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New sporting director wants the Union to play ‘more proactive football’

After consulting for a few weeks, Ernst Tanner has officially assumed the Philadelphia Union’s Sporting Director post

New Philadelphia Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner speaks to the media at a press conference at Talen Energy Stadium on October 10, 2018
Matt Ralph

After serving as a consultant for several weeks while awaiting immigration paperwork to be finalized, Ernst Tanner officially took over as Sporting Director of the Philadelphia Union last week.

“I’m very happy to be here in an official way now and I’m excited in all that I have seen in the development over the past couple weeks was very good,” Tanner said in his opening remarks at a press conference at Talen Energy Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

Tanner was announced as Ernie Stewart’s successor in August after Stewart departed the Union to accept the newly created general manager position for the United States Men’s National Team.

The 51-year-old German, who was most recently Red Bull Salzburg’s academy manager, said he’s been pleased with how the team has rebounded from the shock of a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Impact and the disappointment of the U.S. Open Cup final loss in Houston but said there is room for improvement in the way the team plays.

“I’m a fan of more transition and more dynamic football, more proactive football of course but I don’t want to copy the Red Bull model that’s also for sure because that is not possible at the moment,” he said. “It would cost us a fortune and it is not proved that it would be successful in a way. That’s the most important point from my side. We need to create our own identity. That’s a high goal we are going to work on. It will not happen tomorrow.”

Tanner will get a chance to put his stamp on the team and make use of his extensive connections to bring in the type of players he wants to help implement his vision in the offseason, but he’ll also have a decision to make about head coach Jim Curtin, whose contract is out at the end of the year.

“I know Jim for quite a long time, not as a coach but as a person,” Tanner said. “What I have seen during the couple of weeks now was good, so how he’s guiding the team, the way we played was not bad, we did not lose too many games... The discussions so far we’ve had were quite OK, so for sure we have to sit together and see how good we match and then make a decision.”

Curtin’s future with the club won’t be the only major decision facing Tanner in the offseason. The future of midfielder Borek Dockal, who is on a year-long loan without an option to buy from the Chinese Super League, will be one of the biggest question marks for the team ahead of 2019.

“Borek is a fantastic number 10 and if we could continue it would be our first choice of course but you know how the business is and if it is not a possibility we have our eyes open and we could bring somebody else,” Tanner said. “It is not the biggest problem.”

While Dockal, who leads the league in assists with 17, has been a catalyst for the team’s playoff run, the growth of former academy defenders Auston Trusty, who has played every minute, and rookie center back partner Mark McKenzie has impressed Tanner, who said the academy that produced both players has “quite a high standard.”

“It doesn’t matter where you look to in the world it is very seldom the case that you play with a 19 and a 20-year-old center back,” he said. “They’re not only playing, above all they are doing a great job there. Great respect to what has been done in the academy so far and we will for sure continue and they get all my help for sure.”

Tanner spent time with several current academy players over the weekend during the Generation adidas Cup qualifiers in Chester, giving a presentation to players on Friday morning. He said the level of play on display has improved dramatically in recent years.

“I think that there is lots of talent in the states which we can use but I’m not the only one who is thinking that,” he said. “There’s lots of German clubs coming up that are aiming for that talent as well.”