New York Red Bulls sporting director Jesse Marsch didn’t want to leave RB Leipzig but it was necessary for him and the team. He believes he is on a better path now at New York, but says there are lessons learned from his experience with the Bundesliga club.
The “rb leipzig players” is a topic that has been discussed in the soccer world recently. Jesse Marsch, who was head coach for RB Leipzig, just didn’t fit at RB Leipzig and it’s OK to admit.
In this week’s column, ESPN’s lead Bundesliga pundit Derek Rae discusses “passen” (German for “fit”), why Jesse Marsch didn’t fit, and RB Leipzig’s fresh start.
Sunday mornings are the day when key decisions at Bundesliga teams are decided, therefore I make it a point to get up incredibly early. Despite knowing that the judgment on Jesse Marsch’s tumultuous few months in Leipzig was already in, I set my alarm for many hours before sunrise this past Sunday. It was only a question of waiting for the official announcement, which came quickly.
– After five months with RB Leipzig, Marsch has decided to go.
This column asked the question in early October: was Marsch the correct guy for RB Leipzig at this point in their tale, despite his bumpy start? What I didn’t realize was that if we’d accepted Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff’s word for it, the Wisconsin coach would have been asking himself the same question.
Marsch had twice gone to the club management (presumably after matchdays 7 and 10) asking if the fit between team and coach was correct, according to Mintzlaff in an interesting interview on the Sport 1 Doppelpass program. We have yet to hear Marsch’s side of the story, but if that’s the case, it would have happened after a 3-0 victory over Bochum and a 1-1 tie in Frankfurt, in which Leipzig conceded a heartbreaking equalizer in stoppage time.
In German football slang, the word passen (“to fit, match”) is often used. If a coach and his players do not passen zusammen (do not fit together), the coach is effectively out of the game. The irony is that Mintzlaff brought Marsch in because he was meant to be the ideal fit and spark plug for the team.
Julian Nagelsmann has improved Leipzig as a unit, allowing them to provide logical and efficient answers when in possession. Marsch’s mission was to polish the club’s past anti-pressing, power-football methods and produce a hybrid style that included the best of both worlds.
Jesse Marsch took over as coach of RB Leipzig in April on a deal that ran through 2023, but he was fired in December. Getty Images/Jan Woitas/picture alliance
At first, everyone, including Mintzlaff, the players, and the media, said the right things about Marsch. From his time as Ralf Rangnick’s assistant coach at RB Leipzig, he knew the majority of the players, the city, and the club’s mentality, and he obviously grasped the broader RB concept, having ascended through the ranks as head coach from New York to Salzburg. His positive motivating manner and bright temperament were seen as a bonus and an enrichment, all while his German language abilities improved dramatically.
Over conventional German virtues like organization and discipline, Marsch emphasized “fun and freedom.” He used the phrase “our group” rather than “my team” on purpose. The players clearly loved him as a guy, but the tactical match was lacking. Leipzig were attempting to play in a manner that was many years out of date for them, under the guidance of a coach who exemplifies that approach. That circle is tough to square.
Former Germany player Stefan Effenberg said on TV a few weeks ago that Marsch was obviously a coach who enjoyed attempting to win games 5-3, and that a team like Leipzig can’t continue down that path; instead, they need to implement “basic belt and braces.” You can see where I’m coming from. Can Marsch, as a coach, be flexible enough to adjust how he does things and adapt to the group he has when faced with a roster that isn’t suited to playing his way?
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This isn’t a free pass for Mintzlaff, though. He was the one who thought Marsch and Leipzig would be a good match in the first place, preferring him over Oliver Glasner, and it seems he was mistaken. Marsch would have been better off working with a seasoned sports director during his time in command, but there simply wasn’t one available after the inability to replace Markus Krosche when he departed for Eintracht Frankfurt. Mintzlaff took issue with Sport 1 presenter Rudi Bruckner’s inquiry on the subject, stating that the absence of a leader should not be mistaken for a lack of sports talent at all levels of the club.
The story has evolved that Marsch was doomed as a result of the summer transfers of Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer to Bayern Munich and Ibrahima Konate to Liverpool. But, on top of the diamonds already at his disposal, Marsch admitted that he had the deepest team in the Bundesliga, thanks to additions like Josko Gvardiol, Mohammed Simakan, and Andre Silva.
Leipzig is behind clubs like Union, Mainz, Koln, and Bochum, with more losses than wins and no away victories under Marsch. Try telling Steffen Baumgart or Thomas Reis that the Leipzig team isn’t as good as what they’re working with. It’s not the case.
Leipzig reverted to a more tight, possession-based strategy in Tuesday’s Champions League triumph against Manchester City, led by Marsch’s assistant Achim Beierlorzer. The team’s new appearance was striking, and it was much more in line with Nagelsmann’s style of play.
It’s critical to distinguish between two crucial concepts here. Was Jesse Marsch a victim of bad luck? Absolutely, in terms of his tenure’s timing, the job’s ambition vs. reality, and having the misfortune of missing his last three games due to testing positive for COVID-19, as well as being dismissed by the club while still in isolation.
Was Marsch treated fairly? Many people find that difficult to accept, but this is, sadly, a narrative of underperformance at its heart. In their brief existence, Leipzig has only experienced upward movement. There’s only one individual who bears the price as the negatives mount up under a new coach. For those who believe Americans aren’t given the benefit of the doubt, an Italian, Scot, Dane, Frenchman, or even a German would have gotten the same result if the fit had been found inadequate. It’s a commercial choice, and at the highest level of football decision-making, there’s no room for emotion.
Don’t forget, however, that every coach or manager has had at least one setback. After all, I’m old enough to recall Alex Ferguson being fired by St. Mirren. Marsch will return, perhaps as a head coach somewhere in Europe, and his wisest option could be to take a break after what must have been a dizzying couple of years working in football’s pressure cooker during a pandemic. He’s accumulated enough credit, and time is a powerful healer.
Former Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco, who returns to German football following a two-year stay with Spartak Moscow, will take over as Marsch’s replacement at Leipzig. It’s a fascinating topic if he and Leipzig “passen” (fit together). Tedesco prioritized defense, transitional times, and set pieces at Schalke. Since then, he’s shifted his focus to positional play and possession.
As Tedesco settles into life in the Heldenstadt, we’ll learn a lot more. The stakes are really high. For Mintzlaff and RB Leipzig, a season without a Champions League berth is intolerable.
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