Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


THE PLUSH LIFE OF JUERGEN KLINSMANN

Juergen Klinsmann has agreed to a four-year contract extension that keeps him at the U.S. National Team helm through the next World Cup cycle and on until the end of 2018.  As part of the agreement announced by the U.S. Soccer Federation, Klinsmann also becomes technical director.

Appointed U.S. coach in mid-2011 following the dismissal of Bob Bradley, Klinsmann guided an overhauled American squad to a 2014 World Cup berth.  The U.S. finished first in the final round of the CONCACAF qualifiers (7-2-1) and went undefeated in winning the 2013 Gold Cup.  The team ended the year 16-4-2 overall, setting single-year marks for wins, winning percentage (.761) and consecutive victories (12).

“One of the reasons we hired Juergen as our head coach was to advance the program, and we’ve seen the initial stages of that happening on the field and also off the field in various areas,” said U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati.  “In the past two years he has built a strong foundation from the senior team down to the youth teams and we want to continue to build on that success.”

Klinsmann reportedly is being paid $2.5 million a year on his current contract and can earn up to $10.5 million in bonuses depending on the USA’s performance at Brasil ’14.  [December 12]

Comment:  The comfortable throne reserved for the U.S. National Team coach just got a little more plush.

Since the Bora Milutinovic era, when the rest of the world started to pay attention to the Americans, the post has been derided by the international media and fellow coaches (some of them wishful suitors) as a job with none of the intense scrutiny and relentless criticism that hounds most every other national team boss.

Said soon-to-be fired Mexico coach Ricardo LaVolpe of the overall U.S. National Team atmosphere after losing a World Cup qualifier to the Yanks in 2005:  “Here, everyone’s interested in baseball and American football and many people didn’t even know that a soccer match was being played today.  So it’s easy for them, because they aren’t playing under any pressure.  My mother, my grandmother, or my great-grandmother could play in a team like that.”

We’ll assume that LaVolpe’s grandmother is Clint Dempsey and his great-grandmother is a good deal older, like Steve Cherundolo.

Then, more recently–last December–there was disgraced former France coach Raymond Domenech, who guided Les Bleus to the 2006 World Cup final and then watched his team mutiny and implode in a disgraceful three-and-out showing four years later.

“There’s a job I’d rather have,” Domenech said in an interview with But! Lyon.  “Besides, I know [Klinsmann], he knows and he doesn’t care.  This post is the coach of the United States.  I’d like to see this country.  Add to that, the Americans always qualify [for the World Cup].  At the same time, it is easy in North America:  there are only two games to qualify for the World Cup.  South America is already a paradise, but the North is even better!  You play Canada, Mexico.  You’ll walk in the Islands.”

We’ll never understand what Domenech meant by Canada, which is ranked 112th in the world and crashed in CONCACAF’s 2014 World Cup qualifiers two months before his comments.  That aside, he made his point.    Here, there is the lack of the breathless, relentless pressure that has made life miserable for everyone from Franz Beckenbauer to Michel Platini to Brazil’s once and future genius, Felipe “Big Phil” Scolari.  And it hasn’t done much for Miguel Herrera, the last in a string of four Mexico coaches run through the grinder from September to November.

While the U.S. National Team is years away from having the support–and scrutiny–of a majority of the country, the resulting atmosphere has spared the USSF the temptation to make panicky dismissals of its coaches and allowed those coaches to go about their business.

In Klinsmann’s case, time to test a large number of players, make mistakes, and, ultimately, over time, alter the culture of the team.  Then watch the results at a World Cup.  Or, perhaps, a second World Cup.

Not being a soccer nation has its advantages after all.



THE HONEYMOON BEGINETH

New U.S. National Team coach Juergen Klinsmann named a 22-man roster for the August 10 friendly with Mexico at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.  The meeting will be the first between the rivals since Mexico’s 4-2 romp over the Americans in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl in July.  It also will be the first friendly between the two sides in three years.  [August 4]

Comment:  Let the honeymoon begin, or as former Mexico coach Ricardo LaVolpe once said of the U.S. National Team, as quoted in Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats:  “Here, everyone is interested in baseball and American football and many people didn’t even know that a soccer match was being played today.  So it’s easy for them, because they aren’t playing under any pressure.  My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother could play in a team like that.”

As games go, this is about as meaningless as it comes when it’s the U.S. and Mexico.  Klinsmann will have a long look at players he’s wondered about during his five years as U.S.-coach-in-waiting, and the process will continue next month, with friendlies against Costa Rica at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA, and Belgium at King Badouin Stadium in Brussels. 

It doesn’t matter if the U.S. goes down again, 4-2, in Philly.  It doesn’t matter if the U.S. performs poorly against another World Cup qualifier opponent, Costa Rica, or extends its limp record against European teams in Europe with its trip to Brussels.  And it doesn’t matter because these are friendlies and the U.S. coach is former German star Juergen Klinsmann, the biggest name ever to coach the national team.  

Klinsmann’s resume begins with a World Cup championship in 1990, and he lifted the 1996 European Championship trophy as captain.  To put Klinsmann’s credentials as a player in perspective, he scored 47 goals in 108 international  appearances;  the total number of caps earned by his 34 predecessors at the U.S. helm total 35, and it would be far fewer were it not for future NASL commissioner Phil Woosnam, who played 17 times for Wales in the early ’60s.  (The others:  Bob Millar, two, for the U.S.; Erno Schwarz, two for Hungary; Bob Kehoe, four, for the U.S.; Gordon Bradley, one, for the U.S.; Walt Chyzowych, three, for the U.S.; Bob Gansler, five, for the U.S.; and Bruce Arena, one, for the U.S.)

As a coach, while he later failed to click at his former club, Bayern Munich, what most will remember him for was his work in transforming Germany at the 2006 World Cup.  Despite being the hosts, the young Germans were expected by their own countrymen to crash early but instead played an entertaining and inspired brand of soccer in reaching the semifinals.

Beyond that, Klinsmann seems to have come out of Central Casting, had the call gone out for a foreign-born U.S. National Team coach.  Young, articulate, bright enough to negotiate his own contracts while with AS Monaco and on other stops during his highly successful 17-year playing career.  Lives in Huntington Beach, CA, with his American wife and their two very American children.  Thoroughly familiar with the current national team pool, the American mentality and the American soccer system.    

As a result, expect Klinsmann to get the kid-glove treatment for quite some time from the those covering the national team, a press corps never known for making life difficult for any previous U.S. coach–even the prickly Arena or the equally prickly Alkis Panagoulias.  To put it another way, Klinsmann’s relationship with the media will make the bucolic Bora Milutinovic era resemble the height of rancor and malevolence.