The German Bundesliga opens its season today. This is the literal height of sporting news on Germany’s annual domestic sporting calendar, of course, but it’s also a matter of European if not fully trans-continental news.
Germany is currently No. 2 in UEFA’s coefficient ranking, which ranks clubs’ performance in Europa League and Champions League competitions. It is not a full reckoning of a league’s vitality, but it provides clues and hints as to which leagues are outperforming their contemporaries. The Bundesliga, then, can unquestionably be considered one of the world’s top three leagues, alongside Spain’s La Liga and England’s Premier League. Based on the eye test, it can reasonably be considered No. 2, behind only Spain.
Whatever your personal bent on the matter, the Bundesliga is big business. And as we saunter into the 2017-18 season, one of the biggest leagues in the world with some of the heaviest economic stakes in play is about to push six coaches under the age of 40 into the fray.
This is a big deal, and it should be something of an international model. There’s a reason why German teams are so enjoyable to watch and so front-foot on the international tactical curve. It’s a place of experimentation, of professional sideline Clint Dempseys who try things and have a mandate to do so. It’s cultural as much as anything. The German coaching institution is a lot of things, but it is not stuck in neutral.
This is not the way of it in the U.S., which, to be perfectly blunt, has done a pretty shameful job of developing young bright-eyed coaches and pushing them into places of prominence. This should change.
The youngest professional coach – that is, coaching in either the NASL, USL or MLS – in an American soccer league is Jacksonville Armada chief Mark Lowry, who’s all of 32 years old. But he’s English. The youngest American coach in any of those three leagues is Mike Munoz, the 33-year-old LA Galaxy II coach who’s been on the sidelines as a coach since practically the minute he retired in 2009.
In fact, there are a paltry five head coaches under the age of 40 on the 61 teams split between the nation’s three fully professional soccer leagues. That’s 8 percent of the total. Remember, 33 percent of the Bundesliga’s head coaches are under 40. That, to me, is the gold standard.
A couple are close. OKC Energy’s Jimmy Nielsen just hit 40 a couple weeks ago. Ben Olsen’s been coaching in MLS for seven years and just turned 40. Ian Russell, who’s turned Reno 1868 into an attacking juggernaut in a span of months, is 41. But opportunities for men in their 30’s have simply not existed with any seriousness until lately, and even then it’s been a slow trickle.
This has not been entirely on the clubs, of course. You can only hire the coaches who apply, and the pool of talented forward-thinking coaches under the age of 40 in this country is depressingly low. But still, the stakes in U.S. professional leagues are comparatively low in relation to just about every major league of record in the world. There’s no reason not to take chances in the hope of exceeding all-too-common norms. What I am saying, then, is maybe don’t hire Frank Yallop if you think you might have a less experienced 34-year-old with some harebrained ideology.
The point is not that hiring coaches under 40 is necessary – or even advisable – in all cases. Merely that the chances need to be there for fresh blood to infuse the old with ideas from a different wave. And those chances haven’t existed in any volume at all, ever really, in this country. And the percentage sure as hell needs to be higher than eight.
With that in mind, these are my 10 favorite American coaches under the age of 40 in this country right now.
Not all are professional, obviously, meaning I dipped heavily into the college ranks. The college game is often panned in the public purview for its tendency to produce blunt objects for players, which is too simplistic an analysis but has its merits as far as critiques go. But one area where college has been indispensable is providing opportunities for young coaches denied them on the professional level. College soccer, for all its faults, is actually doing a mighty fine job of giving chances to young coaches – certainly a far better job than any professional league in this country.
My hope is that they are not ignored.