[MLS SPOTLIGHT] The Red Bulls searched the world for a new head coach, but they had their man on their staff all along. On Thursday, three days into its
preseason training camp in Florida, it removed the tag of "interim coach" and named Mike Petke, an assistant in 2012, as its head coach for the 2013 season.
Petke's hiring comes almost 11 weeks after the Red Bulls announced Swede Hans Backe would not return in 2013. First, Scotsman Gary McAllister, then Portuguese Paulo Sousa were widely tipped to succeed Backe, but no agreement was announced.
There were widespread reports that their was dispute within the newly installed Red Bull management team -- general manager Jerome de Bontin, sporting director Andy Roxburgh and director of global soccer Gerard Houllier -- over the direction to take. De Bontin, the only one of the three with a background in American soccer, and Roxburgh were believed to want a coach with MLS experience; Houllier was thought to want an outsider from Europe.
Now that the search is over, the Red Bulls are acting like Petke was the only man the job.
“Mike had been on the radar and part of the selection process since, I would say, after the first few weeks,” Roxburgh said. “He’s charismatic, he’s well organized and he gets the respect of the players. What’s very important in all of this is that Mike is very experienced in terms of the MLS. If you brought a coach in from Europe, he might be experienced in Europe, but he would be totally inexperienced here in the U.S. Mike starts with an enormous advantage because he knows everybody, he knows the league and he’s absolutely passionate about the club.”
Why the lengthy search?
“We had to try to assess all options and we had spoken with a number of people,” Roxburgh said. "We had inquired about the possibilities of some others. But whether people were appropriate, whether they were available, all the various things [didn't work out]. Right from day one, we actually thought we would like to have a young, hungry coach who could be adaptable and who could relate to this [league and club]. And right away, Mike checked all those boxes but I think it was appropriate for us to go through all of the process.”
Petke, who attended Southern Connecticut State, spent eight years as a player in New York, making 169 MLS appearances as a defender. The Long Island native, who played another six seasons in D.C. United and Colorado, was known as a players' player, serving as New York's union rep.
“I’ve been around the team, I know the players,” Petke said.
The No. 1 question will be how he handles French star Thierry Henry, outspoken on team matters in the locker room, on the field and with the media.
"We have a good relationship," said Petke. "Before he came here I didn’t think anyone was as passionate about the game as I was. Whatever it is, Ping Pong, cards, whatever, he wants to win. I put him in the same category as guys like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in that respect. Nothing has changed. No one will be coddled. They are human beings and men and I will treat them like men.”