Commentary

The great communicator speaks: 'You're uneducated'

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

When Sunil Gulati hired Jurgen Klinsmann in 2011, Klinsmann wasn't just handed the reins of the men's national team coach, he was given a bully-pulpit to speak out on what needs to be changed in American soccer.

No one can doubt Klinsmann's resume. He was a World Cup and European champion as a player and he coached Germany to third place at the 2006 World Cup and helped initiate reforms that led to a revolution in German soccer development. Some might question how much credit Klinsmann deserves for the latter two accomplishments, but he was the man in charge so he gets the credit. End of story.

No other national team coach has had the gravitas to speak out on the state of American soccer and no other coach has been more willing to speak out.

There has always been a bluntness to Klinsmann's comments that has rubbed many people the wrong way. There is little nuance to how he speaks, few qualifiers, little hyperbole and no sarcasm. "It is what is is," comes up a lot. Not a lot of "Whatever," a favorite of, say, Bruce Arena. Agree with it or not, Klinsmann's matter-of-factness has been consistent. But rarely, until now, has he been dismissive.

Klinsmann has spoken out on all aspects of American soccer from Major League Soccer to the rec-club-college culture that pervades American soccer. Change is clearly so important to Gulati that he not only gave Klinsmann a new contract even before the USA played in the 2014 World Cup but he gave him unprecedented authority over the technical side of the federation. Would Gulati have made some of the same moves as Klinsmann has? Likely not. But the goal -- blow up American soccer as we've known it -- is so important that he's willingly gone along.

The great communicator continues to speak out. It's usually via USSoccer.com that he frequently gives lengthy and generally informative interviews on myriad topics about his players and the state of the game. In an interview he gave Steven Goff the Washington Post, Klinsmann spoke on two hot topics: his apparent favoritism of players based in Europe and Mexico to players in MLS and the conflicts caused by MLS's insistence to play through and immediately after the FIFA fixture calendar with seven games on tap between now and next Wednesday.

Like many topics, there is little or nothing you can argue about with Klinsmann.

-- On how he evaluates players and their club form, he says his staff analyzes the environment they play in and makes a point of emphasizing the day-to-day situation:

“When you play in the Premier League and Bundesliga, you are on your toes 24/7. If you make mistakes, you are going to hear from everybody. There are different levels of competition out there that I have to analyze, and I have to weigh in individually, ‘How good is that kid now?’ Maybe someone [in Europe] doesn’t get in the starting 11, but I know he is playing a high level week in and week out within his team. Players here in MLS, they do not have competition in their teams. It’s just the way it is. They are not putting national team players or Designated Players on the bench ...”

-- On the bind playing through the FIFA fixture calendar puts players in:

“It’s a lose-lose. He plays for the club, he misses out on the national team, or he’s playing for us and missing out on the club. Players are in the middle and feel very uncomfortable. They want to be with both teams. They want to do their job for both. It’s getting better but we are not there yet where it ideally should be.”

As I said, you can't argue with either point.

The only problem with Klinsmann and his bully-pulpit is that he uses it to talk about everything that might be wrong with America soccer except when it concerns his job as national team coach. And to make matters worse, if someone questions his performance, he or she might be dismissed as an ignorant American.

The extraordinary thing about Klinsmann's interview with Steven Goff is that he chose to rehash the 2015 Gold Cup, by any benchmark the low point of Klinsmann's four years as national team coach. The USA's fourth-place finish was the second lowest in its 25 years of participation in the tournament. But ever worse than the finish was how the USA played.

One of Klinsmann's favorite buzzwords is proactive, and the USA was anything but proactive for much of the tournament. If you throw out the Cuba and Jamaica games, the USA was outshot, 75-25, at the Gold Cup. These weren't world-beaters the USA was playing, but Honduras and Haiti, which have won a combined zero games in four appearances at the World Cup, and Panama, which has never played in the World Cup. The average Soccer America player ratings for the USA dropped from 5.96 at the 2013 Gold Cup and 5.83 at the 2014 World Cup to 4.79 at the 2015 Gold Cup.

Klinsmann preferred to talk about the USA's 2-1 loss to Jamaica in the semifinals.

“It was definitely our best game, [but] there were these [officiating] calls. Everybody was saying, ‘Yeah, that’s true, it’s crazy.’ Three days later, it was a loss against Jamaica, two mistakes on two set pieces, and suddenly it was bad coaching. People see the result and they think, ‘That must have been really bad.’”

One call Klinsmann cited was the rare call of a handball on goalkeeper Brad Guzan for crossing the penalty area as he was making an outlet pass. It led to a free kick and the second Jamaica goal. Should it have been called? Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly wasn't the worst call of the tournament. You want to talk about being Concacaf'd this summer? Ask Panama or Costa Rica.

