New coach. Who dis?
It’s time for Fútbol Friday, The Charlotte Ledger’s weekly newsletter getting you up to speed on Charlotte FC, the city’s new pro soccer team.
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Interim coach Christian Lattanzio makes his debut Saturday; Team’s Italian leader has been surrounded by international soccer’s big names
Charlotte FC interim coach Christian Lattanzio (third from left) at practice this week. Lattanzio, previously a team assistant, takes over a team in the middle of the conference standings. He previously worked under legendary French midfielder and Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira and had a stint with Manchester City. (Photo by Kevin Young/The 5 and 2 Project)
by Sam Spencer
With no MLS games so far this month and an international break giving players the chance to either play for their national teams or take a vacation, Charlotte FC's abrupt firing of coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez (as well as most of the coaching staff) continues to be the top story. Interim coach Christian Lattanzio takes over a team that is in the middle of the eastern conference table, with a 5-8-1 record and no wins on the road.
The Italian assistant has spent most of his career out of the limelight but next to some of the biggest names in soccer. For most of the eight years prior to joining Charlotte FC, he worked under legendary French midfielder and current Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira.
Lattanzio was with Manchester City’s Elite Development Squad when their main team won two English Premier League championships, and he was an assistant for New York City FC when they won the Supporters Shield for the first time in 2017. Expect to hear a lot about Lattanzio’s elite pedigree in the coming weeks.
Members of the media had their first opportunity to speak to Lattanzio on Thursday, just a few days after captain Christian Fuchs’ revelatory press conference shed light on the departure of Ramírez (second item, below). I had my first chance to ask coach Lattanzio some questions. (Questions and answers edited for clarity.)
Q: One of the things that really surprised me about Christian Fuchs’ press conference on Tuesday was him saying how big of a disappointment Charlotte FC’s performance was. The conventional wisdom around the firing of coach Ramírez had been that it was due to communications issues and behavior, not performance on the pitch. Christian put it in a different perspective; he was clearly frustrated that the team hadn’t won on the road yet. What are your expectations for the team and for the club and for your performance going forward?
Coach Christian Lattanzio: My expectation for the team is to be competitive from the first to the last minute, and to try to impose our game [on the other team]. No coach can guarantee the result, not even the biggest coaches on the biggest teams, but what we have to focus on is the performance and the process … My expectation is that we will go and compete against everybody everywhere.
Q: When your hiring was announced almost a year ago, a couple of the big positives Charlotte FC mentioned about you were your communications style, your ability to be able to talk to a diverse group of players and your pedigree working with teams, coaches and players at the very top of international soccer. What do you think are the most important assets that you bring to this role?
I think the most important asset that I bring is the experience. With old age, you get the experience, you get experiences, and I try and learn and pass that on to this group of players, both individually and as a group. So to look at the details of improving each one of them — and it is again my mission because I see a lot of potential in all of them — even though some of them are more experienced and they play for national teams, I think there is room for improvement in all of them …
Even if you look at the biggest teams in Europe, those coaches that they are with, those players, they find a way of improving them. Everybody says they buy great players, yes, but at the end they become even better … Everyone can be improved, it doesn’t matter how old they are, it doesn’t matter which level they play [at]. There is a treasure of experience that [the elite coaches I worked with] gave me and that I want to pass on to the players here.
Q: Is the team going to “kick some ass” tomorrow, as Fuchs told me?
I hope so. We are preparing for that and we want to be competitive and to give a good game to the Red Bulls.
Ramírez firing is starting to make sense
In last Friday’s newsletter, Carroll Walton wrote that the firing of Charlotte FC coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez “still feels like a head-scratcher.” After a week and two press conferences, the decision is actually starting to make sense — unlike some of owner David Tepper’s other troubles — thanks in large part to Charlotte FC captain Christian Fuchs’ Tuesday press conference.
Fuchs has had many different coaches — 20 by his count, including four in one year when he played for German club FC Schalke 04 — so he was the logical choice to be the first Charlotte player to address the media after the May 31 firing of coach Ramírez.
When I asked Fuchs how the team moves forward after the change, he said:
We are here to represent our colors. We are here to give everything for Charlotte … We are trying our very best to be a playoff candidate, absolutely. I think we underperformed with how we played so far. We had a couple of games we should have won, in my eyes.
Prior to the press conference, reports claimed that Ramírez avoided the locker room after defeats and had additional communications challenges with the team. Those reports were confirmed when Fuchs said at the Tuesday press conference that leadership after losses was “nonexistent.”
