FRISCO, Texas — As FC Dallas training takes place, there’s a figure on the sideline with a razor-sharp focus. Hands in pockets, a stadium jacket on, he watches coach Luchi Gonzalez and his staff. He observes what takes place before going inside for meetings with his new side.
He isn’t new to FC Dallas and North Texas. He lived in the area from 1997-98, even attending matches when the team was the Dallas Burn at the Cotton Bowl.
Andre Zanotta may not be a household name in the soccer world, but his experience speaks for itself. He helped negotiate transfers that included sending Neymar to FC Barcelona during his time at Santos and, more recently, Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo to the Catalonian side from Brazil’s Grêmio. He participated in the FIFA Master’s program, earning an MBA in Management and the Laws and Humanities of Sport in 2010. Now, he’s bringing his expertise to FC Dallas as its new technical director, hired Jan. 30.
Zanotta was on the sporting side of Brazilian soccer from 2012-18, working with Santos and Grêmio. The move to Major League Soccer was attractive to him because of the growth of the league and the stability it presented, relative to Brazil. America, Zanotta said, has the highest level of professionalism in regard to sport.
His first introduction to MLS came from United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter. Santos partnered with Barcelona in 2013 to exchange information and coaches, much like FC Dallas’ current partnership with Bayern Munich. That agreement encouraged Zanotta to look for additional teams to partner with in other leagues. That’s when connected with Berhalter and the team he coached at the time, the Columbus Crew. The deal allowed for the Crew to expand their scouting reach, which Zanotta said helped them sign midfielder Artur from Sao Paulo.
“Gregg is a fantastic person,” Zanotta told Pro Soccer USA. “I had a chance to spend time with him and [see] just how intelligent he is, and what he did in Columbus is just great. He invited me to go there in 2014, so I went there in 2014, spent some time with him there. Then, a month later, he went to Santos and spent a week or so with me in Santos, just seeing our training and methodologies. I started to learn more about MLS, and from that moment on, that was when I could follow more of MLS and understand how it works.”
After a new president came into power at Santos, the partnership was nixed. However, Zanotta’s exposure to MLS sparked intrigue, and a friendship with former FCD executive vice president of soccer operations Luis Muzzi that eventually led him to Dallas.
While negotiating the transfer of current FCD centerback Bressan, Muzzi told Zanotta he accepted a job offer with Orlando City. He asked Zanotta if he was interested in filling his role with FC Dallas. Zanotta was, and Muzzi recommended him to FCD owners Dan and Clark Hunt. After interviews with the Hunts, Zanotta landed the job.
Zanotta spoke highly of the accessibility of the Hunt brothers during his first few weeks on the job.
“From other clubs that I know, I’m not sure the owners are that close,” Zanotta said. “And Dan is just every day here, so I think that’s fantastic to have one of the owners on a daily basis here dealing with all the issues we have in the club. I speak to Clark quite often as well. He wants to know how things are doing. Owners are very close to the club and this is something I’m only getting to know now.”
FC Dallas’ academy is one of the club’s highlights. The talents produced range from current midfielder Paxton Pomykal to Schalke FC midfielder Weston McKennie. It’s something Zanotta raved about as well, adding that the team will produce even more talent with the addition of North Texas SC, FCD’s USL League One team.
“I’m learning a lot about this club, and what a great job it’s been,” Zanotta said. “I see the academy here and I’m really impressed. And the quality of the players that are coming from our academy.”
Players such as Edwin Cerrillo, Brandon Servania, Thomas Roberts and Pomykal, he said. Zanotta mentioned up-and-comers who will play for North Texas this year as well, such as Ricardo Pepi, Dante Sealy and Oscar Romero.
“Many players that come from the academy have a high potential to be very successful playing for FC Dallas in the future,” he said.
A strong academy brings with it the mentality of developing and selling players. Dallas recently sold Chris Richards to Bayern Munich in January. The 19-year-old played zero minutes for the first team. Gonzalez spoke about the importance of development in his introductory press conference and proclaimed the academy would continue to be the heartbeat of the team.
“I’m very used to that,” Zanotta said when asked his thoughts on developing and selling players. “That’s where I come from. At Grêmio, not even a month ago, they sold a player like Chris Richards that had never played in the first team and came straight from the academy. This is a part of the soccer market. European clubs are interested in bringing the players as early as they can. They want to bring the player at this early age so they can continue his development, just according to their standards, style, and methodologies. It’s how the soccer market is everywhere else.
“We develop a very good player, ideally we want him to be successful with FC Dallas before selling him, but sometimes we get some very good offers. And we need to understand the player’s side as well if he wants to continue his career in Europe. This has to be balanced before selling him or not.”
FC Dallas hired Zanotta after Gonzalez was appointed head coach, but Zanotta believes in the staff and sees a resemblance to how Grêmio played.
“I’ve been dealing with Luchi every day,” Zanotta said. “I have told this to him: I’m impressed by not only him, but I like when we have a coach that knows how to choose the people to work with him. Bringing Mikey Varas, Peter Luccin, Drew Keeshan — I see the hard work they have and how much effort they put in preparing the trainings and studying the opponents.
“I think Luchi is taking his team in a very good way — the quality of the trainings, the preparations we have for the games — so I’m very well impressed with that so far and they’ve done a fantastic job so far. . . . He’s very strong in his concepts, the way he wants to see the team play and how much he loves being here and being part of this and to fight for FC Dallas. I admire this a lot from Luchi.”
Hoping to grow FCD’s footprint on the international stage, Zanotta wants to establish a more global scouting network to not only bring players, but also attention to FCD.
“We want to have scouts in South America and Eastern Europe to start with,” Zanotta said. “We have Chuy [Vera, FCD Director of Scouting], who’s helping us with youth competitions and other places that we’re gonna have people from FCD in different countries, watching players and trying to find talent.
“If we can have a structured scouting department, it’ll help us have a team stronger this year.”
It’s been a smooth transition for Zanotta, returning to a place he once called home. He’s excited for the journey ahead and for what he hopes results in the trophy the club has been craving since its inception in 1996 — MLS Cup.
“I feel very much integrated here, and the people from FC Dallas and MLS welcome me in a very nice way,” Zanotta said. “I’m just getting myself adapted as quickly as possible to my role here and to the city, the country and the club.
“I feel very happy here, my family is adapting well, and I’m very glad to be apart of the FC Dallas team.”