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What to know about new Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Author’s note: Philadelphia Union will be holding a press conference on Thursday afternoon to introduce their new Sporting Director, after which this article may be updated. Any changes will be noted.

Philadelphia Union have replaced Earnie Stewart. The club officially announced on Thursday that Ernst Tanner, the 51-year-old German academy director at Red Bull Salzburg, will start as the new Union sporting director in mid-to-late September upon completion of immigration processes.

Tanner’s path to the Union

We’ll take a look at Tanner’s accomplishments and prospects in a moment, but first, here is Tanner’s managerial background before the announcement:

  • From 2003 to 2009, Tanner served as academy director for TSV 1860 Munich, which sits currently in the second tier of German soccer.
  • Tanner then moved to Bundesliga side TSG Hoffenheim, again as academy director.
  • After a year as academy director, Tanner was promoted to sporting director at Hoffenheim. He would spend two years in the position there before…
  • Tanner moved to Red Bull Salzburg in 2012, returning to his old title as academy director. Tanner has remained in this position until his announcement as the Union’s new sporting director.

Digging deeper into Tanner’s path to the Union, we can more readily understand his accomplishments, and we can get a better idea of what to expect.

Player development

It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Union are big on youth development. It’s a large part of the reason they brought in Earnie Stewart in the first place, and it is perhaps an even larger part of why Ernst Tanner is his replacement. “Academy director” pops up quite a bit on his resume, and he’s developed some big names to back it up.

From his time as academy director at 1860 Munich, he developed young players like U.S. National Team striker Bobby Wood and longtime Dortmund defender Sven Bender (who now plays for Leverkusen).

While Bender is probably the biggest name to come out of Munich’s academy during Tanner’s tenure there, he developed a great many more players after his move to Hoffenheim, including Gylfi Sigurdsson, Luis Gustavo, and Roberto Fimino.

At Salzburg, Tanner helped bring center-back Duje Caleta-Car through the academy before transferring him from the club for a profit, as well as bringing in a young Saido Mané before he moved on. The names at Salzburg, the reader will notice, are not as big.

Still, Tanner’s strong reputation throughout Europe for youth development is undoubtedly warranted.

Managerial success

Managerial success can be broken down into two parts:

  • Transferring players in and out for a profit.
  • Winning matches.

Tanner has clearly been successful at the former. During his time as sporting director at Hoffenheim, Tanner acquired names like Fimino, Sigurdsson, and Kevin Volland, all of whom would later be transferred for a profit. Those names alone brought Hoffenheim a net of 61 million euros.

Tanner also actively transferred players like Sigurdsson and Gustavo during his tenure for a profit. Again, those players alone netted Hoffenheim 20.8 million Euro.

By the latter metric, winning matches, Tanner’s results are slightly more iffy. In the 2010-2011 season. Hoffenheim finished in the middle of the table — 11th — with 43 points. The next year, Hoffenheim finished in almost exactly the same way: 11th place, 41 points.

It should be noted, however, that Hoffenheim were largely outspent, and an 11th place finish was not below expectations by any standing.

What to expect

Basically, this appointment keeps the Union on the same track they’ve been on. It’s immediately evident that Tanner was signed for his youth development prowess and for his ability to transfer players for a profit. However, this will likely mean more process before production.

Hoffenheim finished in the top ten in both years following Tanner’s departure as sporting director. They finished in third and fourth in the past two years respectively, no doubt due in part to the resources Tanner helped give them.

Union fans will have to wait and see, once more, how his appointment will shape the club’s future.


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    Pachyderm August 9, 2018 at 11:15 am …. carried over.
    Hello and welcome to Philadelphia, Ernst Tanner.
    I look forward to the further execution of the: Vision. Philosophy. Plan.
    Many here will expect comeuppance in the table, playoff births and the like as measurements of success which is fine and understandable for that sect of fans.
    My metric for you, for this franchise and academy will be in the placing of talented players in leading academies throughout the footballing world as in my opinion this is the next step in the development pathway staircase locally and for the betterment of the National teams… and the one I hope Earnie Stewart was setting an intention towards as his infrastructure became more stable.
    Domestic success is understandable but Playing Well and Placing Players in the global environment IS the mission. FULL STOP.
    Go forth in the world with our players’ names.
    This is a Philadelphia Union Acadeny player.

    • Aaron Widman says:

      As a fan I would like to disagree, respectfully. I understand as a player you want to get the most out of your ability which means going to top academies. However, as TD for the Union, ultimately its about the strength of the first team, profit, and long term viability. For academy players, he should want them to be improving, motivated and playing professional soccer for the union. However, having said that, the nature of MLS is different and I am always a fan of US and non US mls players making it big in better leagues. And the TD whomever it is should never try to stall a player’s development, future or happiness. However, he should be more focused on turning the Union academy and first team into a powerhouse that players (like auston trusty) will play with either forever or until he lands that big transfer

      Having said that, I wish the best for your future whether it is with the union or elsewhere. Trust me, I hve no ill will for players like pulisic (WOW).

