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Jesse Marsch: ‘At Salzburg, I’m not treated like an American coach’ | Football

It was a typical scene, really.

The players sit stoically in the visitors’ dressing room, watching their coach pace and gesticulate, listening carefully as he implores them to toughen up in the face of a two-goal half-time deficit. He tells them they’re showing too much respect for their opponent, in this case the reigning champions of Europe. They must be more physical, he insists, even if it means picking up a foul. His words are delivered in German with a dash of English.

Es is nicht ein fucking Freundschaftspiel!

Und get fucking stuck in!

Eventually, the scene becomes less typical. Nearly a minute into the half-time harangue, the manager, Red Bull Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch, shifts to his native tongue, and the uniqueness of the situation – or perhaps the American-ness – comes into focus.

“They have to feel us, guys,” Marsch said to the players, who had fallen behind 3-0 in the first 40 minutes before getting a goal back. “They have to know we’re here to fucking compete.” His team got the message. Salzburg stormed back against Liverpool to erase the two-goal deficit in the first 15 minutes of the second half before conceding a 69th-minute goal to Mohamed Salah and ultimately losing 4-3. But it is safe to say that the defending champions felt Marsch’s squad. “There are teams that would maybe break down after 3-0 at Anfield,” said Jürgen Klopp, “but they weren’t, they were not really bothered.”








Mohamed Salah scores Liverpool’s fourth goal against Salzburg. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Video of Marsch’s fiery speech, recorded for a documentary series, quickly went viral. For much of the European footballing community, it served as an introduction to the 46-year-old who became the first American to coach in the Champions League this season. His stature could grow even larger on Tuesday, when Salzburg host Liverpool in a rematch teeming with implications.

A defeat at Red Bull Arena could see the holders go out of the competition at the group stage while Salzburg would qualify for the Champions League knockout stage for the first time, and further burnish the credentials of a promising young squad and its up-and-coming manager.

For Marsch, it could bring the added benefit of getting people to stop focusing so much on that October speech at Anfield. “Yeah, a little bit,” Marsch tells the Guardian when asked if he’s tired of talking about the footage.

Marsch has defended his club for permitting the dressing room recording, but he admitted there were a few moments that made him sheepish. “Here in Austria and in Europe, they don’t take the f-word as seriously as in the States,” Marsch says with a laugh. “But it’s not great to have a video out with so many f-words.

“The other problem I had was that it made it seem like the coach did everything,” he adds. “We’re always a group here. What made the performance so great is that the players went out and played so bravely. People are asking me, ‘What’s it like going against Klopp?’ It’s not me against Klopp. It’s our team against Liverpool.”

Darian Wilken
(@CoachDarian)

Great insight into the half-time talk from Jesse Marsch in their game vs Liverpool.

Interesting to note the emphasis placed group cohesion and re-aligning mentality before addressing any tactical components. pic.twitter.com/unNplaA25U


October 3, 2019

Getting Salzburg to the knockout stages would represent the apex of Marsch’s coaching career, a trajectory that has seen him go from Major League Soccer to the American college ranks and back to MLS before eventually landing last year in Europe as an assistant at Red Bull Leipzig, where he served under Ralf Rangnick. And in the midst of that footballing odyssey, he embarked on a personal one.

His first head coaching job came in 2012, when he was tapped to lead the Montreal Impact during the club’s inaugural campaign in MLS, but the fit was not quite right and Marsch stepped down after one season in which the team failed to qualify for the league playoffs. “I think in Montreal there were moments when I felt the pressure too much, and I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders,” Marsch says.





David Beckham of LA Galaxy shakes hands with the then Montreal Impact coach Marsch before their match on 12 May, 2012.



David Beckham of LA Galaxy shakes hands with the then Montreal Impact coach Marsch before their match in 2012. Photograph: AFP/AFP via Getty Images

He considered taking other jobs before he and his wife, Kim, decided to set off on a globe-trotting adventure with their three young children. They went rafting in the Himalayas and swam in the Ganges; they saw the Pyramids and Taj Mahal, staying in hostels and crashing on friends’ couches along the way. “We didn’t want to go from Marriott to Marriott,” Marsch says. “We found what made countries so fascinating was the people.”

