The New York Red Bulls wasted no time making changes following another disappointing playoff exit.
Gérard Houllier, global sporting director for Red Bull Soccer, announced Friday that manager Hans Backe and assistant Jan Halvor Halvorsen will not be returning next year. Their contracts are set to expire at the end of the year. Assistant Mike Petke will take charge of the team in the interim.
The decision quickly followed the announcement that longtime UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh, 69, was appointed the new sporting director for the club. Roxburgh managed Scotland’s national team from 1986 until 1993 and has held his position with European confederation since 1994.
The changes were expected. The organization went through a major restructuring this year with Houllier being appointed in June to oversee global operations and Jérôme de Bontin taking over as general manager in August. Most people believed Backe needed to win the MLS Cup final to keep his job.
New York was eliminated from the playoffs Thursday night, losing at home to D.C. United 1-0 and 2-1 on aggregate. Backe came to the Red Bulls with an impressive resume after winning four Danish titles with Copenhagen and Aalborg, but each of his three seasons in New York came to and end in the conference semifinals.
Roxburgh will be in charge of leading the search for a new manager. Judging by recent organizational changes, the Red Bulls seem likely to hire a high-profile European manager. Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp and former Scotland manager Gary McCallister have been linked to the job. McCallister was previously identified as the favorite, while Redknapp said he would be open to coaching in New York after recently being passed over for England manager.
The pressure on the team was evident after the final match as Kenny Cooper, who missed his second attempt at a penalty kick after his first was called back for encroachment, was reportedly in tears in the locker room.
Joel Lindpere expressed his frustration: “So changes need to be done, and it’s normal with the Red Bulls; there is changes all the time. And I’ve been here for three years and playing [expletive] every game and I haven’t won nothing.”
The new manager will have plenty of decisions to make. One of the biggest will be the fate of Rafa Márquez, who was ejected in the 75th minute for a second yellow card. Despite his tumultuous time with the club, he wants to return to New York.
The relationship between Thierry Henry and Cooper will also be worth evaluating after the Frenchman publicly criticized the league’s second-leading scorer for not holding the ball enough.