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Klinsmann's persona is just as vital as his preachings
by Ridge Mahoney, August 2nd, 2011 2:02AM

TAGS:  men's national team


[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.”

  1. Philippe Fontanelli
    commented on: August 2, 2011 at 10:06 a.m.
    I think with JK we will see Donovan in a very different formation; attacking midfielder behind the two forwards forning a triangle (a quasi third forward). And that should have been his position in the MNT and club team if not for the two college coaches Bradley and Arena. The only drawback with that formation in the MNT where do you play Dempsey? While Dempsey is a good player but he has no set position. He plays in and out form both on club and National team level. So I am sure there will some interesting additions to the midfield like Diskerud, some talented Latinos (there are ample)and some youngsters. The whole back line will be changed even Howard, they are fatigued and "has been". Here again, I am sure lot of youngsters and new Latino faces will be introduced. And don't think that some main stream players in prime age that were not fully explored by BB, the likes of Wondo, Shea, Rogers and etc., will get to wear the MNT jersey's again.

  1. Sidney Hall
    commented on: August 2, 2011 at 10:24 a.m.
    I think JK ha a great opportunity to bring something new to both the MNT and the overall American approach to the game of soccer. I also think he is smart enough not to just bring about change just for the sake of change. He should keep the good things about our game and the MNT but he also needs to introduce some new things/players as well. What does he need to work on? I think possession, an attacking style with strong passing skills, and of course our defense, are good places to start. I strongly agree that the WNT showed streaks of change (possession/attacking/passing skills) during the World Cup. I'm hoping JK will see how favorably the world, not just the US fans, reacted to that change. I think we need our own version of the "beautiful game".

  1. Daniel Clifton
    commented on: August 2, 2011 at 10:25 a.m.
    I have to agree that Donovan in the middle as an attacking midfielder always made more sense to me. He is such a good passer and unselfish with the ball. I do not understand Dempsey on the outside of midfield. I think he needs to play at the forward position on the MNT. I am excited about seeing some of the new people who will be brought in. I remember Diskerud making this nice little draw back move to set up Agudelo's first goal on the MNT. What about Chad Marshall?

  1. Roger Sokol
    commented on: August 2, 2011 at 11:19 a.m.
    Klinsi is going to be handicapped somewhat by the existing MNT player pool. So I don't expect immediate miracles. The crux, of course, is to improve the back line as a whole and more specifically the center back duo. The existing defenders playing in Europe are a mixed bag. Tim Chandler, unavailable for the Gold Cup, looks promising as a LB. For the time being, Cherundulo is capable at RB. But he may be pushing his shelf life by 2014. Bocanegra plays LB in France after showing himself to be barely adequate as a CB in the EPL. Onyewu hasn't played much in over a year, couldn't cut it in the EPL, sat the bench at AC Milan, and is looking to rejuvenate his career at Anderlecht. Parkhurst is playing in Norway is somewhat of an unknown at this point. That leaves developing some American defenders currently playing in MLS or presently unknown as the ultimate answer. But they need time to adjust and improve at the MNT level and that process won't be pretty. Tim Ream's Gold Cup is a good example of what we face. Thankfully, we have a couple years to find a solution as the existing players should be good enough to qualify us for WC 2014.

  1. John Soares
    commented on: August 2, 2011 at 1:23 p.m.
    Good to see the change. New blood, new direction were/are in great need and demand. Roger makes a valid point that JK will be handicapped by existing MNT player pool.... Didn't BB have the same issues!? For now let's go with high hopes and great expectations!!! As for Rantin Ric; Thought/hoped you would give it a short break I guess rantin is the name of "your" game. Bet my brand new soccer ball that if JK does not have a full Latino line-up. You will be on his case as well.

  1. Jeffrey Organ
    commented on: August 2, 2011 at 5:13 p.m.
    Come on Ridge. I really have no idea what kind of point you are trying to make here. You first throw our coach under the bus with comments about how he doesn't know what he is getting into (I imagine he has a pretty good idea) and then talk about needing a nouveau personality; something that perfectly fits Klinnsman. Are you on board with this hire or trying to straddle the fence so you can say told you so when he doesn't deliver immediate results? I think the old guard in US Soccer had a great run from the debacle of the 1998 World Cup up until 2010 and Bruce Arena doesn't get the credit he deserves for this. It seems pretty clear our team has hit a plateau and we all seem to agree we don't have the players we need to get to the next level. Change and experimentation with new ideas is needed everywhere in US Soccer; especially as it relates to player development. The last thing we need is the old guard sitting on the sidelines taking pot shots at "the foreigner who doesn't understand the US soccer culture". Guess what?-our current soccer culture will not make us a world soccer power and must be changed if we are ever going to meet our rightly high expectations. We all need to get on board and provide support to Klinsmann and his team, even if they don't immediately set the world on fire.

  1. Gak Foodsource
    commented on: August 3, 2011 at 9:46 a.m.
    Ridge - how did you miss Klinsmann's references to college? Do you think his observation of most American youth coaches having attended college was just chit-chat? Re-read his remarks and I think you will see a not so subtle nod to a structural change of preventing our kids from going to college and becoming players who play with the ball for 60 hours a week. Transforming our youth from kids who go to school and also play soccer to kids who play soccer and may or may not go to school is a massive change. He knows exactly what he is getting himself into.

  1. Amos Annan
    commented on: August 3, 2011 at 11:42 a.m.
    The writer and others here keep referring to the the past US team as a failure. I think they did pretty well. I think a lot of other teams would have liked to get to the final in the Gold Cup. Many more wish they had advanced past the group stage in the World Cup. Ridiculous all the emphasis on winning everything vs. failure.

  1. Lev Bronstein
    commented on: August 5, 2011 at 6:08 p.m.
    I'm imbued with a tinkerman's curiosity to find out if Ridge Mahoney is paid by the word, stupid idea, or cliche. One thing is clear: Mahoney's nouveau personality requires navigating cubbyholes in search of ironclad but not deterministic formulas that can turn potential negatives into a personal odyssey. Yet even laser-sharp readers have no grasp of what they're truly jumping into when they start one of his columns. Correcting them would take research and patience and time. Who among us 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? Or Soccer America could hire someone who can write.

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