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        I think his role is a mix of what both you are saying. Given the lackluster history of this club’s first team – basically year in and year out – it is a requirement that he make them better, any way he can.
        We obviously know that will not include spending real money – so if it means finding guys like Mane and Fimino before they become the Mane and Fimino we know now – then selling them off – I am all for that. While we have Sugarman we are going to have entertain that for every Fafa and Ilsinho we find, we are probably going to get a Simpson along with it. The hope would be that Tanner can eliminate the Simpson.
        It’s also clear, while owned by Sugarman, we will be a seller club. With Tanner’s connections, ability to identify talent, and develop that talent – this could prove very fruitful. In this I think he was a fantastic hire.
        For me, ES was fine, but was always doing this to go somewhere else. He failed for the most part at making the first team better, although I will say they posses and pass better than I have ever seen in their history… but that’s not all attributed to just him. It will be interesting to see Tanner balance this and very interesting to see his thoughts on Curtin – especially if they win the Open Cup.

      • “It’s also clear, while owned by Sugarman, we will be a seller club.”

        Every single MLS Club is a selling club, just like every other team in the fucking world except for the top ~10.

        To think otherwise is simply naivety.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Considering the lucrative profitability of selling players overseas, I wholeheartedly argue otherwise.
        Your academy seeds the first team with anywhere from 3-7 rolling players—- your pipeline of future talent which encompasses players from 23-16 years is sold abroad.
        Alphonso Davies….$17 million. His transfer is almost 3x the league salary cap if my numbers are correct.
        He is just the beginning.
        As stated by others I’m in no way arguing one (domestic success) at the expense of the other (development of players).
        I’m arguing my metric of success is building World Quality Football players that make money.

  2. Aaron Widman says:

    curious. Was Ernst academy director when pfeffer was there?? is that a connection

  3. WeAreSteel2K18 says:

    Can’t be worse than Earnie. Hopefully this guy doesn’t consistently insult the fans.

  4. I want to see first team improvements, such as winning the US Open Cup, consistently making the playoffs and consistently winning a playoff game (until now we have won zero). Until this happens this is just a circus with no accountability with me wishing I was living in Atlanta.

  5. pragmatist says:

    Eh. It might be fun to cheer on a revolving-door of your players and watch our alumni doing well overseas. But I would also like the first team to be a championship-caliber team. Those two goals are not mutually exclusive.
    Atlanta is getting near-8-figure offers for their players while being a championship favorite. They don’t need to be an outlier.
    Find young talent. Develop young talent. But win while developing. Otherwise, this is a wasted exercise for people who spend their money on tickets and merchandise.

    • I don’t think they are trying to tell us it is mutually exclusive. I think its more “let us focus on the first part for a while first then we can bring the second part up to speed”

  6. As a long time reader of this site, I like the points you all make. Having Only a truly limited knowledge of how a pro sports team operates…if our academy produces world class/sellable talent,can’t whatever portion of the profit MLS allows them to keep be used to buy the pieces to make the first team better? Isn’t that the point of having a top notch academy? I am truly interested in your knowledge on this thought. Thanks !

    • I believe this is the end game. You start by building up your youth. Hopefully sell them off or keep them while their productive, on the field helping the team. Then spending money to fill holes. Rinse repeat. Reinvest money if a big payday is made on one of your players. I’d say Tanner continues along those lines. Maybe even expanding the Unions reach and scope. How many Red Bull teams are there around the world? How many players scouting reports has he had access to? I think this gives even more credibility to what the Union have done as an organization, and partly to what Stewart has done. Look they convinced some guy who has had his hands on some big names. He wasn’t an ex national team player looking to come home to prove himself. This was a European professional with zero ties to the US and he chose to come to Chester, PA. No matter how much Jay Sugarman, Sak, Novak, et al. have stomped on our hearts, this means something. The Union aren’t a joke. Yes they are still cheap and have a local in on the job training as coach, but they actually have something to work with now. They actually look promising. There’s potential.

  7. Connecting dots…point you all might be missing. RB Salzburg. there is already an rb ny team and a non-rb ny team connected with European counterpart.
    Several European clubs are opening academies in U.S. with mixed results.
    Sugarman has attempted to attain additional investors.
    Could Tanner be step in that direction?
    Could Stewart if Sugarman had any influence on the ussf GM selection, ensuring more union players get callups which in turn makes academy more attractive to overseas?
    A union partnership/merger/buyout from Europe not too farfetched and definitely something someone must have mentioned to Sugarman.

    • There’s definitely a lot more interest in Europe for American players. Pulisic and other young players in Germany are certainly demonstrating the value. I bet, too, a lot of people are impressed with the City Football Group’s franchise team structure, too.

      Most European clubs probably have their hands full — and wallets tied — just running their own daily operations and can’t organize a satellite affiliation with a U.S. club. I say that, because I think otherwise, we’d see more relationships like that.

  8. John Harris says:

    “It should be noted, however, that Hoffenheim were largely outspent, and an 11th place finish was not below expectations by any standing.”
    Ernst seems great but he will be outspent here too.

  9. Zizouisgod says:

    I love how when the Union have touted the experience of both Stewart and Tanner, they reference the fact that both of them have sold players for much more money than they spent buying/developing them.

    Nothing gets a fan base more excited than profits made from transfer activity!

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