From the MLS to the national teams to Americans abroad
Zac Lee Rigg
Six years ago, when Jurgen Klinsmann took over the German national team, he and assistant boss Joachim Loew asked three questions of any German player or coach they get their hands on: how they wanted Germany to play; how they wanted to be seen to be playing by the rest of the world; and how the German public wanted to see Germany playing.
From those answers, the pair devised a plan to reverse what had become a stodgy, stale German team and institute proactive, direct play focused on quick passes and width.
They introduced the new style at the senior and youth national levels, and asked clubs through the 2.Bundesliga to do likewise, with an added focus on youth development. Germany finished third at the last two World Cups and reached the final of Euro 2008.
Now instated as the US national team coach, Klinsmann will go through a similar process of establishing an on-field identity for the country. The former Tottenham, Inter, Monaco and Bayern Munich striker plans on using America's culture to derive a style of play to define the nation.
“I think it’s important over the next three years and especially in the beginning that I have a lot conversations with people involved in the game here to find a way to define that style,” Klinsmann said at his inaugural press conference.
“What suits us best? What would you like to see? What would you like to identify with? Your opinions are important. College coaches' opinions are important. Youth coaches are important. Everyone is involved in that process. Players as well.
“I’m looking forward to a lot of talks.”
He wants you, America…
As opposed to Brazil or Italy, with ready connotations and an inherent style of play, the United States has always been more an amalgamation of disparate strands. Under former coach Bob Bradley the side played a congested, cagey game with strictly defined roles. Already on the record as saying he could never coach a defensive-minded team, Klinsmann has said the US team should have more of a Latin influence, considering the growing Hispanic population in the country.
“We need the game to grow in the inner cities. There’s no doubt about that,” Claudio Reyna opined a few months ago. The former US captain turned USSF Youth Soccer Technical Director recently drew up a curriculum for youth coaches nation-wide. Klinsmann says he wants to keep Reyna “very close” and is eager to revolutionise youth development in America.
Besides Reyna, the rest of Klinsmann's staff is unknown. The 47-year-old says he wants to take his time, cycling through “guest assistants” in the upcoming spate of friendlies (Mexico is up next on Wed 10 Aug) to glean what he can from differing perspectives as well as hold auditions for the available roles.
Some names in contention include Martin Vasquez, his assistant at Bayern, and Tab Ramos, a former US international. Given the time frame of appointing a coach before World Cup qualifiers, MLS coaches could enter the reckoning once the season ends in November.
The decisions surrounding personnel will likely prove critical. Loew is credited with running training and devising the tactical schemes for Germany, and has performed well as the head honcho since Klinsmann stepped down.
"So, four up front?" "No, Jurgen..."
Klinsmann excels more in a wider managerial role than as a coach. With the US, he'll have the chance to fulfil more of those organisational/cheerleading duties, including picking a new U20 coach and someone to coach the U23 Olympic team, as well as defining a national style of play and working on developing better youth players.
For now, the biggest change Klinsmann brings to the full national side is, what Landon Donovan called “his positive energy” and what Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner dubbed “California-style BS.”
Klinsmann is a bit of a hippie. While earning millions at Tottenham, he drove round London in an old Volkswagen Beetle with a Peanuts sticker on the dash. He spent his earliest summer breaks backpacking around America, giving to Greenpeace and learning his five fluent languages.
When he took over as Germany boss he issued email accounts and computer classes to each player, and utilised practices honed at classes on motivational speeches and leadership seminars. At Bayern his most telling contribution was helping design the new training centre, replete with lounges, quiet zones, a movie theatre and even a DJ console.
He showed up to his first press conference as US boss in a suit and sneakers. He is what American mothers would likely call “a free spirit.”
USSF president Sunil Gulati chased Klinsmann for five years, with two high-profile rejections – allegedly over amount of control the USSF was willing to cede – leading Gulati to fall back on Bradley each time. “It was never really the moment before,” Klinsmann shrugs in typical new-age style.
Gulati 'unveils' Klinsmann
As Gulati put it, the triple treat of elite playing experience, high coaching pedigree and having lived in California for 13 years proved irresistible, and eventually the two parties agreed on a marriage with a contract through the 2014 World Cup.
The project is audacious. Klinsmann has talked about righting the pyramid, abolishing the pay-to-play method popular at the youth levels in America, and developing a system to produce highly technical players who fit into a wider American identity. It could take years, decades even, before the US joins the world's elite.
The question is – for a coach who left after two years with Germany citing burnout and who was fired less than a year into his stint at Bayern – will Klinsmann stick around long enough to see it through?
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