Looking over Mike Petke’s tenure as the New York Red Bulls head coach there are several reasons why he should no longer be the coach, but results were not one.
The job appeared too much for Petke. A club with championship aspirations hired a long-term club player – not a legend, superstar or even a national team regular – but a loyal, blue collared, serviceable starter. No head coaching experience. No European pedigree. No Ivy League education. Petke was named interim coach during his first off-season while the club searched for a replacement. He was not long for the job from the start and any protracted poor run of form would have been his demise.
If the Red Bulls could have found a replacement in March of 2013 when the team dropped 10 out of 15 points, Petke’s coaching career would have been a blip in the club’s history. If the Red Bulls would have lost on August 31st, 2013 to DC United only a few days after Petke and Thierry Henry reportedly got into a fight during training resulting in Henry starting the match on the bench, the task of coaching legitimate world-class players was too big for Petke and a firing would be expected. Instead Petke got the result and followed it up with earning 20 out of 24 possible points in their season ending run to the club’s first piece of hardware in history, the 2013 Supporter Shield.
In his first year as coach he became the club legend he wasn’t as a player. It was not a team playing beautiful free flowing football or a consistently tactically brilliant side, it was blue-collar and passionate. The team was not Henry, but Petke. Petke’s persona infused itself with that team, much to the joy of the fan base, and perhaps the displeasure of the club’s Austrian owners.
Red Bull’s ownership group never appeared to embrace the club’s local and historical roots. Petke, a Long Island boy, links the club with the fans like no one else in the club’s history has. His gruff, direct and emotional demeanor which the fans adore (when they were winning), lead to issues with his designated players. With only two years of coaching and a Supporters’ Shield on his resume; a man dared to challenge an undeniable footballing great and the captain of a World Cup squad. He got results in the end, but is any future DP clambering to play under Petke? Would Xavi with his unquestionable footballing genius going to allow Petke to coach him? Xavi Hernandez is not Juninho Pernambucano. Clubs move heaven and Earth if Xavi is not pleased with a coach, clubs move Junihno when he was not.
From all accounts, however, Petke was growing into his role as a head coach. Petke is not yet 40 with time to learn tactics, player development and man management. He has time to learn how to be the face and voice of a team that both the fans and front office accepts.
New Red Bulls Sporting Director, Ali Curtis, said during the conference call to explain Petke’s firing and the hiring of Jesse Marsch said it was all his call. Curtis’s vision involves “performance and analytics.” A vision Petke was not inline with. Curtis wants a “sophistication in terms of tactically how we defend and tactically how we move forward.” Curtis talked of energy and fast-paced play, similar to what is found in the college game. That’s not Petke’s Red Bulls, but that’s also in large part due to the age of the superstar players and centerback pairing.
Petke never seems long for the job. The club is in transition and his allies are gone. Petke won matches, the clubs first trophy and the fans. Even with an MLS Cup he would probably not win Austria over. Winning the influence and confidence the real decision-makers is something that is not apparent on the field, but it is just as crucial in resuming employment.
Petke’s legacy with the franchise is etched in stone and engraved in steel. In two seasons as coach he did something he could not do in twelve years as a player, be par with a European football legend in the eyes of the fans. He is now the man all others must follow.