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New Red Bull boss Backe gets a little grief
by Ridge Mahoney, January 21st, 2010 7:01AM
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[MLS] To a long gauntlet of barriers that have impeded foreign coaches hired by MLS teams, new Red Bulls leader Hans Backe has added a new one: A "hostile" U.S. consul.

 

Said consul harassed Backe, in a friendly manner, a week prior to the MLS SuperDraft.

Backe went to the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm to pick up a visa, which needed to be issued and stamped for travel to the United States.

During the SuperDraft, Backe recounted their meeting: "So I wait 15 minutes and when I go to see him, he sits behind his desk and says, 'I hate Red Bull! I can die for D.C. United, and I give you the chance to leave the embassy without your visa, that's the best way to do it.' And then he started talking about all the players in MLS, he had total control of teams, players."

Backe had encountered a diehard D.C. United supporter in a venue far removed from MLS. After a few more minutes of jabs and gentle insults - as well as grudging acknowledgement that getting a new stadium gave Red Bull at least one accomplishment beyond those of the four-time MLS Cup champion -- Backe got his visa, along with a vivid first impression of his new job.

"It's an adventure, it's a massive challenge when you look at the new stadium, and hopefully a new training ground, things like that," he says of Red Bull Arena, set to open in the spring, and a practice facility sometime this year or next. "We all know the money that Red Bull spends on the soccer. It's very exciting."

His nearly three decades of coaching includes stints with clubs in Norway, Denmark, England, Greece, and Austria, as well as an assistant's post with fellow Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson with Mexico. He won four Danish titles with Copenhagen and Aalborg.

"He obviously has a lot of experience and has coached in a lot of different countries," says assistant coach Richie Williams, who served as interim head coach for the second time last season after Juan Carlos Osorio departed. "Our staff and he seem to get along very well. He's going to bring a lot to the table for our team and hopefully we'll do well and be successful."

At his first official press conference, Backe, 57, pointed out he'd been working for clubs with limited resources and modest budgets, restrictions that have helped propel many foreign coaches out of MLS. At the SuperDraft, he noted another similarity between his past and present.

"I was surprised," he said. "It's a physical league with pace. OK, some teams are possession teams, like Chivas, but most of the teams are physical teams, similar to the Scandinavian teams in a way.

"I saw 20 or 30 games during the Mexico time, Interliga, SuperLiga, so I've seen a lot of MLS teams, not against each other but against the Mexican teams. I know rather well the level."

He also knows the level of his team's first foray into competition, albeit in preseason friendlies. The Red Bulls will head to Spain in early February to play three European teams - Lech Poznan of Poland, Stromsgodset of Norway, and CSKA Moscow of Russia - in a series of games staged for teams training in conjunction with the La Manga Cup, which is this year featuring eight other teams, including MLS foe Seattle.

"Our games are friendlies," he said. "We are not involved in the tournament. They are good games for us. I was there with Copenhagen and Aalborg, and perhaps we were there with Salzburg, too. I can't quite remember."

He will use these games, and the training sessions before and during the trip to Spain, to better assess players he met only last week.

"It's too early to say, I haven't seen my players," he said when asked how much turnover there might be from last year's 5-19-6 league-worst team. "We will go to Spain to play three high-profile teams and we will have a very big squad with us. After two weeks in Spain I will be able to say a little bit more because I don't know them enough."



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