Klinsmann era will all come down to players he picks

By Paul Gardner

Jurgen Klinsmann will show us later today exactly how his appointment has brought new energy and excitement -- and, hopefully, new soccer -- to the U.S. men’s team.

Possibly, but much more likely is that nothing much will be revealed to tell us in what way things are going to be different under Klinsmann from the way they were under Bob Bradley.

Changes in the players? A few, yes -- but not enough to suggest that a different style is imminent. For sure, there will be a change in attitude, but that can be expected anyway, it invariably follows any coaching change -- indeed the expectation of it is frequently the major reason for making the coaching change.

Bradley had evidently run his course. His team looked stale, and showed no sign of re-gathering its strength. A new coach -- whether it is Klinsmann or Donald Duck -- would be expected to revivify things, merely by being ... a new coach.

The fact that Klinsmann’s first game is against Mexico is something of a distraction. Should the USA win, then Klinsmann will look like an instant genius, having triumphed against an opponent that, just over a month ago, humiliated Bradley’s team. Should the USA lose, well, that was to be expected, we all know the USA has some catching up to do, and that can’t be done overnight.

In short, a meaningless/meaningful exhibition game that will tell us nothing, but that will leave things open for a hundred different interpretations. For sure, most of those interpretations will shine an optimistic light on Klinsmann’s decisions, that’s the way it goes for as long as the honeymoon period lasts -- the new coach gets the benefit of the doubt.

One very solid advantage for Klinsmann, though -- at least in this game -- is that his team can hardly do worse than Bradley’s team did in that disastrous Gold Cup final.

As for tactics, they are the least interesting part of the Klinsmann debut. Maybe we get a supposed 4-5-1 formation, which might seem deeply defensive. But if it quickly -- and frequently -- becomes a 3-4-3, if it turns out that most of the midfielders are attack-minded players, then the somber defensive shadow cast by the formation numbers is hopelessly misleading.

And it will come down to the players who Klinsmann selects, who will reflect whether he is looking for a more attacking, creative team. Midfield creativity has been a problem area for U.S. national teams for as long as I can recall -- I saw my first USA game over 40 years ago -- and it is absurd to expect it to burst into luxurious bloom overnight.

Klinsmann has acknowledged the long-term perspective by stating that young Americans need to be playing more games, with the implication that until they live and breathe the game, they are not really serious about it and therefore will never be able to compete at the top level with the likes of Brazil, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Maybe Klinsmann’s notion of improving each individual player can work more rapid wonders, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it. Time is needed, and really Klinsmann is a lucky man in that respect, because he does have time -- something like a year, for a start, before serious games begin. And those games will be World Cup qualifying games within Concacaf, games that should not prove too taxing.

For the moment, the aim, both long- and short-term, should be to plant the idea that the playing style of the USA is about to alter, that it will be guided away from its traditional northern European roots to something that can embrace the much more varied soccer talent to be found in the USA.

And what might that style look like? Frankly, it is not that difficult to envisage. So, let me send a brief memo:

To: Jurgen Klinsmann

Subject: US Style

Message: With reference to two recent games -- Spain 5 Ireland 0 (UEFA under-19 championship), and Spain 5 Australia 1 (FIFA Under-20 World Cup). The USA currently looks like Ireland, it looks like Australia, or like a mix of the two. A change in style towards that of Spain is required. The future USA should look and play like Spain.

Thank you.

15 comments about "Klinsmann era will all come down to players he picks".
  1. David Garby, August 10, 2011 at 7:05 a.m.

    Memo to Paul Gardner

    Subject: Re: US Style

    You zell me where i find American players like Xavi, Iniesta and David Silva and a promise you, that ze USMNT will play an offensive game, with focus on ballcontrol and short passes. Until then, i'll make a gameplan that is designed to the current crop of players that are available.

    But please. Keep up with the memos.

    Best Regards

    Jürgen K.

  2. Scott Olson, August 10, 2011 at 8:25 a.m.

    I would say that the USA team needs to look like a combination of Spain and Brazil. But unfortunately, that sort of futbol mentality does not exist in the United States. Just look at the attendance and the backing by the professional teams. The professional teams are not spending the kind of money into youth sports that needs to be spent. Hence, the interest is not there. Walk into any high school booster club meeting and listen to who is making the decisions for money spent and where it goes, it is all about American football, a sport that is really big on paying players a lot of money for little performance comparatively to world futbol. Until the interest and the money is infused into futbol in the US, you are not going to see the player pool developing. And since that still doesn't exist, it is still a long time coming!!!

