Labidou: Strange timing for New York Red Bulls to replace Erik Soler as GM

The decision to replace Soler with Jérôme de Bontin‏ will provide an unnecessary distraction as the playoffs approach. Still, a former employee of De Bontin raved about his skill.
Shock waves spread across Major League Soccer on Tuesday evening when the New York Red Bulls announced their decision to replace Erik Soler as general manager.

The consensus reaction: Why now?

After all, the Red Bulls currently sit five points away from Eastern Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City and still have a reasonable chance of finishing at the summit with three games remaining.

While Soler has definitely made some questionable moves in the past (Rafa Marquez, the decision to trade for and then trade away Dewayne De Rosario during a three-month period), his decisions this year were primarily solid. After two years of having a threadbare bench, the Red Bulls featured MLS's most potent attack in Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Kenny Cooper and Sebastien Le Toux.

Now, instead of focusing on trying to secure as many points as possible heading into the playoffs, most Red Bulls players will be contemplating their future at the club, unless their name is Thierry Henry or Tim Cahill. The arrival of former AS Monaco President Jérôme de Bontin‏ as new GM might not necessarily mean a major upheaval but it could have significant implications for Marquez.

The Mexican international revealed to last week that he wanted to extend his contract at New York and was looking for an additional year to his current deal which ends in 2013.

"My ultimate dream is to play in the 2014 World Cup," Marquez told through a translator. "I would like to extend my contract for one more year to stay playing at this level, though I have options in Mexico [should the Red Bulls choose not to extend]."


It is unlikely that De Bontin will offer Marquez an extension as doing so would handicap the Red Bulls from pursuing a significant upgrade after next season. In fact, De Bontin might be more willing than his predecessor to offload Marquez during this offseason.

The former Barcelona man has mainly been viewed as a disappointment during his three seasons with New York as he was expected to attract a Mexican fan base and provide a strong defensive presence. Neither has exactly come to fruition.

The Red Bulls continue to struggle in attendance and there is a constant debate over whether or not Dax McCarty should start ahead of Marquez in the midfield. Even though Soler was primarily responsible for personnel decisions, there is speculation that he was replaced also because of the business side of things.

Despite having three very marketable players in Henry, Cahill and Marquez, the Red Bulls failure to draw fans was speculated to be embarrassing to the club's owners. De Bontin has a business background, having served as a member of the Investment Committee of the United States Soccer Federation.

Thierry Hubac, a former director of communications during De Bontin's tenure at AS Monaco, praised De Bontin's ability to not only recruit good young players but handle business aspects as well.

"He knows perfectly about soccer and about how a club and a brand has to be managed and developed, on the field and outside," Hubac wrote to in an email. "He is a great man and a great president! I think his appointment is a really good step for NY Red Bulls."

De Bontin's brief one-year tenure at Monaco saw the club famously recruit Freddy Adu from Benfica along with several promising young players including South Korean striker Park Chu-Young and Cameroonian defender Nicolas N'Koulou. He also failed in an attempt to sign Michael Bradley. There is no doubt that his insight of the game could be useful in global scouting, an area that Soler was accused of being Scandinavian-focused. Yet, Red Bulls executive Gerard Houiller could and should have made this move during the offseason.

There is already speculation that the team is looking for head coach candidates to replace Hans Backe, who is in his final year of his current pact with New York. The New York Times reported that De Bontin has already reached out to a manager who coached in the Premier League recently.

Rafa Benitez? Harry Redknapp? Once again, why now?

The club was beginning to build positivity after a world class three-assist, one-goal performance by Henry. Especially ahead of an important match against the Chicago Fire, which will determine its playoff seeding.

It just seems like another odd decision from the Red Bulls.

Marquez spoke to as part of his charitable work with St. Jude's hospital. Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with the Mexico international about his future and Mexico's rapid improvement in soccer.