Whitecaps hire longtime German soccer executive Axel Schuster

VANCOUVER — The man hired as the Vancouver Whitecaps new sporting director says he cant simply wave a magic wand over the club.

But Axel Schuster says he will bring a systematic approach to rebuilding the Whitecaps into a Major League Soccer contender.

“I am not Harry Potter,” Schuster told a news conference Friday at the Whitecaps practice facility. “I can not make magic things.

“I want to make step-by-step development with sustainability. We don’t want to over pace. We don’t want to make two or three steps at once with the danger to fall back again.”

Jeff Mallett, one of the Whitecaps co-owners, said Schuster was hired after a global search which attracted interest from soccer people around the world.

Schuster will report to ownership and oversee all technical aspects of operations, from youth teams to the Whitecaps.

The Whitecaps struggled to an 8-16-10 record last year, finishing last in the Western Conference and missing the playoffs for a third time in four years.

Hiring Schuster, who has spent more than 20 years with Bundesliga clubs in Germany, doesn’t bring the same big-name recognition as the Montreal Impact naming French soccer legend Thierry Henry as head coach.

Mallett said selecting a sporting director is very different than signing a coach. Schuster’s role will include recruitment and working with player development.

“Henry is trying to get his next assignment in the coaching area,” Mallett said. “I think its great for the league, I think its great for Canada.

“We had to fill a different role. I think people who matter the most, players, agents, teams … that’s what we needed from our sporting director, to be able to bring that leadership (to) every aspect of the sporting side of the club, not just a coach.”

Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos said Schuster’s attributes are his experience and extensive contacts. He also cautioned for patience.

“We see this as an important piece, a piece that is going to add a lot to the club,” Dos Santos said. “I don’t think we are done yet. We still have a lot of things we want to grow as a club.”

Schuster was director of professional football at FC Schalke 04 from June 2016 to June 2019. The team was runner-up in the 2017-18 Bundesliga season and qualified for the UEFA Champions League.

He also spent 16 years as head of football operations at FSV Mainz 05 and helped the club earn promotion to the Bundesliga, a spot in the UEFA Cup, and a U-19 championship for the first time in club history.

The position of sporting director was created after the Whitecaps removed Bob Lenarduzzi as team president in August.

Lenarduzzi had been with the team for 45 years as a player, coach and executive. He took on a new role as club liaison.

It was a turbulent year for the Whitecaps both on and off the pitch.

Off the field, there was criticism about the way the team handled an 11-year-old scandal where a former player on the Whitecaps women’s team accused a former coach of abuse and harassment.

At the time of Lenarduzzi’s demotion, Mallett said the scandal did not affect the club’s decision.

Lenarduzzi attended Fridays announcement, standing quietly at the back of the room.

Schuster said with the transfer windows open, one of his first tasks will be looking for good player fits for the Whitecaps’ roster.

“We have to make the right transfers now, in and out,” he said. “Out doesn’t mean the player is not a good player but maybe he doesn’t fit the philosophy.”

Whitecap ownership has been criticized for not spending money on players.

Mallett said having “the right people in place” in management was the first move in making the Whitecaps “fiercely competitive.”

“The resources will be there to move it along and investing considerably in all aspects of the club on our player development side as well,” he said.

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