Klinsmann hardly the one to condemn rough play

By Paul Gardner

Jurgen Klinsmann has a reputation for being well-organized and disciplined. I suppose, rightly or wrongly, you expect that from a German.

And it sounds exactly what’s wanted for the national team job. So far so good. But Klinsmann’s organization disappears in a frankly spectacular way when it comes to his thoughts on the game. In that part of the Klinsmann soccer personality, incoherence and stale shallowness reign.

For a start: Why is it, considering the criticisms (some of them more than justified) Klinsmann makes of American players, that he does not launch a withering attack on the hopeless inadequacies of college soccer? He finds that Americans have an unsatisfactory attitude on the field. So he brings in all those German-Americans -- players with a career background in the various levels of the pro game. So he has to know what is wrong with the Americans. It is their years in the college game. The connection is clear, but Klinsmann somehow manages to overlook it. Quite a trick, that.

We have much more immediate evidence of Klinsmann’s muddled thinking. It’s nigh on impossible to discern any evidence of careful thought in his statement that MLS referees should protect Clint Dempsey because he is a U.S. national team player: “I hope that MLS is having an eye on that. … I hope our players get protection because they need to be healthy going into this World Cup.”

“Our players.” That’s all. Klinsmann could easily have said all players, making a plea for MLS to be a league in which there is a low tolerance level for rough play. He didn’t do that. He just wants protection for “our players.”

The implications of that are immense, and -- like Klinsmann’s thinking -- chaotic. It is a demand for decidedly selective refereeing. Foreign national team players in MLS, evidently, should not get the same level of protection as Americans. An official list of Klinsmann selections, officially protected players, would seem to be necessary for the referees.

Should Klinsmann’s appeal result in an overall improvement in MLS refereeing -- I mean, if it results in a crackdown on physical fouls -- well and good. But that is not what Klinsmann has asked for. He just wants an easier ride for “our players.”

A request that exposes the disorder that permeates Klinsmann’s soccer mind. Who on earth is Klinsmann to be requesting that “our players” are not on the end of hurtful tackles? Can this be the same Klinsmann who, two years ago, lectured us on how his team has to learn how to be nastier? That was right after a 4-1 drubbing from Brazil: “Maybe we're a little bit still too naive. Maybe we don't want to hurt people. But that's what we've got to do ... we've got to step on their toes more and get them more frustrated ...”

We -- meaning “our players” -- must learn to play dirty and hurt people. But in MLS, Klinsmann espies players who are playing in that spirit against one of “our players,” and suddenly he’s not so shot in the backside with the idea of “hurting people.” So the referees must ensure that it doesn’t happen to “our players.”

Anyway, why should anyone listen to Klinsmann on this topic? He has utterly compromised his integrity on rough play by his unwavering support for the awful Jermaine Jones, one of his German imports. Jones, before his move to Turkey, had staked a formidable claim to being the dirtiest player in the Bundesliga.

Klinsmann is not only unconcerned about that, he has openly -- and profusely -- praised Jones’s rough house play: “He’s one of those players that no opponent likes to deal with. Just his presence. His hunger. His willingness not to let go. He is always ready for the grind. He grinds you until the 95th minute. ... You play against a player like Jermaine in central midfield, that’s a handful, it’s all about who is intimidating who.”

And so on, reams of vapid praise, never even a suggestion that Jones is a serially dirty player, that he has an unenviable record for collecting yellow cards and for suspensions. That Brazil game featured a merry little incident in the second half when Jones, obviously irritated by the way that Brazil was outplaying the USA, launched himself feet first at Neymar and crunched him to the ground. This, mind you, was right on the touchline, at the halfway line mark. Neymar was hardly presenting an immediate danger from that area.

But this was the aggression and the intimidation so much admired by Klinsmann. The enforcer role -- evidently dear to Klinsmann’s heart. No doubt it was also Jones trying to make an impact in a game where his vaunted leadership (also a role hailed by Klinsmann) had flopped badly. It was also disgusting.

But not to Klinsmann. One has learned to expect coaches to see only good things from their own players, and to find nothing but foul play from their opponents. But Klinsmann, in his support for the violent Jones, in his appeal for referee protection for “our players” is taking things way too far. Try as I might, I cannot find any reasons for excusing his objectionably biased -- not to mention hopelessly disorganized -- thinking in this area. He is a vastly experienced soccer man. He has to know better.
19 comments about "Klinsmann hardly the one to condemn rough play".
  1. Dan Phillips, March 20, 2014 at 5:04 p.m.