With a fresh perspective, Marsch returned to his alma mater in 2013 to become a volunteer assistant for the Princeton soccer team. Two years later he was hired as head coach of New York Red Bulls. Marsch won coach of the year honours in his first season in New York, guiding the club to a Supporters’ Shield before falling to Columbus in the Eastern Conference finals of the MLS Cup.

New York qualified for the playoffs in the next two seasons under Marsch, each time bowing out in the second round. Last year, Marsch decided it was time to decamp from North America once again. Midway through the season, with New York in the thick of another title chase, he left the club – where he had the best win-ratio of any coach in their history – for a job as an assistant under Rangnick at RB Leipzig.





Jesse Marsch with Bradley Wright-Phillips during their time at New York Red Bulls together.



Jesse Marsch with Bradley Wright-Phillips during their time together at New York Red Bulls. Photograph: Ira L Black – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

“Pedigree still matters a lot to people in Europe,” Marsch says. “A year in the Bundesliga as an assistant and working under Ralf Rangnick gave me a little bit more to put in my back pocket to go into the next job. It has helped me be better at my job, but it’s also helped the perception of me here.”

Marsch’s sensitivity to perception brings his American background into focus just as acutely as that half-time speech at Anfield. It also invites comparisons to Bradley, who in 2016 became the first American to manage in the Premier League when he took over at Swansea City. But Bradley’s time on the job was ill-fated: he lasted only 85 days, an abbreviated tenure best remembered for the ridicule he endured over his use of American vernacular.

Marsch says Bradley’s difficult time at Swansea was a factor in the decision to take the assistant job at Leipzig. “When I started thinking about the possibility of leaving for Europe, I saw Bob Bradley and what he went through and I tried to best acclimate myself to European football.”

For Marsch, that meant learning the language and steeping himself in the culture, an exercise that harkens back to his family’s global expedition. That preparation all culminated last spring, when he took over at Salzburg, where he says he is “not treated like an American coach”.





Marsch in training before the 4-1 away win over Genk: ‘We have a lot to learn, but we don’t fear anyone’.



Marsch in training before the 4-1 away win over Genk: ‘We have a lot to learn, but we don’t fear anyone’. Photograph: Yorick Jansens/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

“My goal was to assimilate, to be myself, but to also honour the culture that I’m working in. Three years ago, I spoke zero German. Zero. Now I’m relatively fluent. It’s been three years working my butt off to learn the language. I care about it. In some ways, I’m obsessed about it,” he says. “Most of these clubs are a century old. In America, MLS is 25 years old. We’re in our infancy. That’s the way Europeans feel about American football. It’s not true. It’s not reflective of our actual expertise. But we don’t have nearly enough history.”

That Marsch has been able to combat the stigma has made him something of a folk hero to fans of the game in the United States. “I think American players and coaches are always fighting for respect,” Bradley has said. “Jesse’s success means a lot to everybody here.”

Marsch, who has said he would like to coach the US men’s national team at some point, is quick to downplay the broader significance of his status as an American coaching in the top club competition in the world. He says his focus is squarely on the club he has been tasked to lead, a young squad brimming with talented players such as the 19-year-old Norwegian striker Erling Braut Haaland.





Erling Haaland celebrates after scoring Salzburg’s third goal against Liverpool at Anfield.



Erling Braut Haaland celebrates after scoring Salzburg’s third goal against Liverpool at Anfield. Photograph: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

A win over Liverpool would have Salzburg fans dreaming of a deep Champions League run, while Americans would revel in the historic breakthrough of one of their own. Whatever the result, Marsch is confident that his players will be felt on the pitch. “Tuesday is a big night for us,” he said. “We know we have a good group. We’re not perfect. We still have a lot to learn. But the team doesn’t fear anyone.”