On the other hand, Fuchs denied another report that made waves. In the wake of last week’s announcement, The Athletic reported “one of the club’s designated players let it be known that he would refuse to play for the club after they returned from the ongoing international break if Ramirez remained head coach … the player in question was Polish striker Karol Swiderski.” That report has been contested, though not on the record by anyone from Charlotte FC until Fuchs denied it Tuesday.
“Rumors can be right or wrong. In that case, they were wrong.”
In fact, if any player is a likely candidate for leading the charge to fire Ramírez, it’s hard not to think it was Fuchs himself after Tuesday’s comments.
Charlotte FC captain Christian Fuchs at a June 7 press conference on Zoom.
Fuchs was not shy to level criticism during the press conference.
Lacking connection with coach: “For me it was overall disappointment in terms of [Ramírez] not being able to really connect with us, that was one of the main reasons,” Fuchs said. “We have a great group of players here that really give everything, that are trying hard, that really are committed to the club, and I think there was a little bit of players not buying into what he was trying to achieve, and got them a little bit frustrated or insecure.”
Unlike the front office, Fuchs not only criticized the team’s leadership but also criticized the performance of the team under Ramírez. He thinks the club can and should be doing better.
“Overall, with the team that we have, with the players we have, and the spirit that we have on the team, we clearly underperformed. I’m not sure how you can be happy with five wins in 13 games when you know [what players we have]. I think we have top players here.”
‘The door was shut’: Fuchs didn’t think playing for Ramírez was easy, and reiterated that he was unavailable to the players. “Most of the time the door was shut.” As the team leader, Fuchs was frustrated by frequent changes that came from the coaching staff, and that communication wasn’t a two-way street.
“For me, it was overall disappointment in terms of him not being able to really connect with us,” the Austrian said. “... I think there was a little bit of a player’s not really buying or what he's trying to achieve.”
Fuchs said he’s excited about the new intensity he believes Lattanzio is bringing to practice, and it reminded him of his English Premier League championship run with Leicester City. “What I saw today … reminded me of my time in England. That’s the way we trained there: with intensity, with lots of games, competitive setup and players really having a go at each other. That’s what you need.”
It was an outspoken news conference for Fuchs — in contrast to the one last week by sporting director Zoran Krneta, who went out of his way not to disparage Ramírez. Maybe it’s no surprise Fuchs’ personal brand is the phrase “No Fuchs Given.” —Sam Spencer
From clean sheets to changing sheets: Goalkeeper Kahlina to become a dad
Charlotte FC goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina had a baby shower last week, according to his post and a series of photos on Instagram — congratulations to the Croatian Sensation and his family!
Up Next: Charlotte (5-8-1) vs. New York Red Bulls (6-3-5)
When/Where: 3 p.m. Saturday, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
How to watch: ABC, ESPN Deportes.
Saturday’s game is a rematch following the May 25 U.S. Open Cup game, which Charlotte FC lost 3-1 in Montclair, N.J.
Teams named after Red Bull energy drink are one of the worst things ever to happen to soccer, so I wrote a column explaining all my feels while I was in Germany last month. In the pantheon of sports diss columns, it’s no “Why I hate Duke,” but if you want another reason to root for Charlotte and against the Red Bulls, it’s worth a read.
Tomorrow’s game is the second home match with a theme or giveaway, following last month’s “Minted” theme, in which the team gave away rally towels. Tomorrow’s theme is “Black Excellence.” The team says it will welcome David Williamson Jr. from the Friendship 9 — the group of students who held a lunch-counter protest in Rock Hill in 1961. He’ll be honored during the coronation pre-match ceremony. In addition, players will wear limited edition Unity training tops during warmups that will be available for purchase. Future themes include “Pride,” “American Hero Night,” “Military,” “Kick Childhood Cancer” and “Hispanic Heritage.”
Thanks to all of you who made it to the bottom of the Kirkland brand version of Fútbol Friday. Carroll will return next week.
Sam Spencer is a lifelong soccer fan and member of the team “1. FC Union Berlin” in the Bundesliga. His column runs every other week in Queen City Nerve. Follow him on Twitter at @choosesam and for more frequent soccer updates, subscribe to Sam’s Soccer Sheet.
Last week’s newsletter misspelled the name of Charlotte FC sporting director Zoran Krneta. Our apologies.
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