Ahead of the Bundesliga season, Marsch outlines his bold vision for RB Leipzig
July 09, 2021
THE OPENING OF the Bundesliga preseason this week formally saw Jesse Marsch takes his first steps as the head coach of RB Leipzig in Germany. After finishing the 2020/21 season in second place, and advancing to the semifinals of the Champions League in 2020, it the most high-profile job an American manager has ever held.
The path that has brought Marsch to Leipzig has been a direct route through the Red Bull organization. After a brief and unsuccessful tenure in Montreal, Marsch was hired as the head coach for the New York Red Bulls where he promptly won the Supporters’ Shield.
Then in the summer 2018 (while New York was in the midst of a second Supporters Shield run) he move to Leipzig for an assistant job before taking over as the head coach of Red Bull Salzburg – which he guided to two Austrian Bundesliga and Austrian Cup titles before landing the job as the RB Leipzig manager, the top team in the Red Bull organization.
Unlike his hire in New York and in Salzburg, Marsch has been greeted warmly by the Leipzig fanbase, and it’s something that he now jokes about.
“I've been received pretty positively here in Leipzig, and that could be a really bad thing because in Salzburg they had the ‘Nein zu Marsch’ banner, which ‘meant no to Marsch’” Marsch joked this week. “And then in New York when they hired me, they absolutely hated me, the fans. I certainly, when I joined New York, I hadn't really even thought that much about Salzburg or Leipzig and was just focused on trying to get the most out of what I thought was still a very talented team in in New York.”
Marsch, 47, has a history of answering his critics quickly for two reasons.
First, he adapts into the culture of his surroundings and wins. In New York, he bought in quickly to the Red Bull philosophy and style of play that is now similar between teams. He also attempts to learn languages and cultures and fit in. As a player with Chivas USA, he attempted to learn Spanish. As the manager of Montreal, he attempted to learn French. Upon moving to Europe, he has learned German to the point he can conduct press conference in the club and media’s native language.
“It's been a big part, I think, of me growing as a person, learning more about the cultures that I've worked in and the people that I've worked with and trying to honor that with not just my experiences and who I am, but also showing to the people that I work with, that I care about who they are, what they're about, what the culture is about,” Marsch discussed. “I think it's helped me be successful for sure - to help me be accepted as well… I care more about, working with people, about developing environments, obviously environments that maximize potential but are also highly successful and then just enjoying that process of being part of something bigger than yourself - creating it and then enjoying it.”
The second, and perhaps most important way Marsch has been able to gain acceptance is that his teams in New York and Salzburg were immediately successful on the field. In Leipzig, the pressure will be on Marsch to ensure the club remains one of the top teams in Germany with the capabilities of making a run in the knockouts of the Champions League and perhaps even push nine-time defending Bundesliga Champions Bayern Munich.
“We've publicly yesterday said the club's goal is to make Champions League,” Marsch said. “That's one of the most exciting things about being here is how truly talented this team is. Then it's just about trying to help them achieve potential. And if we do that, then we believe at the end of the season, like last year, we can be competing for some really big, big things.”
Of course, for Leipzig to make a serious challenging to dethroning Bayern Munich, it will require a lot of things to happen. For one, Marsch will need to have a system which best fits his players. Second, the team will have to willing and early buy into Marsch’s approach and there are always challenges with that when the previous manager, Julian Naglesmann (and now current Bayern manager) was so popular.
But beyond Marsch, RB Leipzig will have to rethink its approach to selling it stop players. The recent high-profile sales of Timo Warner to Chelsea, Dayot Upamecano to Bayern, and Ibrahima Konate to Liverpool have brought in a small fortune to Leipzig but it has made it harder to compete with the very elite clubs of Europe.
To take that next step, however, Leipzig will have to grow into a position where it keeps its top players and becomes a potential top destination for other elite players. The club made a big statement in that regard this offseason when it was able to acquire Andre Silva from Eintracht Frankfurt. The Portuguese forward scored 28 goals last season and had an impressive list of suitors.
Marsch understands that becoming a top club in the transfer market is a gradual process, but indicates that the club is on that path and has had discussions about that progress.
“We have had internal discussions about the evolution of the club,” Marsch said. “We have big ambitions here to achieve big goals. We believe that is a part of the next step of where the club needs to go. Part of bringing in some of these highly talented players is also the flexibility and the belief that we create here that that we can help them achieve being the best players in the world and playing for the best clubs in the world. But as we are building that the right way, I think that that's a goal for us is to continue step by step, starting to enter that stratosphere. And that probably does include finding ways to keep guys.”
“It's also part, I think, intelligently of the German culture to do things step by step, to be careful about progress, to be very calculated in the ways that that you move forward,” he added. “And so, when you look at the overall movement of this club, it's been rapid in some ways, and then it's been very intelligent and calculated in other ways. And I think we'll continue to try to do that the right way.”
As Marsch prepares to take these next big steps in his career, he is also aware that he has a lot of eyes on him back in the United States. As American players have made a bigger footprint in the game, American managers who were born and raised in the United States have been few and far between in the top European leagues. Bob Bradley became the first American to get a job in the top five leagues of Europe when he took over Swansea City in the Premier League in 2016.
Currently, the only two American managers in the top leagues are Marsch and VfB Stuttgart’s Pellegrino Matarazzo. Those two managers (who once played against each other in college when Matarazzo’s Columubia defeated March’s Princeton team, which was managed by Bob Bradley, 1-0 in 1995). Marsch was asked about that game and hopes that it will be a “big deal” back in the United States to have two American managers facing each other while leading two big Bundesliga clubs.
For Marsch to be leading a Bundesliga team with the potential of Leipzig is clearly a big step for American soccer and, after becoming the first American to manager in the Champions League group stages, March is proud for what his accomplishments mean to American soccer.
“I realized two years ago with my time in Salzburg, specifically when we were playing in Champions League, that the perception of my job had changed a little bit back home in the US,” Marsch said. “I wasn't even really sure if that would happen or not. But I came to that realization through a few different experiences. What I've tried to say is the best way to represent our football back home and the pride I have of being an American and MLS being a big part of my story is just to honor what I think needs to be done and to try to work as hard as I possibly can. So I appreciate that people are paying attention and I appreciate that people are following what I'm doing here.”