The coronation is complete. Former New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch has completed the journey to RB Leipzig and will now officially take over from Julian Nagelsmann, who will join Bayern Munich this upcoming summer.
When it became official that Julian Nagelsmann would join Bayern Munich from RB Leipzig in what is a new world record fee for a head coach, Marsch’s appointment to Leipzig seemed to be straightforward. But according to various reports in Germany, RB Leipzig also considered Stuttgart’s Pellegrino Matarazzo and Wolfsburg’s Oliver Glasner. In fact, on Tuesday, Wolfsburg head coach Glasner was the favorite to take over at Cottaweg 3.
Reports of Glasner’s appointment, however, led to frantic conversations between Salzburg and Leipzig on Tuesday night. What exactly happened that night between the Salzburg and Leipzig bosses will be a story for another day.
Fact is, Marsch always wanted this job. “If there is ever a possibility to return to Leipzig, then that would be a great idea for me,” Marsch said in the Sky documentary Meine Geschichte, which fittingly aired just one week ago. By the following, Wednesday Marsch was granted his wish to succeed Nagelsmann in the summer, with Salzburg officially confirming negotiations.
With both clubs closely tied to Red Bull, those negotiations were always going to be straightforward. On Thursday, the transfer was confirmed, with Marsch joining RB Leipzig for around €2 million ($2.4 million).
“In Jesse Marsch, we have been able to recruit our main head coach target and quickly fill the most important position in the sporting side of the club with a top coach,” RB Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff said in a club statement on Thursday.
Mintzlaff was quick to point out that Marsch, having worked within the Red Bull set up, first in New York and then as an assistant of Ralf Rangnick at Leipzig since 2015, would make his transition easy. “It’s, of course, a great advantage that he already worked for a year at RB Leipzig,” Mintzlaff said. “Jesse knows the club, the city of Leipzig, and, above all, the club and playing philosophy. Alongside his qualities as a coach, Jesse is characterized above all by his positively ambitious style, which he uses to motivate and engage the people and around the club.”
“I’ve cleared up my future as a coach,” Marsch said in a Red Bull Salzburg statement. “My full focus now is 100% on the last three weeks with FC Red Bull Salzburg. Our big aims of retaining the cup and league title are all that count for me for now, and I will do everything I possibly can to achieve them.”
That first mission, retaining the cup, was completed on Saturday, with Red Bull Salzburg beating LASK 3-0 in the final. In the league, Salzburg’s title win is just a formality. In his two years at Salzburg, Marsch will have won four trophies adding to the Supporters’ Shield he won with the New York Red Bulls in 2015.
The expectations in Leipzig will be for Marsch to add further to his collection. Mintzlaff was quick to point out that his club—despite losing defender Dayot Upamecano and head coach Nagelsmann—will not give up the fight against Bayern Munich. Investor Dietrich Mateschitz, in fact, was unimpressed with Bayern’s shopping tour in Leipzig and will give Marsch the financial tools to build a winner.
Leipzig has already signed Josko Gvardiol (Dinamo Zagreb), Mohamed Simakan (Strasbourg), and Brian Brobbey (Ajax). Salzburg top striker Patson Daka could also be signed by Leipzig soon.
But what sort of football can we expect from the 47-year-old American? One of the reasons Leipzig’s bosses were looking at both Glasner and Matarazzo was that their football philosophy more closely aligns with Nagelsmann. Three in the back, more possession than counter-football, and highly variable in the tactical setup.
Under Marsch, Leipzig will return to the sort of power football played under Ralf Rangnick and Ralph Hasenhüttl. “We like to play fast,” Marsch said in an interview with Transfermarkt when asked about his style of play. “We like to control space and play vertically. Not to give the opponent time and space, and when we will win the ball be as dangerous as we can.”
“The formation is less important than the idea of what we’re trying to achieve tactically,” Marsch added in the interview. “I think there’s something about the way that we train and play to that, that continually challenges players to think faster and play faster.”
Without a doubt, there will be some tactical changes under Marsch at Leipzig. The play will be more vertical, more direct, and also faster. But what Nagelsmann and Marsch share is their ability to make players better. Under Marsch, Erling Haaland made a significant step forwards; current Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams was developed by the American. The conveyor belt of talent at Salzburg is a further testament.
In other words, Marsch is not Nagelsmann, and Leipzig did consider other options. But the bottom line is, Marsch is the right choice for Leipzig, both as an emotional leader and as a coach who is tactically adaptable and makes his players better.
Manuel Veth is the editor-in-chief of the Futbolgrad Network and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth