In the end, 14 games was all Jesse Marsch got to make his mark in the Bundesliga. With RB Leipzig slumped in 11th place in the table following successive defeats to Hoffenheim, Bayer Leverkusen and Union Berlin, the decision was made on Sunday to dismiss the American and head in a new direction.
This was somewhat out of character for a club and an organisation that tends to take a long-term view of everything. Marsch is only the second manager in RB Leipzig’s history as a professional club to have been dismissed midway through a season, illustrating just how grave the German club believed the situation to be.
Marsch might argue that he was dealt a difficult hand. RB Leipzig sold three of their best players – Ibrahima Konate, Marcel Sabitzer and Dayot Upamecano – over the summer, putting the American in charge of a squad rebuild the moment he walked through the door. Challenging for the Bundesliga title was always likely to be behind RB Leipzig this season.
And yet RB Leipzig are better than they showed under Marsch. There were some strong performances, like the one that produced a 5-0 thumping of Club Brugge in the Champions League or the home and away displays against Paris Saint-Germain, but there was no consistency.
RB Leipzig wanted Marsch to return the club to the style of play that had defined them during their early years in the Bundesliga. Chief executive Oliver Mintzlaff spoke about emulating Ralph Hasenhuttl and Ralf Rangnick, who both implemented a vertical game dependent on hard running and fast transitions.
Julian Nagelsmann moved RB Leipzig away from this ideology by adding more possession play and instilling greater flexibility, but Marsch’s appointment was designed to return the club to their trademark approach. However, the American struggled to make the necessary changes, which resulted in RB Leipzig landing in philosophical no-man’s land.
While Marsch was reportedly a popular figure within the dressing room, some players felt there had been a drop-off in the level of tactical instruction being offered to them. What’s more, Marsch inherited a squad accustomed to playing a possession-based game while the American focused more on phases of transition play.
Of course, succeeding Nagelsmann – arguably European soccer’s best young coach right now – was always going to be a tough task, but Marsch failed to adapt when challenges arose. His emphasis on hard work gave him a platform, but players found there wasn’t much depth to the American’s ideas. Reports state doubts started to grow quickly.
In fact, Marsch himself reportedly recognised himself as a tactical and stylistic misfit. It’s claimed he twice informed the RB Leipzig hierarchy of concerns over his own suitability to lead the team before he was ultimately dismissed. This likely hastened RB Leipzig’s decision to make a change in the dugout.
It would be understandable, maybe even wise, if Marsch now desired a break from management, but this next move in the sport will reveal a lot about his character. While his time at RB Leipzig didn’t go to plan, the 48-year-old surely still has enough credit in the bank from his successful spell with Red Bull Salzburg to get another job in Europe.
Would a role further down the Bundesliga ladder be the best option for Marsch? Or might a Premier League job, if one became available, be a better test? There is already speculation that Marsch could join his former mentor Rangnick at Manchester United as part of the club’s coaching staff, but an assistant position might not appeal.
A number of MLS clubs (see LAFC, for one) would almost certainly line up to hire Marsch in the league’s off-season, but a return to North American soccer would still be there for Marsch later in his career. At this point, he should approach another challenge in Europe while his name is still relevant.
As for RB Leipzig, they find themselves at a juncture in the club’s recent history. Nagelsmann is gone and so is Rangnick, the man credited with effectively building the club’s front office and putting in place the principles that have made them one of the most successful sides in the Bundesliga in recent years.
The appointment of Marsch was meant to represent a continuation of what Rangnick built, but perhaps RB Leipzig need a full reboot. Marsch won't be the man to deliver it, but that doesn't mean the American can't succeed elsewhere.