Dietrich Mateschitz: “Winning the championship and reaching the final cannot be our goal just yet. On the other hand, just doing well cannot be enough either.” (Photo courtesy of Red Bull)

This story originally was posted on BigApplesoccer.com  Feb. 20, 2007. It is the only known interview with Dietrich Mateschitz by an American reporter since he purchased the MetroStars in 2006. Mateschitz passed away on Saturday at the age of 78.

By Michael Lewis

BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

New York Red Bulls owner Dietrich Mateschitz has some high hopes and expectations for his MLS club. But he doesn’t expect the fortunes of the perennially underachieving team will be turned around quickly.

“In soccer, it can’t happen overnight,” Mateschitz recently wrote in an e-mail. “It will take a number of years to build a top team.”

In a rare and exclusive e-mail interview with BigAppleSoccer.com, the 62-year-old Mateschitz touched upon a number of subjects, including taking a patient approach to build a team and that it would be better to wait until the team gets into Red Bull Park next year before adding a foreign player of major stature.

Mateschitz, who became a billionaire by producing the energy drink Red Bull, usually does not give one-on-one or phone interviews, but through his representatives in Salzburg, Austria, he agreed to a rare e-mail interview.

Mateschitz purchased the MetroStars from the Anschutz Entertainment Group last March and renamed them the Red Bulls; they also are known as Red Bull New York. The total price came to more than $100 million, which included the team, half of Red Bull Park in Harrison, N.J. and naming rights to the stadium. It was his second soccer acquisition after buying SV Austria Salzburg and renaming it Red Bull Salzburg in 2005.

While he expects excellence, Mateschitz stressed that winning the MLS Cup wasn’t the Red Bulls’ goal this season.

“Winning the championship and reaching the final cannot be our goal just yet,” he said in the e-mail. “On the other hand, just doing well cannot be enough either. If everyone puts in their utmost effort and we reach the semifinals, we would consider that a success.”

The Red Bulls have reached the MLS semifinals (Eastern Conference final) only once in their 11-year history — that was as the Metros in 2000, when they were eliminated by the Chicago Fire.

The Los Angeles Galaxy, which is owned by AEG, and MLS signed former England international captain and midfielder David Beckham. Mateschitz said Beckham’s signing has not put any extra pressure on the Red Bulls to add a major foreign name of their own.

“Both the Anschutz Group and Red Bull believe that famous and international soccer players joining the MLS will strengthen the league and increase the interest and fascination of soccer in the U.S.,” he said. “Corresponding steps are likely to be taken by us, although this is not a priority and will happen only when we move into Red Bull Park.”

Mateschitz is willing to be patient, not just to win for this season, but rather establish a solid foundation for the future.

“We are taking it one step at a time,” he said. “First, we have to build a basic structure, form a solid team, scout for talent, and work on development, etc. We have to do our homework properly and only then we can think about as many big names as the MLS rules will allow.”

He added that there was not one foreign star he wanted to see play for the Red Bulls. Last year the Red Bulls looked into the possibility of pursuing Brazilian forward Ronaldo, who recently signed with A.C. Milan in Italy’s Serie A.

“Not for the time being,” Mateschitz said. “We are confident that Bruce will build a team that will compete for and ultimately win a championship, no matter who those players are.”

Mateschitz said he was happy with the team’s progress since buying the franchise, but he will expect improvement.

“We were satisfied with the playoffs last year, obviously moving forward we expect more from the team,” he said, noting the team signed former U.S. national coach Bruce Arena as coach and former U.S. international captain and midfielder Claudia Reyna – “probably the most talented and successful American player.”

He added the team had improved facilities and that the club was close to securing permanent training grounds, although he was not specific as to where it would be in New Jersey.

Asked if he was satisfied with the progress of the construction of Red Bull Park, scheduled to open by July 2008, Mateschitz replied: “Not really. Of course, we are trying to build the new home for the team and fans as fast as possible but planning procedures and construction work on Red Bull Park has to be done properly. We hope it will be open by 2008.”

Mateschitz said he had a “great” working relationship with Arena, who was hired as coach and sporting director last summer after spending nearly eight years as coach of the U.S. national team.

“When we spoke with Bruce, we found that he shared and appreciated the same philosophy and attitude towards sports excellence as Red Bull does,” he said. “In turn, he realized that we were committed to building a soccer metropolis on the East Coast.

“From our perspective, Bruce Arena is the most successful coach in the U.S. and he was excited to be a part of our vision and can help us achieve our goals.”

Mateschitz added that he doesn’t interfere with Arena’s coaching decisions or suggest certain players to be signed by the club.

“We are fully behind whatever personnel decisions that Bruce and his team decides to make and trust his judgment and opinions,” he said.

Arena is an ESPN analyst on the side and Mateschitz doesn’t see that as a problem, but rather a plus for the organization.

“Not only is he the best choice to work as a TV analyst for ESPN, but he also serves an ambassador for the New York Red Bulls,” he said.

Mateschitz, who said that he plans to visit New York City this season and watch the Red Bulls, stated that Red Bull Salzburg and the MLS team could train together or eventually play one another.

“We will make use of as many synergies as possible, including knowledge transfer, common training camps, player exchanges and friendly matches,” he said.

He said his goals were simple — “to build a soccer club and a team everybody can and will be proud of, including our players, our media partners and above all our fans and supporters. Not only those from the East Coast, but all sports enthusiasts and soccer fans across the U.S.”

But first things first – putting together a successful team.

“Our main priority has to be concentrated on the field,” he said.

“First we have to win. We have to be a part of the playoffs on a regular basis and finish the season in best position possible. So we have to find the best trainers and the best players to play intelligent, fast and stout-hearted soccer.”

Attendance has been stagnant the past several seasons. In fact, it dropped three percent to 14,570 last season from 2005, about 1,000 per game below the league average. Mateschitz said he felt the only way to get more bodies in the seats at Giants Stadium was to give fans a reason to come to the games.

“This can only be changed parallel with the sportive success of the New York Red Bulls,” he said.