  3. Scott Olson, August 10, 2011 at 8:28 a.m.

    That all being said, it is not MLS's fault. If people aren't interested and going to games and buying merchandise, then the league is not making the $ to spend infusing the sport. It is however the high school systems fault, this is money taken in primarily by taxes paid by everyone, yet every sport other than American football (catch) is treated like a red-headed step-child. Little money, little attention and little recognition.

  4. Mark Edge, August 10, 2011 at 9:16 a.m.

    Typical Gardner criticism and negativity with no solution offered. The memo from Jurgen hits it on the head.
    Paul, I suggest you go back and look at your old tapes of the 1970's Brazilian team and sigh wistfully, "I just want Pele to be young again." Then click your hush puppies together three times and hope it comes true. By the way, I'd like to see him discuss Gulati's role in all this. Who appoints that job?

  5. Russ Josephs, August 10, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.

    'Klinsmann era will come down to players he picks...' Brilliant insight. Only a lifelong student of the game could come up with such a masterful and timely analysis. (Eeek. I'll retire to Bedlam!)

  6. Kevin White, August 10, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.

    Hoffentlich, das Speil mit Mexico will nicht eine Gelegenheit für eine Verlegenheit sein

  7. Walt Pericciuoli, August 10, 2011 at 10:15 a.m.

    All true Paul and all very obvious. Although there may be a player or three out there that hasn't yet been discovered, we are for the time being going to have to suffer with the crop of players that have been developed in the system over the past 30 years of the US Soccer youth program. Until Juergen has a chance to implement new training methods and player development objectives, he will have to make the best of what he has. We all need to be patient for now. I wish him good luck.

  8. Raffy Afarian, August 10, 2011 at 10:33 a.m.

    Paul, I think you are right on the money with this article. The comments above mine show the lack of soccer IQ in this country.
    As the matter a fact, we do have those players like Xavi and Iniesta and then some. The problem is that the current coaching staff does not value the 10 yard pass and move without the ball idea. They want people that can send the hail Mary pass and "receivers" that can bring it down and do "something" with it because they are big and strong and fast. I don't understand how so many arrogant people can be so blind to the fact that the most successful teams in the world are stocked with 5'6" to 5'8" quick, coordinated, and smart players, like on the Spanish national team, FC Barcelona, the Brazilian national team and even the Mexican national team. How much more proof does one need to figure out what the right formula is?
    I will offer a glimmer of hope for Paul from a recent personal experience. Last week, my son's academy team played a scrimmage against the U15 national team and for 80 minutes that team did NOT send a single long ball to their forwards. Short, crisp passes and a lot of movement off the ball. I think since the kids don't have the arrogance of the adults, they obviously want to emulate the successful professional teams. Their actions speak loudly and the adults should listen to what the kids are saying.

    Paul, I think you are doing the soccer public a great service with identifying what is obvious to the successful soccer powerhouses in the world. I, for one, appreciate all you do. Keep up the great work and maybe some day our country will wake up from the deep coma and heed your warnings. And for you with the low soccer IQs, another great blog site to increase your IQ is Spend some time there and learn something.

  9. The Real Pico, August 10, 2011 at 10:52 a.m.

    The issue is that Klinsi will only be able to get so much out of the current pool of players because he does not have much time to correct or teach things that should have taken place earlier in the player development.

    I think his vision tells more about his intentions for future generations of players and goes along the lines with the new player development framework introduced by Claudio Reyna at USSF this past month.

    As per Paul's 'letter' to Klinsmann, maybe he is aware that the process that got Spain where it is now started decades ago. It should also be noted that the Brasil style that everybody remembers and wishes for does not work in the international stage anymore.

    No other country has changed its playing style more than Brasil


  10. David Huff, August 10, 2011 at 12:16 p.m.

    I hope after Klinsi's tenure as coach ends in the next 3-7 years that he will be given the opportunity to become President of USSF so that he can ensure that the necessary structural changes that need to take place in the Usonian youth development programs are taken care of. Long-term changes are needed to ensure that we are able to build consistently successful US team programs (this applies to the Women's side as well).

