Jesse Marsch has gone from US to coaching Erling Braut Haaland - could Celtic be next?

By Thomas DuncanBBC Scotland
Jesse Marsch (right) celebrates winning the league and cup double in his first season at RB Salzburg
Jesse Marsch (right) celebrates winning the league and cup double in his first season at Red Bull Salzburg

Ask Jesse Marsch to explain how his Red Bull Salzburg team plays and you are left with a clear, pressing, picture.

The American coach, who has been linked with the managerial vacancy at Celtic, completed his Uefa Pro Licence in Scotland through the club's patronage, and has a daughter studying in Glasgow, talks of "two fundamental rules".

One is that 73% of goals from run of play are scored within 10 seconds of winning the ball. The other is that your best chance of winning the ball back after losing it is within the first eight seconds.

"After that, it drops dramatically," he says. "And that's not in Germany, or MLS, or in Scotland, that's wherever. So it is all about using those two statistics to guide ourselves so we can shape our success."

Marsch's success since taking charge of Salzburg in June 2019 has been striking. He won a league and cup double in his first season and the Austrian side are on course for another domestic double, averaging just over three goals per game along the way.

But it is the Champions League where they have made their mark, most vividly in 2019 when they came from 3-0 down to draw level at 3-3 with defending champions Liverpool, before finally losing 4-3.

Marsch's profile swelled that night after a video of his half-time team talk went viral, where he can be seen urging his men to compete harder (to put it very politely) in a mixture of English and German.

Since then, further eye-catching - if not always victorious - displays in the Champions League from his callow squad has led to Marsch being linked to several German Bundesliga clubs and now, Celtic. But what is the secret?

"Football in Europe is very sink or swim," Marsch tells BBC Scotland. "People get sucked into that and are swayed by results. When you're trying to win but you skip steps in investing in what the team is to be, it's very hard to control the results.

"What I try to do is to create an environment that is not about the results. It's about development, and an understanding of what we're trying to achieve. And the more I'm able to do that, the more we're able to control the results.

"I love football, training, tactics, all of it. But people and relationships is what really makes me tick. And ultimately if you were to ask me why I came to Europe - it was to see if my idea of relationships and leadership could function in the most competitive environment in our sport."

Marsch's Scottish connections

What also makes Marsch stand out in European football is his nationality. American coaches are often viewed with suspicion in Europe, evidenced by the fact Salzburg fans displayed a banner on his appointment which read: 'Nein zu Marsch', or 'No to Marsch'.

But the 47-year-old - consciously or not - challenges that perception. He took a sabbatical from football for six months to travel to 32 different countries with his family, staying in hostels in order broaden his perspective on life, and has thrown himself into learning German.

And his appointment as head coach of New York Red Bulls in 2015 came after tactical debates with Ralf Rangnick, one of the modern game's most influential coaches, in his job interview.

"After the interview I thought, 'Well, I won't be getting that'," Marsch laughs. But he did, eventually leaving the MLS franchise in 2018 to become Rangnick's assistant at RB Leipzig, having won more matches than any of their previous managers.

"My job at the time wasn't to be a sponge but to help Ralf help the team be successful."

Jesse Marsch (left) speaks to Bayern Munich head coach Hansi Flick as RB Salzburg played the reigning European champions in November 2020
Marsch (left) speaks to Bayern Munich head coach Hansi Flick as RB Salzburg played the reigning European champions in November 2020

Part of Marsch's football education came on these shores, where he did the Scottish FA's Uefa Pro Licence course.

Through links with Red Bull, Celtic sponsored him to do the course from 2017 to 2018 and he flew regularly from the United States to Glasgow - where his daughter now studies at university - after New York Red Bulls games to squeeze in sessions.

"I enjoyed it immensely," Marsch says. "What I learned - not just about Scottish football - but Scottish people is how welcoming they were, how open they were to the ideas I had, how challenging the course was.

"[Now Hibernian head coach] Jack Ross was on the course with me and I thought he was really good, [former Hamilton boss] Martin Canning too. A lot of the assistant coaches in the league and some that are starting to be head coaches."

Mo Johnston, Celtic & the future

With Celtic now searching for a new manager after relinquishing their 10-in-a-row dream, some former players and coaches have suggested Marsch as a potential replacement for Neil Lennon.

The American has always coached within the Red Bull operation which, despite being unpopular with many fans, is now commonly viewed as the model way to run a club.

They scout young players with big potential - Erling Braut Haaland, Sadio Mane, Takumi Minamino are just some of the examples at Salzburg - develop them, and sell them on for a sizeable profit.

It sounds simple, but many other clubs fall short even when striving for the same goals. The praise and the profile that comes with being at the forefront of a successful organisations is something Marsch is still adjusting to.

"With two years of success, and Champions League, I've realised that my profile has changed," Marsch says. "In my mind it hasn't changed at all. But obviously publicly things have.

"I knew Mo Johnston in MLS and I've spoken to him about his experiences at Celtic [and] Rangers.

"Would we have similar ideas in how to build it the right way, invest in the academy, invest in young players and create this development process that I'm talking about, and not just focus on winning?

"Because obviously I know that when you're the coach of Celtic, winning is the most important thing.

"I know enough about it, to say of course it's interesting. It's an amazing club and it would be an honour to even be considered. But I also have a job to do here. My way of working is really to focus in on the job that I'm doing and concentrate in the moment.

"And the more that I do that the more other possibilities can arise. But right now my full concentration is in finishing my year here in Salzburg and then I'll evaluate in summer what the possibilities are for a potential next step."

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