponent?

MARSCH: There's a number of things. The first is that I've had to really fine tune my German and I have a lot more to go to really become as fluent as I want to be. But I pretty much coach entirely in German and I do almost everything here in German - so that's been a major challenge.

The next part is that with a new group just making sure that everyone has high expectations every day for how we work every day how we train and then certainly on game, day to perform. And then the last part is that this roster so talented and so deep that I've had to try to keep everybody engaged and everybody all in even when they're not playing or when they're not in the 18. So of all the things that's probably been the biggest challenge is keeping everyone satisfied and hungry to perform.

ASN: You’re very unique in Europe in that you're an American born and raised head coach. Do the media, fans, and players over there talk how unusual that is? Is your nationality often discussed?

MARSCH: When I first was named and then when we first got started in the league, I think there was some talk about the first American to coach in the Austrian Bundesliga. But I think that it's been more about trying to get this team moving and playing the way that we want. I think the fact that I'm a somewhat insider because I've coached within Red Bull, maybe that has lessened the overall impact or talk about an American coach. It's been more about someone who understands the way we like to play.

ASN: Moving to Europe as a coach out of MLS, was there anything that particularly surprised you? Something that maybe you didn't expect? Maybe now you realize it as a head coach?

MARSCH: First of all, I was in Salzburg or Leipzig every single year in the off season in the past. I was familiar with the training facilities, with a lot of the people in the club, with a lot of the coaching staffs and then with a lot of the players. I had already had some access to that. I'd been around enough European football cultures to know the way things operate. But certainly, in the day to day work you have to understand not just the football culture but the culture of the country and the place you're in and the city. I learned the differences between what Leipzig is like and Berlin or Munich. Here in Austria you learn the difference of what it is to be in Wien or Salzburg or some of the other cities.

But in the end why I came here, part of it was ambition but a bigger part of it was to take my leadership philosophies and the way that I think about people and how groups of people work together and see if my philosophy and leadership can operate in the most competitive environment in our sport here in Europe. And so that's been my focus more than anything is to take the different cultures that I've now been a part of and then still try to be myself and try to apply the things that I think are important to see if that can be successful.

ASN: And in terms of those goals and seeing them translate from the United States to Germany and now Austria, has it gone according to plan so far?

MARSCH: I think that what I find is that people are people, no matter where you go. And even when you're in MLS you're dealing with a lot of different cultures that are coming together. And what I find as it is trying to challenge people to be their best version of themselves, or to develop and grow to get better every day, both on the pitch and off. And I find that when you can create a learning environment and try to engage people to give everything they have, every day, to each other, that actually you find that they can surpass your expectations and amaze you in great ways. And I think that's ultimately what drives me is trying to create that environment.

And in Germany it was different than it is in Austria. I think in Austria, first of all, our team here is younger and I think eager to prove themselves, eager to grow. In Germany, it was a little bit more structured in terms of the way that people think. They're a little bit more rigid and so change and the idea of working outside of your comfort zone doesn't excite people as much as I think maybe it does here in Austria. But at the same time, we found great development in our team last year in Leipzig and I think the success we had, had a lot to do with the ability of a group of people - both the staff and the players - to come together in a big way. So again, that's what drives me.

ASN: Looking at it broadly, I used to believe that the first American head coaches in the Champions League or a big five league were going to be former players who retired and took academy coaching jobs and then worked their way up – like Steve Cherundolo. But I was wrong. It turned out to be Bob Bradley and yourself. I know you had the benefit of working under the same organization in your move abroad but do you think that more American coaches might eventually take root in Europe?

MARSCH: Well I probably agree with you that the more common route is to operate from the inside. Like Stevie [Cherundolo]. So Stevie - we were friends before I came over here but since I've been here, we've spent some time together and talked a lot and become much closer. The two big hurdles for me for American coaches are: A) getting your "Pro" license because to get your "Pro" license you have to be sponsored by a team. You have to go through the proper channels. And it's like a five-year process, right? So, it's not so easy.

And then the second is to have the connections - have the connections to help you get the license, have the connections to know people on the inside of clubs that are going to trust you to run their club. And you have to understand, again, that this is cultural. A club in Europe is rooted in the city and in the people that that support it. And the thought of having an American and an outsider come into to coach that team, to trust that person - that's not the easiest thing for people in Europe to do.

