Red Bull – yes, the energy drink company – has the power to change the future of football in America. The addition of American midfield Tyler Adams should mark the epoch of a new trend of RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg bringing players over from MLS’s New York Red Bulls.
New football conglomerates have slowly begun to take over the world. City Football Group, Atletico Madrid, Watford and Udinese, and Red Bull all have control of multiple clubs throughout the world, which helps them find and spread talent throughout their network of clubs while increasing their global influence. Quite a few of these groups have invested in highly-populated nations where football’s popularity has had a meteoric rise, particularly in China, India, and the United States.
Of all the aforementioned ownership conglomerates, Red Bull is the only group with two Europe-based clubs who will compete in continental competition in the upcoming season. The Austrian energy drink company has the potential to change the landscape of the sport’s future stateside for decades to come.
Major League Soccer side New York Red Bulls hold the key to this whole operation. City Football Group owns New York City FC in MLS, but since players need international experience or an EU passport to train in England, Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig are much more accessible for young players with the talent to play in a competitive European league and continental competition.
Furthermore, RB Leipzig particularly focuses on young talent. They have a transfer policy of not signing players over 23-years-old, and they have had a number of good players come through their academy in their short history. If the Austrian energy drink giants want to expand their academy and brand, they should look to invest heavily in youth football in the United States.
The United States and the Bundesliga have a strong relationship. Highly-rated young forward Josh Sargent moved to Werder Bremen this past winter while Bobby Wood, Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, and Christian Pulisic have all established themselves as reliable first-team players for their respective clubs. It’s good that some Americans are receiving opportunities in one of the top five leagues, but all of those players aside from Pulisic would not come close to breaking into the first team of a top-four team in Germany’s top flight.
It’s hard to find players as good and as young as Pulisic, so Red Bull has to take the European quality of youth coaching across the pond to the States. That way, young American footballers will really learn how to play the beautiful game and will have more of a chance at excelling when playing against European players of similar ages.
The Pulisic Exception
The company will not instantly find 15 players as good as Christian Pulisic, not only because the Dortmund starlet is a rare talent, but also because not many American teens have the opportunity to move abroad, secure an EU passport, and start training before the age of 18.
Rather than wait until his 18th birthday to leave the States for a better place to hone his abilities on the pitch, Pulisic used the fact that his grandfather was born in Croatia and got a Croatian passport as a result, letting him take up residence and begin to train and play with BVB immediately.
Pulisic got a two-year head start on other American players who had to wait to move overseas. Few players have the footballing gifts of Pulisic, who signed for Dortmund in February of 2015, scored 10 goals and assisted eight more in 15 youth games, and got a call-up to BVB’s senior side by Christmas.
Red Bull won’t be receiving many first-team-ready players right away if they decide to invest in an expansive youth academy in America, but they will bring over players who have grown up with better footballing habits than the rest of the nation under the guidance of Red Bull-approved coaches.
Football lacks the “pick-up game” culture that basketball, American football, and, to a lesser extent, baseball all have in the USA. It will take a lot of time and money, but the soda company can change the fortunes of the United States Men’s National Team and the clubs under its ownership if they decide to fix youth football culture in America.
What Can Red Bull Do?
To start off, Red Bull’s MLS side plays in New York, America’s largest city. That, along with the fact that Germany and Austria are more lenient with work permits than England, gives the energy drink company a huge advantage over the likes of City Football Group when it comes to using the American talent pool. Red Bull can send experienced coaches over to the States to run the academy for NYRB, and if they feel fully invested into reshaping the culture of the sport in America, they could build fields in New York and sponsor free leagues so children can play without having to pay the usual astronomical fees youth clubs charge the players to join.
Money is football’s biggest problem in America. Competitive clubs charge thousands of dollars per year for a player to join the team, therefore valuing the players with wealthier parents instead of the best players. If Red Bull decides to socialize football for the United States, then the country of around 330 million people would eventually grow into a nation with a real football mentality. Socializing football would mean the energy drink business would have to invest in fields, leagues, and coaches, but doing if they undertake this expensive task, they would have their pick of the top youth players in the biggest city in the United States.
Making the sport more accessible is merely half the battle: Red Bull would also have to mitigate the stark difference in training between America and Europe from the youngest academy teams. Young stateside players grow up with too much coaching. American coaches direct players’ every move, and when the players stray from the coach’s plan, they do not know how to improvise and make something happen without instruction. In Europe, players have more freedom to figure things out for themselves in matches at a young age.
If Red Bull felt so inclined, they could provide free leagues in New York for young kids to learn the game in a safe environment with quality coaches, but not too much instruction from them. This way, they would learn how to actually play football, rather than get roped into the usual American footballing tradition of kids simply executing a coach’s vision on the pitch without making their own decisions.
Yes, it would be expensive, and yes, Red Bull is a business first, but if RB Leipzig’s development as a club is any indication, the company fully intends on becoming a force in the football world. Starting a comprehensive developmental program in the biggest city in a country of 330 million people would give the company’s network of teams all the talent they could dream of.
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