On one level, it is understandable that Jesse Marsch wants to be careful in picking his next job. He has one Premier League firing to his name, and should he add another in quick succession it would probably close the door on him working in the biggest league in the world forever. Managers are no different than players, and their ambitions and hunger drive them to want to be on the glitziest stage possible.
That said, Marsch also does not have the résumé of someone who gets to be picky.
Marsch was reportedly the top choice to replace Brendan Rodgers this week at Leicester City, but decided at the last minute to withdraw his name, Which is exactly what he did at Southampton a month or so earlier. On the surface, you get it. Southampton are currently 20th out of 20, and Leicester are 19th. Both are staring relegation in the face. But why exactly is Marsch above managing in The Championship?
For all his talk and the names on his résumé, Marsch still only has one MLS Supporters’ Shield and a couple of Austrian League titles to his name, with a team in Austria that is far and away the biggest club in that country. You’ll notice they have kept winning the Austrian title without Marsch (they’re currently 14 points up in a bid to add their second straight title without the American at the helm). He lasted 21 games at RB Leipzig and 37 at Leeds. He left Leipzig because he didn’t feel he was the “right manager” for the squad the club had assembled, though one might ask if a truly gifted manager might bend his plans to the roster he has at his disposal.
He saved Leeds from relegation, which is hardly a nothing, and over the 12 games of last season had them play at a 46-point pace, which would have kept them out of the relegation places over a full season. Again, not a nothing. But this season, with a full preseason to install his ideas and some buys in the transfer market to aid his quest, Leeds played at a 30-point pace, which would have seen them relegated violently.
Marsch can claim that he didn’t have the services of striker Patrick Bamford for most of his time, and when he did Bamford was mostly facing the wrong way, but every squad deals with injuries. He can point to the xG models all he likes that think Leeds are better than their results, but they don’t decide the relegation spots on expected goal difference.
Marsch can claim to have gotten a shorter leash from supporters because of his accent, and he’s probably right. The counter to that would be to get your team to fucking play better. Marsch is such a disciple of the “Red Bull Way,” which involves a lot of running without the ball. Perhaps no manager other than Sean Dyche in the Premier League is as focused on what his team should do without the ball, and Dyche at least has a coherent defensive plan and the bonafides to back it up. In the Premier League, a number of teams are happy to let an opponent have the ball, especially when they’ve already grabbed the lead. Which they frequently did against Leeds. And they’re happy to go over your press if they have to. Marsch never installed a plan that made his team look comfortable with possession, with the instructions seemingly never evolving beyond, “Get it up the field as quickly as you can and then do it faster.” There is a ceiling as to what a team drilled in playing without the ball can accomplish. Only Brentford are in the bottom half of possession percentage and in the top half of the table, and they have a much more polished counterattacking plan.
Marsch turned down Southampton because they only wanted to offer him a contract until the end of the season with an option to renew for the following. At both Leicester and Southampton, it was reported that Marsch was apprehensive about getting either team out of the relegation zone. Fair enough, they’re both in some deep water. But Leicester still have a good amount of the squad that produced back-to-back fifth-place finishes. How much confidence does he have in his own abilities?
Both teams have pretty well-established youth systems and are constantly funneling players to the first team that can play. That’s supposed to be Marsch’s specialty. If Marsch wants to get back into the Premier League, he may have to do it through the promotion route from The Championship. He would be well-poised to do that with either of these teams he’s decided he’s above. But apparently, Marsch doesn’t think he’s a Championship manager.
What job is Marsch waiting for?
So what job is he waiting for? West Ham may be available in the summer, but that ownership is no picnic. He’s not getting the Tottenham job (though how TOTTENHAM would that be?). Crystal Palace? Are they so far ahead of the other two he’s already decided are beneath him?
Maybe he’s just doing a dance until he can get the USMNT job, which should be enough to get any U.S. fan to cough loudly. International teams cannot play the way Marsch wants in an international tournament and go far. But he’ll come cheap, which is generally all U.S. soccer is interested in.
Even if Marsch couldn’t save either Leicester or Southampton, he had enough time to show that he was turning them around and could install a system and culture that would see them come right back up and earn the chance to guide them to do so. But all we know for sure about Marsch as a manager is that he thinks it has to be perfect — with ownership and a roster that fits his very narrow vision of how he wants his team to play. He’s not going to get that with the record he’s produced on the big stage so far. Maybe it’s time to adjust to eventually get what he wants.