Obviously, Bob [Bradley] was able to find the right connections and people to trust him at different clubs and different levels. I've been fortunate to work within the Red Bull system to get to know enough people that the relationships have grown over time. So it's not so easy. And I don't know, I'm not sure what the trajectory is for the American coaches from here. Certainly, I would hope to see more and more and I think it will also benefit our game back home. But again, it's not so clear on where the next path for the next American coach over here is going to come from other than what you said, the examples of Steve.

The other part is the language barrier. I mean I've intensively learned German. Steve has been here for 20 years. He's pretty much German now. He speaks perfect German. I mean a lot of clubs you can get by with English but there's certain cultures that really value their culture and their language and to coach in their league you have to be able to speak it. Listen, Bob dealt with a lot of ridicule from vernacular - like saying "P.K" or away game instead of road match or whatever. To me that is absolutely outrageous. But this is what we deal with, this is what we will have to deal with.

Even when I was in my Scottish Pro License course, if I were to give a presentation in class and say "P.K." the entire room would start - it was uproarious laughter. It was fine, I mean I could laugh at it too. It's an interesting cultural barrier that we will be fighting but in my case, learning German, knowing people from the past, having great support and having great success - even having some success last year in Leipzig, I think has helped my case for this year. So I think it's step by step and, in the end, again what I care about the most is is trying to create the right kind of atmosphere - an environment where people can succeed and get better.

ASN: Regarding the Red Bull organization and you having been a part of three of its teams, how similar is the style across their teams? I know you have your own individual freedom, but how much does upper management try to keep the teams playing in a similar style?

MARSCH: The first thing is I was never told by anyone in Red Bull that we have to play this way. When I first met Ralf Rangnick, Helmut Gross and Wolfgang Geiger. Those are three names that are at the core of the foundation of our playing style. They believe wholeheartedly in the philosophy. I spent two hours with them before 2015 and then basically kind of took a lot of the ideas and was like: "I love this" and "it fits." I think they hired me because I thought similarly.

But then I kind of created my own style of what Red Bull philosophy is. And I think there's definitely a lot of freedom within it. And things have changed after the UEFA ruling as well. The ties between the clubs - legally we're not allowed to be tied. Salzburg is not connected with Leipzig anymore. But even when I look at taking over here in Salzburg, as I got going with the team, I was surprised how different Marco Rose's style was or his interpretation of our philosophy - how different it was to mine.

So, there was a bit of an adaptation for the player pool here to understand that the way that I think about playing the game is a little bit different than Marco's. I think we what we all value is young players and player development and in their playing in transition. But the specifics of what formation coaches like to use, how much ball possession, or how much against the ball playing, or all the pressing/counter-pressing, or all these different sort of lightning-rod topics or vocabulary terms - I think each coach has his own kind of interpretation and that's almost the beauty of it.

ASN: I guess this modern age so many clubs are just focused in on youth development and there are a more opportunities for young players than 20-25 years ago. How much do you enjoy that? How challenging is that?. After coaching players like Tyler Adams, is there something about this generation of young players, not just American, about how ready are they for the top level? Are they more ready now than they used to be?

MARSCH: Well there's a few things. First, I'm a believer that all people and all players can learn at all ages and all levels. Creating a learning environment is at the core of my coaching principle. When you talk about young players, specifically the thing that I enjoy is that they're eager and they're so hungry for information. I think when you have patience as a coach or as a teacher, which is an important quality to have when working with young players, and you're positive in your approach - then you can see incredible growth. And I think that the young players can really feed off of that as well.

Then when you talk about trying to play fast and play aggressively and press - having young players it's always helpful. They recover quickly. You find that younger players are naturally more aggressive in nature. Now a big part of that is we also try to scout the types of players that fit into our system. But when you put the package together of what a training game can look like, what a training week can look like, what a year can look like, you can see such incredible development in players year over year, week over week.

You mention Tyler [Adams]. He's probably the best example of that I've ever worked with. His hunger for knowledge, his hunger to get better, his fearlessness to play against the best teams and best players was like nothing I've ever seen. And that was part of being young but it was also in him. That was his nature as well.

ASN: Watching him, he seemed to fit in on a global scale, not just on an American scale. You saw him against some of the top Bundesliga clubs. He looked like he was right there with everybody.