  11. Raffy Afarian, August 10, 2011 at 1:12 p.m.

    I haven't heard anyone say that it will be easy Super Man. I will try to make my point in an analogy or two. If you are looking for an SUV, you will not even notice the sports car. It's a matter of preference and taste. That's the dilemma. Another analogy, in the middle ages plump women were considered desirable and now the opposite is true. It's in the eye of the beholder. You see what you look for and measure. What Xavi and Iniesta do is not complicated. There are many more physically able and gifted players all over the world, including the US (sorry I don't have names for you Super Man but I see them out there every weekend on junior teams). If you were to put them on the German national team, for instance, they would disappear and probably not even start. That's because they don't fit the system. The Germans are not looking for players like Xavi, they are blind to it just like we are here in the US. My intention was not to insult anyone here. Having read back my post, I can see how it came across and I apologize for that. I just don't like it when I hear everyone, including the national team coaching staff, say that we don't have the players. We do. They are rotting away in over 20 men's leagues because no one wants them. Having said all that, I am hopeful that things will change for the better. After all, it can't get much worse!!

  12. Philippe Fontanelli, August 10, 2011 at 2:09 p.m.

    I think some of you do not see Paul's genuine comments. Yes he is disappointed just like I was with the selection. A bunch of left over has- been mediocre plyers that play in some lower division or low standing teams that don't even fit in their club teams and some are discarded and let go or without teams. I ask you, are the above will make the difference? NO WAY Jose'! While JK probably a good tactician but he can't teach an old dog a new trick. Most of the selected players are moldy they have the old laissez-faire attitude rotted in them, with an exception of the few.If we are to loose why not select and test the upcoming youngsters and play them along side with the south of border based players and some of the key players like Donovan and company. We need a formation of brand new squad to get the players and the fans motivated. You can not tell me honestly that you all 100% excited about this team. I just hope JK has an ace up his sleeve with his tactics and the first eleven formation. I think he does as you'll probabl see the five men midfield with Landon being the true number 10.

  13. Lev Bronstein, August 10, 2011 at 2:58 p.m.

    Precis: (1) It takes time, and the results tonight - and even the manner of play - don't signify much more than starting to clean out a house before remodeling does. This is the beginning; it's the part much further down the road that matters. (2) It's obvious what we want to be; Gardner summed up much longer pretentious piles of verbose nonsense on the topic (see "Ridge Mahoney") in 3 sentences. He's being gently sarcastic, you see. (3) The ESPN Smyth-Dellacamera-Foudy fixation of formations is pseudo-expert "BS baffles brains."

    Relax; enjoy the game. Hope for more control on the ball and a greater will to possess under pressure and some increased distribution skills from the back line. In the long run, those will signify that we're playing more like Spain than Ireland. Could it be that that's what he's writing about?

    Gardner has never been cynical about real effort. I've sat at a table and witnessed his eating apple pie; he's a nice All-American lad. It's the horsetwaddle that passes for commentary around here that he can't swallow.

  14. Raffy Afarian, August 10, 2011 at 3:16 p.m.

    The only thing that takes 30 years to change is people's attitude toward something different. IF, and it's a big if, you get the right training, you can take the right 10 year olds and make a great team by the time they are 20. Case in point, the FC Barcelona team that was U10 last year and will be U11 next year in Southern California. Keep an eye on them. They are winning everything by wide margins. They even went to Spain and played 5 games and didn't lose one. They won 3 and tied 2 and the ties were to the actual Barcelona development team and a U12 team. This is one example of many in this country. They have a great trainer (Brian Kleiban) that is getting trained in Spain with Barcelona twice a year and bringing the game here. The club has one of their 11 year olds offered a spot on their development academy in Spain. A first ever. No one is going to convince me that a little country like Spain has better athletes than we do. The statistics of just people don't allow for that. There's nothing in their water to make them better soccer players. We have just as good odds at having physically and mentally capable athletes as they do.

    Like Winston Churchill said, "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." We are looking at the results and the strategy doesn't look so beautiful any longer.

  15. Carlos Thys, August 11, 2011 at 3:08 a.m.

    Keep posting, Raffy. I like it. And, yes, I am with you. One can always find some very rough but possibly superb raw talent playing in some very unlikely places. It is right here on our shores. And that talent (young men or women) is often not in the club team, university program, or even top adult league team -- where it would be easier to spot them.

    Ric, everyone got a taste of Juergen's enthusiasms and sunny-side positives tonight, if they listened to his few short microphone comments. I had flashbacks to what I heard him saying (very similar words in fact) auf Deutsch in summer and fall of 2005. Yes, Juergen's trump card is his infectous enthusiasm and he can pump this into 23, 25, and 27 year olds. We wish him and the whole enterprise well.

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