Kevin Thelwell has a main purpose in joining the New York Red Bulls: Win MLS Cup.
The New York Red Bulls Head of Sport gave his first interview since joining the club and made clear that he is here to help win games, starting with the first team and on down to the academy.
"Obviously, very excited and delighted to be in this new role," Thelwell said in a wide-ranging interview in Orlando, Florida, with the team at MLS is Back Tournament. "I think it's a really exciting role."
Thelwell joined the club from Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League, where he was appointed Sporting Director of Wolves in the Summer of 2016 after three years as Head of Football Development and Recruitment – in both roles he oversaw all football-related matters at the club. During Thelwell’s tenure, Wolves went from England’s third tier in 2013-14, to winning the Championship in 2017-18 and earning promotion to the Premier League.
"To join New York Red Bulls, a team that has such huge potential to try and achieve some great things in the future, was too good an opportunity to turn down," he said. "I'm absolutely delighted to be here at last. It seems like it's been a long time coming. I'm really looking forward to getting started properly."
Thelwell said that he knew this club has a "very strong identity" and a "very strong philosophy when it comes to recruiting players," which helped him make the decision easier to come across the pond.
"In terms of where New York Red Bull sits, in my opinion, we've got the opportunity to achieve some great things," he said. "I think we've got a very dedicated coaching team and very dedicated head coach. We have a young group of players, but I think they've got the potential to develop and want to be educated or want to learn, and want to get better. I think we've got a very clear identity. And so from my perspective, I wouldn't have joined if I didn't think we had the potential to achieve some great things."
As Head of Sport, Thelwell will have oversight on all aspects of the sporting side of the club. Sporting Director Denis Hamlett will remain in charge of day-to-day soccer operations and report to Thelwell.
"It's still certainly a philosophy that we want to try and sign high level players, very good players," Thelwell said. "Of course, we want them to fit the overall identity of the group. Certainly, that's what we're going to be looking to do going forward.
"I'm looking forward to playing a big part in that and hoping that we can bring some success along the way."
Thelwell praised the work of Hamlett and said he may be a "thorn in his side" with all his questions to the Sporting Director about all the machinations of MLS team building, but that they're working "very, very closely together.”
"I very much see my role as being a support mechanism to Denis to help him to grow and develop and for us to work very, very closely together to get the best for the team," Thelwell said. "We'll all work very, very closely together to identify the profiles that we think are going to make the team better in the short, medium or long term. Hopefully, we'll reap the benefits of that. "
The club's philosophy on finding and developing youth will continue to be a backbone of the team, Thelwell said.
"If anybody knows my background, I've been very much entrenched in youth development and helping young players to grow, and I would very much regard myself as being young at heart in terms of helping young players to be given opportunities, and I would be an advocate of that," he said.
Thelwell helped build a Wolves team that includes Mexico National Team star Raul Jimenez and Portuguese international João Moutinho, and also brought in young talents such as Pedro Neto and Adama Traore. In August of 2019, Thelwell was appointed to Wolverhampton’s Board for his contributions to the club’s success.
Prior to being named Head of Football Development and Recruitment, Thelwell was the manager of Wolves’ academy for six years, helping it attain coveted Category One status in 2012. Thelwell holds his UEFA Pro License, the highest coaching qualification in European football, and also served for four years as Director of Coaching Education for the Football Association of Wales.
Thelwell said he knows New York is a “big club,” and for big clubs, "enough is never enough."
"MLS Cup is where we all want to be, so you have to build a team that's going to help you to do those things," he said. "That's where we're going to be."
The Head of Sport quickly shunned any talk of a rebuild, focusing on the strong roster that's been built and looking to add -- sooner rather than later.
"I think we already have some very experienced players in the group," he said. "I already think we've got some good experience -- and good expertise that can help to guide the players. But of course, it's making sure that all of these pieces of the jigsaw fit together. And that's something that we're going to be working very hard on in the coming months."
He continued: "If I look at the current roster, I think we're very, very strong in most positions. I think we've got lots of good covering in most positions. In fact, there's lots of competition for those number one places in the team. The coaching staff have had a very difficult time over this period, because the players have been so motivated, so focused on getting better, making sure they're absolutely ready to get going in this games program. Of course, like with any team, you're always wanting to improve the group you've got, and certainly that's going to be a big part of the work going forward. Of course, we think we've got a strong group, but do we think we can improve the group? I think that's where we're going to be looking to try and put in some steps in the next transfer window to hopefully allow us to grow into what we hope is a team that can challenge for MLS Cup. If you're looking for purpose, that's why we're all here. We're all here to try and win things and achieve great things in a particular way. And that's not going to be any different at this football club.
"Are we looking to improve the group? Yes, we are. And so we'll look to the next transfer window to see if we're able to do that."
But Thelwell knows the club is bigger than just the players on the pitch.
"New York Red Bulls have a very, very strong culture," Thelwell said. "All of the people that I've met, have been uber-supportive, have a very strong growth mindset and they're all committed toward learning and developing.”
Thelwell sees an even brighter future ahead for RBNY.
“It feels like a fairly exciting time to join,” he said.