VANCOUVER, BC – It’s not every day you come across a resume with the reigning UEFA Champions League-winning head coach listed as a reference, but that was the case for new Whitecaps FC sporting director Axel Schuster. That, and 20 years of experience at the top levels of German football.
Schuster, who was announced as the club’s sporting director on Friday after an extensive global search, will report directly to ownership and oversee all technical aspects of the club from youth to first team.
And he’s been itching to get started.
“When I first learned about this opportunity, I was immediately interested and excited. I’m really happy to be here, in this city, and officially start,” Schuster said. “There’s a lot of energy in everybody in this club. It’s up to me and everyone at the club to work together, to bring this energy and achieve our targets.”
Schuster joins Whitecaps FC after most recently serving as senior director of professional football at FC Schalke 04, helping the club to a second-place finish in the 2017-18 Bundesliga season and qualification to the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League knockout stage.
Prior to that, Schuster served as head of football operations at FSV Mainz 05 for over 16 years, helping 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.
During his time at Mainz, Schuster worked alongside head coaches Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel before they eventually landed at Liverpool FC and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively.
“I worked with them closely from the first day until the last day of their period in Mainz,” Schuster said. “One of my main takeaways from that experience was the teamwork within the club. Both of them were very good with that. The club was more innovative, faster, and more clever than the others.”
And that, precisely, is what Schuster hopes to bring to Whitecaps FC. Certainly, his vast network of contacts in the game will be a massive benefit as well as the club looks to build out its scouting department, which was one of Schuster’s main responsibilities during his time at Schalke.
“I have a lot of people that can help us, even if it’s a piece of advice or an idea,” said Schuster, who worked hand-in-hand with Christian Heidel at both Mainz and Schalke. “I will bring all of that. It’s a lot of work to be done. I’m not magic. I’m not Harry Potter. We want to go step by step, but we want the people to see steps. We want to see success even in one year.”
At the same time, Schuster is not looking for a quick fix. He wants sustainability. And he feels there are a number of ways to achieve that, including improvements on the scouting side as well as what he calls a “better philosophy from first kick to the first team.”
“We have to find a pathway, a philosophy, a new idea of developing players, so we can bring through more players in the future,” he said. “Of course, the identity of this club should also be Canadian, but we cannot sign all youth Academy players who are Canadian right away, because they aren’t all ready. That means we have to help more players become ready for the first team.”
Schuster will certainly draw from his experiences at Mainz, where he started as a youth coach before becoming youth director and eventually head of football operations, to help develop that pathway over time. His immediate priority, however, is to help Whitecaps FC head coach Marc Dos Santos bolster the MLS roster for 2020 – a process that is already well underway.
“The first thing is the transfer market now,” Schuster said. “This is the biggest key we have right now to influence next season. We have to make decisions soon.”