As you’ve watched Ernst Tanner put his stamp on the Union, you might have wondered along the way: Why exactly did he give up one of European soccer’s most interesting jobs to come to Philadelphia?
Tanner joined the Union last summer from Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg, a key piece of a global soccer conglomerate run by the Red Bull energy drinks brand. Players he brought there won a UEFA Youth League title in 2017, and reached the Europa League final a year later. And at Red Bull’s flagship club, RB Leipzig of Germany’s Bundesliga, Tanner’s former protégé Julian Nagelsmann will become head coach next season.
Why leave all of that for America?
“I needed to have a new challenge," Tanner told the Inquirer. “In Europe, I know everything. Where should I go in Europe? I had offers from Germany, but I don’t want to go somewhere I’ve been for such a long time. Another Austrian club? Not interesting."
He had an offer from a Chinese team, too, and turned that down.
“I would have earned a bunch of money there, but then you are in, like, a golden cage," he said.
The Union intrigued Tanner not just because he wanted a new challenge. He had been here a few times before, both as a tourist and for work. Union minority owner Richie Graham had visited Tanner at his former club, Germany’s TSG Hoffenheim, while building out the Union’s academy. And MLS’ growth was drawing increasing attention in Europe.
“MLS is an emerging league, and I wanted to learn that system here,” Tanner said. “I think there is a challenge, but there is also a big chance.”
“You cannot change everything in a short period of time here — the players are under contract with the league, you’ve got the salary cap, there is a foreign [player] limitation,” Tanner said. “If you look at what we have now and what we had before, I would not say we are way better, but we have improved.”
In addition to improving the Union, Tanner has made a mark with his candor. Few general managers in any sport are as honest as he has been about his team and MLS as a whole.