ESPN Bundesliga main commentator Derek Rae talks about passen (a German word meaning “fit”), why Jesse Marsh has not been fit and a fresh start for RB Leipzig in this week’s column.
I make sure to wake up ridiculously on Sunday morning, simply because it is the day when the big decisions are made in the Bundesliga. This past Sunday, I set my alarm for several hours before dawn even though I knew the verdict on Jesse Marsh’s turbulent few months in Leipzig had already begun. It was only about the official announcement itself, which arrived immediately.
Marsh leaves RB Leipzig after five months
In early October, this column asked the question: Was Marsh, having made an erratic start, the right man for RB Leipzig at this point in their story? What I didn’t know was that if we took Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff at his word, the coach from Wisconsin was asking himself the same question.
Mintzalaf revealed in a wonderful interview on Sport 1 One, two It showed that Marsh had twice gone to the club chiefs (apparently after the 7th and 10th) to ask if a match was appropriate between the team and the coach. It must be said that we have yet to hear Marsh’s side of this, but if true, it will happen after the 3-0 win at Bochum and then the 1-1 draw in Frankfurt, which saw Leipzig score a painful injury-time equaliser.
verb to fit (“fit, match”) is commonly used in the German football language. If the coach and his players Do not match (Do not fit together), then the match ends for the coach. The funny thing is that Mintzlaff brought on Marsch precisely because he was supposed to be the perfect match and spark plug for the team.
Julian Nagelsmann has made RB Leipzig even better as a team, able to provide smart and efficient solutions while in possession of the ball. Marsh’s specialty was to refinish the former club counter pressure, the power of football ways and create the best of both worlds.
At first, everyone – Mintslav, the players and the media – said the right things about Marsh. He knew most of the team, the city and the club spirit since his time as assistant coach Ralph Rangnick at RB Leipzig, and of course he understood RB’s overall philosophy after rising through the ranks as head coach from New York to Salzburg. His sunny demeanor and upbeat motivational style were seen as an added advantage and enrichment, while his German skills were improving significantly.
Marsh emphasized “fun and freedom” over traditional German values such as organization and discipline. He deliberately spoke of ‘our group’ rather than ‘my team’. Obviously the players liked him personally but the tactical match was not there. Leipzig was trying to play in a style that, for them, was out of date for several years under a coach who embodies that old style. It’s hard to square that circle.
Former German international Stefan Effenberg remarked on TV a few weeks ago that Marsh was clearly a coach who loved trying to win matches 5-3, and argued that a club like Leipzig could not go that way; Instead, they should insert the “core harness and braces.” You can understand the argument. Faced with a team unsuitable to play his way, can Marsh as coach be flexible enough to change the way he operates and adapt to the team he has?
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Mintzlaff doesn’t get a free pass for this either. He was the one who was convinced that Marsh and Leipzig would be fit in the first place, preferring him to Oliver Glasner, and this judgment seems to have been wrong. Marsh had been well served working with an experienced sporting director, but there was simply no one in his place throughout his tenure, after failing to replace Marcus Kroes when he left for Eintracht Frankfurt. Mintzlaff objected to the questioning of Sport 1 host Rudi Bruckner on the issue, noting that despite the lack of a sham figure, this should not be confused with a lack of sporting competence at all levels of the club.
And the novel appeared that Marsh might have been doomed because of the loss of his players Dayot Opicano and Marcel Sabitzer to Bayern and Ibrahima Konate against Liverpool all summer. But Marsh himself admitted he may have had the deepest team in the Bundesliga, backed by contracts like Jusco Gvardiol, Mohamed Simacan and Andre Silva, at the helm of the gems already at his disposal.
Leipzig – which has beaten more than its victories, and without a home win under Marsh – occupy teams such as Union, Mainz, Cologne and Bochum. Try telling Steffen Baumgart or Thomas Reis that Leipzig’s team is actually too weak to work with. it’s not.
In Tuesday’s Champions League win over Manchester City, under Marsh assistant Achim Berlorzer, we saw RB Leipzig return to a tighter, possession-based approach. The different look of the team was amazing and more in keeping with Nagelsmann-style football.
It is important to differentiate two main things here. Was Jesse Marsh unlucky? In terms of the timing of his tenure, seeing the job versus its reality and certainly having the misfortune to miss his last 3 matches due to positive COVID-19 tests, which the club released while still in isolation, is absolutely.
Did Marsh have a fair shake? It’s uncomfortable for many to digest, but this is unfortunately a story about poor performance at its core. Leipzig has known only an upward trajectory in its short history. When negatives suddenly pile up under a new coach, only one person pays the price. For those who say Americans do not benefit from skepticism, this would have been the result of an Italian, or a Scottish, or a Danish, or a French—or indeed a German—had the fit been held to be wrong. It’s a business decision, and there is no emotion at the highest levels of decision-making in football.
However, do not forget that every coach or management profession has at least one setback. I am old enough, after all, to remember that Alex Ferguson was sacked by St Mirren. Marsh will be back – hopefully a head coach elsewhere in Europe, and his best move may be to take some time off after what has certainly been a whirlwind of two years working in a football pressure cooker amid a pandemic. He’s gained enough credit, and time can be a great healer.
Behind March in Leipzig will be ex-Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco, who will return to German football and was available after a two-year spell with Spartak Moscow. Whether it is he and Leipzig match (compatibility together) is an interesting question. Tedesco’s focus at Schalke was on defense first, transitional moments and set-pieces. It has since evolved to focus on positional play and possession.
We’ll know more very soon when Tedesco begins life in hero city. The stakes are high. A season away from the Champions League positions is unacceptable for Mnzlaf and RB Leipzig.