Rodolfo Borrell - Austin C

Rodolfo Borrell, this past June, experienced a career high point.

As an assistant coach alongside world-renowned manager Pep Guardiola, he helped Manchester City become the second-ever English team to lift the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup trophies in the same year. A treble was complete.

Why would he want to leave?

The abbreviated version is Anthony Precourt – founder, CEO and majority owner of Austin FC – came calling. The MLS club, now in their third year, had a sporting director vacancy to fill and the Spaniard seemed like an ideal fit.

The interest was mutual, turning a professional introduction from four-plus years ago into a partnership. Borrell, appointed June 30 as Austin FC’s new sporting director and chief soccer officer, explained further as he arrives in Texas’ capital city to begin this new chapter.

“At the beginning of May, they contacted me,” Borrell said in a 1-on-1 conversation with “Then the conversations, those developed into Anthony traveling to Manchester to meet me personally, on behalf of all the ownership. We shared quite a lot of time together during the two and a half days that he came to Manchester.

“He showed me how dedicated he is, how passionate he is towards the club, the vision, the energy, everything. He made me feel very much wanted, which I think is very important for any professional. And this, in addition to many other factors, made me decide this was the right place and obviously the right moment to join MLS.”

Borrell, who brings over 28 years of experience as a coach and executive at renowned clubs like FC Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester City, is charged with shaping all things soccer for the Verde & Black. Signed to a multi-year deal, his purview extends across the first team, MLS NEXT Pro squad and academy ranks. It’s a far-reaching responsibility, shaping a fledgling club from the top down. 

While the Spaniard’s coaching chops were forged in Europe, he’s closely watched MLS extending back to 2015. That often meant burning the midnight oil in England watching matches, at first Eastern Conference ones to account for the time-zone change before later getting drawn to Western Conference ones as well.

“My Saturday evenings were from 9 pm UK time to 5 am or 6 am sometimes, which was crazy because obviously on Sunday I was paying the price at a recovery session,” Borrell joked.

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Taking the leap

That admiration also made Borrell convinced that, if push came to shove, he’d take an unorthodox step.

“It's much more difficult to get to leave Europe in midseason, although it can happen,” he said. “So the fact that it's now the end of our season in England, it has helped. But having said that, the opportunity is so exciting that possibly it would have come in the middle of my season in Europe, it would have been almost impossible to decline.

“So I think it's the right place for me, for my family, and to help develop further the whole structure, with all the knowledge and experience that I have gathered during my almost 30 years at the high level of clubs in Europe. And I'm very happy and I'm very excited to join the Austin FC family.”

Borrell joins during an interesting period, with three weeks remaining in the MLS Secondary Transfer Window and one-third of the 2023 season left. And Precourt has indicated moves are expected as Austin aim to build off last year’s Western Conference Final appearance amid an up-and-down season that looks to have turned the corner. Yet reading between the lines, those moves might stem from steps taken before Borrell’s imprint is truly felt this winter.

“There have been people working very hard, and I've been very much made aware of that towards potential signings for the team,” Borrell said. “Right now I cannot say they're going to happen, they’re not going to happen. And at the end of the day, the only thing I can do is trust the people that have been working at the club for a long period of time, who from now onwards I'm going to join, they're going to join me and we’ll work together.

"If there is going to be any move, it’s giving an opinion, but mainly trusting them and backing them.”

Key figures on that front are Josh Wolff, who earlier this year absorbed some additional sporting duties alongside Sean Rubio, their senior VP of player personnel, after inaugural sporting director Claudio Reyna departed the club. In their efforts, Borrell sees positives to build upon.

“From what I could see through my television, the team is already trying to play in a certain way, in a very clear way, in a very clear style,” Borrell said. “And well, I don't think there needs to be a massive change on that.”

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Next steps

What could use more fine-tuning, it appears, is kicking the club’s development profile into overdrive. There are strong bones forming – Austin FC’s Under-15 side won a Generation adidas Cup title in April, Austin FC II are highly competitive in their first MLS NEXT Pro season, and homegrown midfielder Owen Wolff is consistently impacting the first team – but there are additional levels to reach in supplementing scouting and recruitment from within the league and abroad. 

“Austin FC is a very young club and anybody who knows about academies would understand me saying that this is a long-term process,” said Borrell, whose résumé includes nearly 15 years in FC Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy. 

“You cannot develop players overnight from the academy to get into the first team. This all relates to structure, it relates to academy technical programming, it relates to coaching, to be able to have the best coaches, to develop them, to fit them into the best teams within your academy system.”

As this all takes root, going from complementing the first team to overseeing a club, Borrell expressed gratitude for working alongside Guardiola.

“I'm beyond grateful to have joined him and all the success that we have had together,” Borrell said. “And it was not a secret that it was an ambition of mine to join MLS at some point. But I believe this was the right moment. 

“Although, sadly, we had to part ways, he wished me all the best in the future with my new club, which is Austin Football Club. And he was very happy for me, actually. That's good. I'm glad it was left that way.”

As hard as it was leaving Manchester City, the timing just felt right.

"It was important to join an MLS project at an age where I still feel full of energy and strength and everything in order to move things forward for any club," Borrell said. "I didn't want to come here in some sort of retirement mentality at all. So that's why the decision at this stage in my career. I'm 52. I'm not old, but I'm not young. I think it's the right time to help develop further a club in MLS."