Interview by Mike Woitalla
Jurgen Klinsmann’s stint as Germany's national team coach in 2004-06 coincided with the nation's rebirth as a world power. We asked Klinsmann, U.S. head coach since July, to compare the German player development efforts with those in the USA.
SOCCER AMERICA: The World Cup is less than three years away, but, for example, your German 2006 World Cup team and Germany's 2010 World Cup team included key players who were in their teens just a couple years before the World Cup. How likely is it that players who are in their late teens now might be able to help your U.S. squad?
JURGEN KLINSMANN: Age is not the key per se. Pele was 17 in his first World Cup. Michael Owen was 18. Lionel Messi was 19. But, as young as they were, these players had already established themselves as stars for their professional clubs. So, having a very successful professional club experience will be the key as to whether or not any of our young players contribute to the national team, particularly in the World Cup.
SA: You played against the USA in 1993 (twice) and at the 1998 World Cup, and have been observing American soccer closely since then. How would you assess the talent pool for the national team now compared the 1990s?
JURGEN KLINSMANN: I can look back on the U.S. teams that I played against in the 1990s and identify some very talented players. For instance, Claudio [Reyna] and Tab [Ramos] had international and MLS club careers, and, consequently, I am glad to now be working with them at U.S. Soccer.
Kasey [Keller] is only now retiring and Brad [Friedel] is still playing. So, there have been talented American players capable of playing at high levels for a generation. But, certainly, there are now more American players capable of playing at the professional level and they are doing so in MLS as well as in many other leagues around the world.
SA: The German national team's rebirth as a national power -- and that it plays entertaining, attacking soccer -- is credited largely to the DFB's and the Bundesliga's change in approach to youth development within the last decade. Are there examples of the German approach that can be applied to the USA?
JURGEN KLINSMANN: In Germany, both the federation and the professional clubs made a commitment to youth development --- and this has helped create a player development environment that contributes to renewed success for the German national team.
In the USA we now see a similar growing commitment by both U.S. Soccer and MLS to promote youth development. U.S. Soccer now sponsors the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the new youth development curriculum announced by Claudio [Reyna] this year, extensive training and competition opportunities for youth national team players as well as other programs.
And, MLS clubs are now investing in player development academies, the benefits associated with developing “homegrown” talent, play-for-free opportunities, 10 months a year youth training programs as well as other programs. So, we are on the right track -- although it may take time to see a dramatic improvement in international results for U.S. national teams.
SA: How much of what the DFB (German soccer federation) implemented in its youth development was thanks to you?
JURGEN KLINSMANN: The thanks go to the youth coaches who dedicate themselves to working with young players. I am pleased to have been a part of promoting youth development and then showing that entertaining, attacking soccer can be successful on an international stage like the World Cup -- while playing young players.
SA: How closely will you be connected U.S. Development Academy in hopes of finding players who can help the national team program?
JURGEN KLINSMANN: The U.S. Soccer national teams program currently includes youth teams at the U14, U15, U17, and U18 levels as well as senior teams at the U20 and U23 levels, which more directly feed the full national team.
Currently, the U.S. Development Academy has teams in two age groups: U15/16 and U17/18. Both these programs --- U.S. Soccer youth national teams, which include player identification opportunities and training camps as well as competitions, and the U.S. Soccer Development Academy --- are carefully monitored by Claudio, the U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director, and his staff of youth technical advisors.
They provide regular updates, including updates on players that appear to have national team potential, to the national team coaches, including myself. But, in fairness to the youth players, they really must establish themselves as regular players within a professional club environment before they will be ready for the full national team.
(Read Part 1 of the Klinsmann’s YouthSoccerInsider interview, “Parents can set an example,” HERE.)
(Mike Woitalla is the executive editor of Soccer America. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)