[U.S. SOCCER] When he truly jumps into his new job this week by selecting the squad of players he'll use to play Mexico in Philadelphia next Wednesday, Juergen Klinsmann will begin to get an idea of the task he's taken on. He may have lived in Southern California for 13 years, and attended games at Home Depot Center and other MLS venues and watched national team matches and worked for an American sports network and even played under a stage name for a Southern California developmental team, but he's got no grasp of what he's getting into.
This isn’t necessarily a drawback, because no one else has the answers either. The effects may be obvious, but correcting the causes will take research and patience and time. Solutions will also take someone with a different brand of insight, a nouveau perspective.
If his self-professed personal philosophy holds, he can turn a potential negative into a personal odyssey. He didn’t take the job with ironclad blueprints in hand; he instead believes he can find out what’s wrong and what’s right, what works and what doesn’t, and what needs to be tweaked, torn apart, or trusted.
He didn’t sound the alarms during a teleconference call with reporters Monday when he said, “I don’t have any intention as of today to change things, because you have to look back at what has happened over the last 5-10 years. It’s amazing, with the introduction of the academy programs throughout the country, the new coaching curriculum from Claudio [Reyna]. There’s a lot of great stuff already happening.”
Reading too much into any set of quotes, even from someone as intriguing and experienced as Klinsmann, can be treacherous. From his time as a world-famous player, German national team coach, and ringmaster of the circus that is Bayern Munich, he’s certainly honed his media savvy to laser sharpness. U.S. Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati accompanied him to a press conference at Niketown in New York as well as the conference call, and he took pains to include Gulati and U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn often when making comments.
“So, yes, we will definitely discuss all those different topics and issues, and if there’s a need for change, we can change things,” he said. “But that will be discussed in a group, with Sunil and Dan here, and Claudio, and with other people involved. And just hopefully, making always the right decisions to strengthen and improve the programs at every age level.”
Among the changes he would discuss are: auditioning assistant coaches over the next few months, stamping an identity and playing style throughout the national team programs, and expanding the processes of finding and developing talent. He professed that he’ll need some time to navigate the cubbyholes and labyrinths of soccer in America, which will take up much of his work days following his U.S. coaching debut against Mexico a week from Wednesday and friendies against Costa Rica and Belgium during the early September international FIFA dates.
After those three games, depending on who he picks and how they play, we’ll have some indication – but hardly a deterministic formula – of where the national team program might be headed. Yet reading too much into anything Klinsmann does, or says, can be misleading, for he’s imbued with a tinkerman’s curiosity to find out what makes something, or someone, tick, and find methods of improvement.
At Bayern Munich, his touchy-feely tendencies and penchant for long, impassioned speeches came off as those of a flake, but had FC Hollywood been atop the Bundesliga standings and destined for glory in the Champions League he’d have been hailed. Ironically, a move that speeded his departure was a loan deal for Landon Donovan, who came to the wrong team at the worst possible time and soon headed back home.
Donovan will be one of the players Klinsmann needs to reinvigorate and inspire while also grooming younger talent to eventually take the place of him and Clint Dempsey and Steve Cherundolo and other essential members of the current team. Challenging the old guard and honing the newer arrivals seems to suit his personality and passion for discovery, and that has to be a good thing.
“Describing my own kind of style in working with the team, I really don’t know,” he said in another adroit deflection of a question. “I’ll leave it up to you guys. My personal philosophy is that I want to learn something new every day. I have the feeling that I do that, and I hope that the players are also eager to learn something new every day. I’d like to improve the foundation that is there, and help everybody to reach his potential.”