Alex Schuster was the answer to an extensive global search to hire a sporting director for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC that started in August 2019. We met up in the Whitecaps FC National Soccer Development Centre (NSDC) this week at UBC. As is custom in Vancouver in February, it was raining.
My goal was to discover more about Alex Schuster the person, rather than the sporting director. He was born and raised in Cologne (Köln), where most of his family still lives. Cologne is a major cultural centre for the Rhineland; it hosts more than 30 museums, hundreds of galleries, and, of course, the Cologne cathedral (Kölner Dom), the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Cologne.
Schuster played soccer as a child, but when he graduated high school, he wanted to study law. At the time, anyone who finished their “Abitur” (a national set of exams for German students who are leaving secondary school for university), had to apply at the “ZVS, Zentrale Vergabestelle für Studienplätze” and they recommended he study law in Mainz. Schuster felt this was serendipity – the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
While there, he applied to be a youth coach at the local 1. FSV Mainz 05 team and he eventually was promoted to team manager. He worked with trainers like Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel for 16 years and the team grew in stature was even promoted to the 3. Bundesliga, the highest league a reserve team can play in Germany. Schuster was the third employee to work for them, and when he left, there were 150 employees. He felt he practically grew up with the club.
In 2016, he began working for FC Schalke 04 and took on the job of sporting director. On June 1, 2018, Schuster became the Senior Director of professional football. (Profitfussball) It was his responsibility to help plan the new sporting infrastructure during the rebuilding of the soccer fields. Then November 2019, he accepted the job of sporting director for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
He took the job because he felt that he had learned everything he could in Germany and wanted to experience something challenging outside of Germany. A head hunter for the Major soccer league (MSL) interviewed 32 people through various round of interviews until there were only 3 left to choose from. Schuster came to Vancouver to look around and decided right then and there, if they offered him the job, he was going to take it.
Schuster is not necessarily the best soccer player, but that is a common misconception that a sporting director needs to be a master of soccer skills. Some have them, and some don’t. It is a completely different area of expertise. A sporting director needs to have a good network and the skill to recruit the right people. As sporting director for the Whitecaps, he will now report to the owners, eliminating the role of president from the club structure. It was evident that Schuster has a real passion for the job. He just exuded enthusiasm and excitement when sharing his future plans.
When I asked if they were planning to recruit a German soccer player, Schuster told us that they would start looking around at the home market first, including Canada and the US, and then look at other places worldwide, such as Germany or Europe.
Otherwise, Schuster is looking forward to bringing his wife and child to his waterfront apartment in the Olympic Village. He is also looking forward to a time when it doesn’t rain quite so much. One of his favourite pictures of his newly adopted city shows downtown Vancouver on a sunny day in winter, with boats overshadowed by the snow-covered mountains. Schuster loves the idea of being in place where you have both the seaside and the mountainside in close proximity.
He is looking forward to the Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Sporting Kansas City game on Saturday, February 29, 2020 at 7:30 pm: https://tinyurl.com/wvtxj6p.
Last year, the Whitecaps placed 12th (last place) in the Final Western Conference and did not qualify for the MSL Playoffs, the Champions League and only made it to the third qualifying round in the Canadian Championship. Their top scorer in 2019, Fredy Montero, only scored 8 goals, as compared to 22 goals in 2013 by Camilo Sanvezzo.
Schusters goal is to focus on the next game, work hard and to get better each time. Schuster also hopes to manage expectations, not promising miracles, but slow incremental improvements. His goal is to have the team quality to enter the MSL Cup Playoffs, which will begin October 2020 and end on November 7, 2020. There is a lot of work to be done, but he is looking forward to the challenge.
The upcoming season schedule can be found here: https://www.whitecapsfc.com/schedule