MARSCH: He was an outlier even in Leipzig where there's countless good players and countless young players. He has a very special personality that he's not afraid of anything. And the more you give him, the more he wants. I was very careful not to oversell him in Leipzig because I wanted Tyler to be able to tell his own story. But I was preparing the people there that they were going to experience something different.

Once he came, I had one of the coaches say to me: "even after all the positive ways that you spoke about Tyler, he's exceeded it by miles." And that's kind of who Tyler is. And we have some players here in Salzburg that are exactly the same. That are young, incredibly talented, and they just believe in themselves and believe in their ability to get better. So that's fun. Those are fun projects.

ASN: When did you know Tyler was so special? In the Red Bull academy? When he got to the first team?

MARSCH: I think I think the first time I met Tyler I could sense that there was something different. Once he got out of Bradenton and came up and started training - when he was 16 - with us in March. After about a week of training with us we were like, wow. And if I were to criticize myself in an area of coaching Tyler, it was that we were a little bit too patient with him. We should have maybe taken off the handcuffs a little bit earlier.

ASN: The Champions League is coming up. I know you don't have the draw yet but what are your expectations for the team and for yourself in your first major European competition as a head coach?

MARSCH: I think that we haven't really focused too much on the expectations. The club has fought for 14 years to get into the Champions League. So obviously on one level there's massive expectations but on a more real and daily level it's been about trying to push ourselves every day to get the most out of every single day that we possibly can. And the motivation within the club and within the player pool is so high right now - I just think we all are dying to find out who we have to play and to go after it with everything we have. You could talk to people here in the town of Salzburg and they will probably tell you different things about what the expectations are. But I think internally it's more about just committing to this in the biggest way possible and giving everything we have to every game. I think if we do that the right way, there's a lot of possibilities with this group.

ASN: Being the first American coach in the Champions League, do you feel like you're a trailblazer? Do you take pride in that fact? I mean, it's so unique and different.

MARSCH: Honestly, I haven't thought too much about it - and that's not like a cliché. I don't know how many people know about it back home. I had some reporters here ask me what are people in America saying about it. I said I really have no idea. So I have no idea how many people actually know about it. I'm focused on trying to get this team to be as good as they can be.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: this is a job and that's the way I think about it. I know it's a unique job. It's not something that everybody gets to do. But I've been working in this business for almost 30 years. So it's what I know. It's what we do. It's making teams and trying to win soccer games. That's like almost all I know professionally. So, I'm just trying to continue to grow and do the best that I can to help this team be the best that it can be.

ASN: How much are the New York Red Bulls still a part of you? How much do you draw from that era of your career?

MARSCH: Well I mean that's my baby. That's how I describe it. We kind of reshaped that club and rebuilt that club. When I say "we" I mean totally "we." That was a total group effort where everyone from Oliver Mintzlaff to Marc De Grandpre, Ali Curtis, Denis Hamlett, John Wolyniec everybody who put their heart and soul into that - and then all the players, obviously. I mean it was just a total group effort. So I watch as many games as I can. I've probably been able to see live at least portions of 75 percent of the games. And when I don't see them, the first thing I do is check my phone when I get up to see how it went. And then find a way to catch up with as much of the game as possible. I speak to Chris Armas weekly. I mean New York is is still a big part of my life.

ASN: Do you imagine Chris Armas will be doing the same thing you did during the MLS off-seasons and visit Salzburg or Leipzig?

MARSCH: He didn't come to Leipzig this off season but they had so much going on. But Denis and some of the other leaders in the club came over to Leipzig. I brought our video analyst from New York, Victor Bertini. He's here with me in Salzburg. I kind of stole him but I promised not to take any players (laughs). We've connected with so many people from from Europe through Red Bull. Marco Rose is at Gladbach. Jochen Schneider is at Schalke. Adi Hutter is in Frankfurt. I mean you can go down the list. Ralph Hasenhuttl is at Southampton. Hans Leitert was a goalkeeper scout - he's at Liverpool.

Through Red Bull there're people that you feel like are in every league in Europe. It's a beautiful thing to have met so many great people that are so qualified and so good at what they do in this job. That will also, I think, in the long run help me find the right situations hopefully in a long career here in Europe.

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