There is beginning to emerge a ‘Hamlett Doctrine,’ the New York Red Bulls sporting director beginning to shape the club under a unique vision. It is a vision that ran counter to the team’s philosophy for its first two decades as a franchise in MLS.
Appointed last offseason, Denis Hamlett now enters his second year with the Red Bulls with plenty of experience and lessons learned. From his time overseeing the building of the team, Hamlett has continued a legacy forged the previous two seasons under former sporting director Ali Curtis, a man who ushered in a youth movement and reliance on the team’s vaunted academy clearly evidenced in the makeup of the first team roster.
But taking it a step further, Hamlett has begun to put a personal stamp on the roster’s look, the past two offseasons having seen major moves go down. Last year it was the trade of midfielder Dax McCarty, this week it was Sacha Kljestan being sent to Orlando City FC in exchange for two young players.
There are similarities in both deals.
Each player was recently an MLS All-Star, a player considered among the best in the league. Both were captains, both were very much the faces of the franchise.
And each one was deemed by the organization to have hit their high-water mark. McCarty turned 30 years old during the last MLS season and Kljestan will be 33 years old this season. For a team that has gotten younger and is built on the legs of teenagers and players who can’t legally drink alcohol, the age of McCarty and Kljestan in prominent midfield roles made both players still in their prime tantamount to ancient on this roster.
“It’s tricky. It’s a balancing act. I think that is a process that gets stressed throughout the whole year with discussions with our staff and what our plan is. Part of is that our belief in Red Bull II and our development of the players. We do have a certain way of playing and I think it’s important that guys understand how to play in that system and I think that starts with our Red Bull II players,” Hamlett said on a Thursday conference call with the media. “In this league, it is about making the right decisions in terms of if you feel you can gain an advantage. [I] think we did that last year with Dax; we felt very strongly in what we had on our roster with Tyler [Adams] and other players who just needed an opportunity. And so now it is sort of fast forwarded to Sacha’s situation and you think with the players that we received from Orlando and the players we’ve signed and potentially signing in the future, we feel that we’re going to have a good balance moving forward. It is tricky but it’s something that is an on-going process but we have to make sure we’re on top of it from the get-go.”
Hence the emergence of a ‘Hamlett Doctrine’ that sees buying low and selling high.
Hamlett talks about the “right balance" and the exciting growth of players such as midfielder Tyler Adams and right back Michael Murillo, both of whom played prominent roles for the Red Bulls last year. He backs that talk up by then dealing veteran players such as McCarty and recently Kljestan so as to play more young talent.
In Hamlett’s words and more importantly his actions, what has emerged from this doctrine clearly is an endorsement of the global philosophy espoused by Red Bull’s corporate ownership. Gone are the days of big-name signings who are on the last legs of their career. In come younger players — perhaps not box office draws but certainly capable and with a high ceiling — who can play the counter-pressing and high-press system of head coach Jesse Marsch.
It is a strikingly similar model as to that used with success by Red Bull Salzburg and Red Bull Leipzig to both become Champions League clubs.
In order to make way for these young players and find the right financial balance, Hamlett must weigh what he judges as a declining return on investments in the likes of McCarthy and Kljestan with building a roster. The doctrine, very much in action.
“It was not an easy decision. We assessed our roster, we looked in terms of how we can improve our team,” Hamlett said. “And given the situation that there was interest in Sacha and we looked and spoke to different teams and the ability came that we saw two young players in [Carlos] Rivas and Tommy Redding – we knew them pretty well from playing them the last three years in the Eastern Conference. And we felt that these players had certain core qualities, certain characteristics that we thought would fit in well with our team. It’s never easy to trade your captain.”