Is Gerhard Struber the tonic the Red Bulls need? (Photo courtesy of Barnsley FC)
By Michael Lewis
What to make of the latest in the seemingly endless line of Red Bulls’ head coaches?
Austrian Gerhard Struber Tuesday was named the 18th coach in the club’s 25-year history.
His name certainly isn’t as familiar to the fans as his three Red Bulls predecessors who have strong MLS ties – Mike Petke, Jesse Marsch and most recently, Chris Armas, who have called the shots at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
His name certainly doesn’t have a high-profile international history as some of the coaches who directed the team when the club was known as the MetroStars – Carlos Queiroz, Bora Milutinovic, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Juan Carlos Osorio.
His name certainly hasn’t earned the same respect as some former Metros/Red Bulls coaches who have directed the U.S. national team – Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena.
And he doesn’t have knowledge of American players as did some other MetroStars coaches as Octavio Zambrano and Alfonso Mondelo.
Struber? If you take him at face value doesn’t have that fantastic of a resume. He coached various Red Bull Salzburg teams for a decade and at lower tier and lesser-known Austrian clubs FC Liefering and Wolfsberger AC.
He did cost a pretty penny to get him out of his Barnsley contract, paying a reported $2.36 million to purchase his rights. So, already there is pressure on this “unknown” coach.
One thing I have learned in my years of covering soccer is to give any new coach a chance, especially if you are not familiar with them.
In 1974, a year before I started covering the Rochester Lancers, the team brought in an unknown – well, at least in the U.S. — a Romanian refugee named Ted Dumitru. The team had just gave coach Bill Hughes his walking papers and it needed someone to run the show.
His most previous coaching gig was the University of Texas club team in 1973. Yes, a club team during an era when there weren’t as many NCAA programs as there are today. Dumitru, who directed the club team to a 15-0-3 record and the league title, earned all of $200 that season. To pay the bills for his family, he was a maintenance man at the school.
When he joined the Lancers, word got out that he was a maintenance man and that got a ton of negative publicity. What many fans did not know was that Dumitru, then 34, was a distinguished and respected coach and teacher in his native Romania. He had written a book and several papers about the beautiful game and taught at coaching symposiums.
I wish I could say that Dumitru was a Lancers’ savior. He wasn’t. He couldn’t coax the team into the playoffs for the rest of 1974 or for a full campaign in 1975. There were more problems than any coach could have handled in his second season as the league started to leave the Lancers behind with the advent of Pele joining the Cosmos, the team unable to afford better players and its foreign players being forced to take jobs to make ends meet even though their visa forbade it, among other headaches (that was my first year covering the club, incidentally).
As a rookie, I truly didn’t appreciate Ted Dumitru. Heck, I did not appreciate the Lancers or the soccer at the time. I wanted to cover just about any other sport, but that is another story for another time.
Dumitru? He was way ahead of his time in terms of coaching tactics and knowledge. Beyond coaching, he had this revolutionary idea for a soccer shoe, not unlike what the likes of Nike, adidas, New Balance, etc. etc. have produced.
He eventually found niche, although it took him a while. He and his family ventured to Africa, where he coached the national teams of Zambia, Swaziland and Namibia before settling in South Africa.
There, Dumitru became a coaching legend, directing, at one time or another the rival Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, and Mamelodi Sundowns to various club and continental championships.
Not surprisingly, he earned various nicknames, from “Master Ted” to “Mr. Magic” to “The Professor.”
That is why I am willing to give Struber a chance.
English Championship and not the Premiership?
Barnsley and not Liverpool?
A 1-3 record instead of a 3-1 mark?
Yeah, it doesn’t look quite impressive, does it?
But we don’t know what we’re going to get (even with a $2.6 million bill the Red Bulls had to pay to get his services).
He could show he is worth it and be a Hans Backe and turn around the fortunes of the team as the Swede did in 2010 after disastrous season under Bora.
Struver just might be a great fit for the job.
If not, then the team, in its great revolving door of coaching tradition, will show him the door.