    You are being way too hard on JK. All coaches make crazy remarks all the time. Just look at Bruce Arena!

  2. Allan Lindh, March 20, 2014 at 5:45 p.m.

    Grump, grump grump -- just another rant against Jones and JK. Just think what a roast we could have if we parsed a few sentences out of Mr Gardner's often ridiculous columns. At least JK is modest enough to not put his incoherent thoughts in print, as if others should be interested in reading them.

    Having said that, MLS refs do a terrible job of controlling games, letting the brutal tackle prevail in most matches. MLS will remain a third-rate league until they make clear to the refs that not breaking the talents legs should be their first priority. It's hard to remember an MLS match that wouldn't have been much improved by half-a-dozen yellow cards in the first half.

  3. Eric Schmitt, March 20, 2014 at 5:49 p.m.

    How about we just have a series of blank articles from PG called "Stipulated Arguments against Jurgen Klinsmann", and then we can just imagine what he might say, rather than listen to his relentless tripe?

  4. I w Nowozeniuk, March 20, 2014 at 6:38 p.m.

    Coach K is really saying that MLS thuggery impedes player potential; and Paul is correct, college soccer does it better.

  5. Chris Sapien , March 20, 2014 at 7:21 p.m.

    I like your last line best Ric.....PG can be the stinky cheese (yes Paul, your writing and personna equally...), to go along with the PRO/R.A. whine.........Klinns doesn't have to apologize for PG's conclusion that "nasty" means committing dirty fouls....or that "stepping on toes" means anything other than getting in the opponents faces......Mr. Gardner you have regressed to Retard Status....

  6. R2 Dad, March 20, 2014 at 9:04 p.m.

    In the unlikely event this column is not troll bait: Given that soccer is a game played by humans and not robots, motivating such players requires many tactics which may sound incongruous to those of us not experienced with the highest levels of the game. Coaches must motivate their players. Pep G was just quoted as saying he left Barca because he felt he could no longer reach his players, to make the difference required at the highest levels of the sport. JK is in the same company. He was a world class player. PG may question if he is a world class coach, but I would defer to JK on what it takes to motivate USNMT players. There is no doubt when JK walks in to a dressing room that he commands the respect of every person in the room. Klinsmann has been there, knows what those players are thinking and feeling. I suspect he knows how to properly motivate them, but I'm on the outside looking in and thus don't really know. But I guess PG knows better. WRT college soccer and MLS standards of refereeing, I suspect JK has his hands full and may know enough to keep away from subjects not pertinent to his immediate goals: improve the USMNT and the youth system that feeds it. Yes, if we had a magic wand, we would insist the NCAA allow year-round play and FIFA rules, but I'm not eating from the trough of money that the NCAA generates and have no say in the matter. Maybe PG should go annoy those NCAA suits who are.

  7. Eric Shinn, March 20, 2014 at 9:21 p.m.

    How does this hack still have a job? Seriously. We're all slightly dumber for having spent any time reading this, and it makes this entire site look amateurish. We get it, Gardner doesn't like Klinsmann. But must every freaking article be some contrived, moronic slam on him?

  8. Mark Konty, March 20, 2014 at 10:38 p.m.

    Klinsmann frequently uses confusing pronouns, which is not uncommon for non-native English speakers. "Our players" could be a reference to any number of things, each as plausible as assuming that Klinsmann meant "only my players."

    I have to agree with everyone else, much ado about nada.

  9. John Soares, March 20, 2014 at 11:02 p.m.

    Eric have a glass of water...better yet wine:). I often disagree with Paul, but also realize that part of his "job" is to write articles that get a reaction. obviously he is doing his job:)! JK has at times suffered from foot in mouth syndrome, no big deal. In every league top players get fowled more. Bad for the game; YES. Part of the game; unfortunately YES. Dempsey/Sounders had 25 fowls against them two games in a row...that's bad. To Paul's point. MLS needs to be more generous with yellow cards and protect ALL players and keep soccer a game not a brawl.

