The New York Red Bulls’ decision to sign head coach Mike Petke to a new deal was essentially all about commitment and stability.
That was the explanation sporting director Andy Roxburgh gave on Thursday, less than 24 hours after the Red Bulls announced they had signed the 38-year-old Petke to a new deal. Roxburgh would not go into the contractual details for the coach who brought the club its first piece of significant hardware, in his rookie year as a manager in 2013, but he said it was an “improved contract” and gave Petke a real vote of confidence by lauding his ability and personality.
“We wanted to make sure that he was comfortable and that clearly we as a club were comfortable with the situation,” said Roxburgh via conference call. “The other thing, of course, about all of this is Mike is very passionate. He was passionate as a player, he’s passionate as a coach and he wears his heart on his sleeve sometimes, and that passion, that commitment, are very important."
Roxburgh also stressed Petke’s development after spending just one season as a head coach, and he said the deal gives him the support to continue to grow.
“When it comes to learning in the business, it’s a life-long job,” Roxburgh said. “And Mike is a young, developing guy, and we want to try and help him in his early years.”
The Red Bulls were clearly invested in Petke for the long haul long before Wednesday’s announcement. Roxburgh and Petke traveled to England during the offseason to meet and seek advice from managers of some of the top clubs in the Premier League.
New York, however, did not have to give Petke an improved contract. They picked up his option at the end of the 2013 campaign to bring him back for this season but then decided it would be best to negotiate terms for a better deal that would provide more stability for both Petke and the club.
“That’s why we proceeded to that next step,” Roxburgh said. “It’s not a matter of what point did we decide. There was no exact point. This was an evolutionary process that took place.”
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While even Petke has said he has much to learn – he essentially admitted as much after this past weekend’s 4-1 season-opening loss in Vancouver – Roxburgh believes the former defender has a coaching trait that is equal parts invaluable and natural: strong character.
“You can train a lot of people in terms of the technical side, the educational side of training and all of that, but if they don’t have the personality for it then you’re almost done before you start,” Roxburgh said. “The big thing to me that struck me right away with Mike, and continues to be the case, is he is a strong, powerful character, and that gives him a head start. … And he has that toughness. It’s what I call an inner core of hardness; it can come to the surface sometimes. But everybody knows that deep in the core if he needs to make a tough decision, he’ll make it.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.