As most of you already know, USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann had a distinguished international career as a player, reaching the pinnacle of the sport by winning both the 1990 World Cup and the 1996 European Championship with Germany. The California resident also had an impressive goal-scoring record with his national team, hitting 47 goals in 108 appearances.
At club level, the well-traveled Klinsmann won considerably less, but his strike-rate remained remarkably consistent -- close to a goal every two games -- just about wherever he went: Stuttgart (Germany), Inter Milan (Italy), AS Monaco (France), Tottenham Hotspur (England), Bayern Munich (Germany), and Sampdoria (Italy).
At the age of 50, the story of Klinsmann’s career as a coach likely still has a long way to run. Aside from guiding his home country to an unlikely third-place finish at its own World Cup in 2006, Klinsmann’s only other noteworthy achievement is winning the 2013 Concacaf Gold Cup, which his USA achieved with a squad of largely second-string players. Wedged in between the Germany and USA jobs was a one-season stint at the helm of Bayern Munich, which resulted in his premature dismissal.
Assuming he remains USA coach through the 2018 World Cup, this will have been, by a distance, Klinsmann’s longest head-coaching job. Some might even call it his first significant job.
To be sure, there have been some good times and some bad times since the German took over in 2011. Among the good times: a satisfactory performance at the World Cup (on paper, anyway), the 2013 Gold Cup triumph and some impressive friendly scalps, including away wins at Italy, Mexico and most recently, the Netherlands. Bad times on the field have really only included losses selected poor performances -- recent friendly losses to the Republic of Ireland, Chile and Denmark come to mind since the World Cup.
The German’s off-field contributions have been similarly up and down.
Regardless of what diehard USA fans think of Klinsmann’s campaign to nationalize and -- at the very least -- give a chance to anyone that can reasonably obtain an American passport, it’s hard to argue that expanding the pool of players in the national team rotation hasn’t been a net positive. Similarly, he has done much to overhaul the structure and scope of the USA project, while always urging his players at every level to strive for more.
All good things.
But the German has a decisiveness and a candor about that decisiveness that tends to be something of a double-edged sword. He lacks diplomacy in expressing his convictions, particularly during interviews and press conferences. For example, he regularly denigrates the quality of MLS despite the fact that many of his most important players play in the American league. His handling of the Landon Donovan saga was -- at best -- disrespectful to the country’s biggest star and most historically significant outfield player. But the way he relentlessly compares U.S. soccer -- its leagues, its players, its soccer mentality -- to his homeland in a condescending way is enough to drive most longtime USA fans up a wall.
It’s Tuesday, and the men’s national team is in Germany ahead of a friendly with its coach’s former team, and once again, Klinsmann is saying mildly condescending things about the country he works for. During the pre-game press conference, the German again harps on how “different” things are in his adopted country. “The focus” is different, he says, adding that he has “no deadlines.” In another interview, he goes on to ooh and ahh about the quality of the relegation struggle in Germany’s Bundesliga, while saying that, again, MLS needs to catch-up.
So what does all this mean?
Klinsmann mentions how when he was Germany coach, “the deadline” was the first game of the 2006 World Cup. In what way was it any different with his current team in Brazil last summer? If the U.S. hadn’t beaten Ghana in its first game and progressed from the Group of Death, would things be different right now? Sure, Klinsmann signed a new contract ahead of the tournament, but as everyone in soccer knows, contracts mean a lot less than results.
Regardless, talking about “no deadlines” and “making one step forward, two steps back” and then reiterating that his team lacks the “mental strength” to beat the likes of Belgium, smacks of someone who sounds so comfortable in his job that, well, it doesn’t matter what he says, really. You could be forgiven for thinking here that Klinsmann is the coach of some comfortably mid-table club whose only priority was to avoid relegation.
If by “no deadlines” the German means that there are no benchmarks for his work, well that is absolute B.S. For starters, the Gold Cup starts in less than a month, and, as the success of Concaacf teams at the World Cup last summer shows, there are some damn good teams in this tournament. A poor performance here -- i.e. at least making it to the final -- and U.S. Soccer could decide to hang him out to dry. (That's what happened to Bob Bradley after the 2011 Gold Cup final, a 4-2 loss to Mexico.)
But let’s be clear about one thing: while Klinsmann’s record as USA coach certainly isn’t bad, at this moment in time, he still has yet to achieve as much as Bradley or Bruce Arena before him. Which is to say: he is not yet the master of this job, so it might behoove him to stop sounding so comfortable and maybe start treating everyone involved in this project, from the players, to MLS, U.S. Soccer, the fans, even the media, with a little more respect.