  10. Jogo Bonito, March 21, 2014 at 12:55 a.m.

    I find Klinsmann to be a very pompous man that rarely gives credit to anyone but himself. He was a great player that dove if anyone touched him. He has very little credibility to me. I hate his German-American player hunting and I find his team somewhat unwatchable. As an American,I will root for my country, but this team lacks any personality. Unlike the exciting 2002 US team that broke my heart losing to Klinsmann's equally uninteresting Germany, I will not be at all sad when this team gets knocked out. I'm glad we have Paul Gardner to read as often as we do. It's nice to have real journalism and intelligent columns that pose real questions and thought. it's so much better than reading SoccerAmerica's USA cheerleading nonsense or ESPN's Anglo-drenched USA soccer coverage. Long live PG!

  11. David Mont, March 21, 2014 at 7:41 a.m.

    Must say that here I completely agree with Jogo Bonito. It's interesting to note that over the last few days there have been reports in Russian media that Spartak Moscow, who are looking for a coach, have been considering Klinsmann. Whether that's true or not is not clear, but what's fascinating is the almost universal reaction of fans commenting on the news. Pretty much everyone is strongly against Klinsmann. He has a very lousy reputation as a coach in Europe; yet, in the US, probably because of what he accomplished as a player, he has been able to fool a lot of people.

  12. feliks fuksman, March 21, 2014 at 7:54 a.m.

    Agree strongly with John Soares and Jogo Bonito:
    writes to get a reaction; MLS referees and the league should try to protect the players who can play and want to play the game; as an American, I will root for my country; JK was a great player and dove quite a bit; I'm glad that we have PG to read and finally about the Espn's Anglo-drenched USA soccer coverage. Long live the beautiful game!

  13. Kent James, March 21, 2014 at 8:15 a.m.

    PG does a great job of poking the hornet's nest. I don't always agree with him, but he knows the game and writes well. I like JK, and generally think he's done a good job. But I agree with PG's assessment of Jones, and what that says about JK's attitude towards physical play. Yes, it is common for coaches to criticize the rough play of their opponents, while ignoring (or even praising) the rough play of their own players, but it is also appropriate for journalists to point out the hypocrisy. Maybe JK meant to condemn all rough play in the MLS, but that's not what he said. And PG can only comment on what he said, rather than what he should have said.

  14. Chris Staudle, March 21, 2014 at 10:27 a.m.

    College soccer is not the minor leagues of pro soccer. When the majority of MLS players are done making their $ 45,000.00 a year they can have a college education as plan B. Which in reality is plan A.

  15. Carl Walther, March 21, 2014 at 11:49 a.m.

    People who post comments defending JK's thug attitude about how soccer should be played, are really sad. It's just shows their psychological masculine problems. They should be watching MMA.

  16. Mark Landefeld, March 21, 2014 at 5:02 p.m.

    Don't expect Klinsman to criticize college soccer, as early on with the US he lauded the critical thinking skills that the college experience brought to American players.

    But the NCAA should just combine the traditional and non-traditional seasons into a 22 week championship season with a Memorial Day weekend Final Four -- that would be a large step in the right direction (and let them wear school colors at home, not white -- that may be the most stupid NCAA rule of all)

  17. Frank Cardone, March 23, 2014 at 12:09 p.m.

    Long live PG. It is impossible to agree with him on every issue because there are so many issues important to soccer world-wide, and he is brave enough to address each one and spare no one form criticism. I am surprised how quick some readers are to criticize PG and utterly amazed that anyone would have a negative comment about his writing style. His command of the English language should be admired by all. And one more thing - I cannot have full respect for JK until he tosses Jermaine Jones off the team. As another reader once said, that man is a "Walking red card".

  18. R2 Dad, March 24, 2014 at 12:51 a.m.

    Frank, you may have no tolerance for for an enforcer on the USMNT, but I'm sure the 1994 team could have used one against Brazil, a team that brutalized the US and did anything to win, eventually squeaking out 1-0 winners on the 4th of July at Stanford after Leonardo cracked open Tab Ramos' skull to nullify our most creative player. Plus, there is added incentive for those german-speaking americans when we wind up group play against die mannschaft. It's not like Jones is a complete hack--you don't play season after season in the Bundesliga if you just trundle around kicking the opposition. He may not be my idea of a skill player either but I'd say JK has a better idea of what is required to succeed in the WC than any of us.

  19. Brian Something, March 24, 2014 at 10:09 a.m.

    As long as he keeps picking Jermaine Jones, no one is going to listen to his condemnations of thuggery.

Next story loading loading..