As for losing on two set pieces, it wasn't the first time that's happened to the USA against Jamaica. In Klinsmann's first game with the USA against the Reggae Boyz, it suffered its first defeat in 18 meetings. Yes, it lost on two set pieces. Coincidence or bad coaching?

What is so surprising is that there wasn't exactly an outcry of highway robbery right after the defeat in Atlanta. Klinsmann didn't bring the Guzan call up in his post-game comments provided by U.S. Soccer. If anything, the Guzan call was quickly forgotten in the aftermath of the controversial Mexico-Panama match that followed the same evening. But neither was there a huge outcry about any bad coaching. It was generally noted as ironic that the USA played the best game of an otherwise poor tournament in the one game it lost outright.

Klinsmann first tried to look at the positive side, pointing out more people care about the national team than ever before and are vocal about sharing their opinions and now have an outlet to do so. But he didn't stop there:

“Do they understand really what happened in the Gold Cup? Some of them absolutely do and a lot of people don’t. I take it, it’s not a big deal. But it also explains we have a long way to go to educate people on the game of soccer still in this country.”

The suggestion, of course, is that people in other countries understand the game of soccer better. True? Who knows? But if it is true, I'd then ask. If Klinsmann was coaching Germany and it played like the USA did at the Gold Cup, what would Germans think? He'd have probably been sent back on the first plane back to California.

Big picture: I get the revolution that needs to happen and agree with just about every one of Klinsmann's recommendations (he had some excellent insight on what's bad about the American coaching culture in Part II of his interview with Goff). National team: I, for one, accept his most controversial decision: to stick with John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado at center back. Few of his decisions have been outright lousy, but the national team has, with a few exceptions, not looked very good at all in the last year -- for which he must ultimately take responsibility.

But just because someone might disagree with him doesn't give Klinsmann the right to dismiss him or her as uneducated. That's no way to run a revolution.

20 comments about "The great communicator speaks: 'You're uneducated'".
  1. Soccer Madness, September 4, 2015 at 8:15 a.m.

    Paul, how come you guys are so quick to jump on Klins about results and what he saids but dont ever say anything about USA Youth coaches, teams and their performances and system?? I would love to see the same journalism applied there. Where is the accountability there?? We see the same guys running the show since ever. No mention of that from you guys?? Whats their contract extension?

  2. Joe Linzner, September 4, 2015 at 9:19 a.m.

    first of all, does anyone really feel that we as Americans understand this game at the very same level as those in South America or Europe. I happen to agree with Klinsmann that understanding of the game is superficial in the States and is based on simple we are the best and if we lose ithas to be the coach. Never once is it considered that perhaps this game is not one in which we are the best. That our own technical talent is a step below other nations. I have no problem seeing the lack of cohesion, the lack of productive runs and the vision to pick up those runs and supply a pass to take advantage of that run. Like Altidore getting inserted over and over and producing absolutely ZERO, yet calling him our best forward. If that is understanding the game, well then certainly I really do not understand the game at all, although living that game all my life and playing, coaching and living it physically and intellectually for 68 of my 70 years.

  3. David Mont replied, September 4, 2015 at 1:53 p.m.

    Isn't it Klinsmann who keeps inserting Altidore "over and over"?

  4. Kevin Leahy, September 4, 2015 at 10:51 a.m.

    i wish i understood JK better. the central backs have not out performed their previous players @ that position but,we continue on. we seemed to go pretty well in 2002 with mostly MLS players. he also doesn't understand know what it is like to have people look down their noses @ you when you tell them you are an American soccer player which, continues to this day. as a country we do not have the technical players of many of the countries we compete against that, is true. it does not mean that, people here do not know what they are looking at. tell me the last game where you have felt the play was not disjointed? the structure in this country has always needed to be fixed and if he does that, he has helped. understanding where he is going with the MNT is something that, will always leave most of us ignorant people in the dark.

  5. Joe Linzner replied, September 4, 2015 at 6:24 p.m.

    David Mozeshtam, yes he is the one and that is something I simply, do not understand! He sees him more often that id do. Perhaps he's got something on JK. On performance alone I just do not get that at all.
    PS sorry for the typos, fingers are stubborn!

  6. Joe Linzner replied, September 4, 2015 at 6:38 p.m.

    That's just it David. You have to be educated in the German game leading up to that third place finish. They could not find a coach for the national team because the national team was in shambles and played a plodding, ho hum unimaginative game and were not expected to win games in the cup. He made whole sale changes, brought in younger players on and back into the team, changed the mentality from plodding to attacking and even influenced player selection in youth ranks.. so yes, he did wonders for the german game... he made them play the modern style of soccer.

  7. Allan Lindh replied, September 11, 2015 at 4:42 p.m.

    Yes, and then Bayern Munich handed him the best job in Germany, and he tanked. Read Phil Lamn's assessment of Jurgen Littleman as a coach. Should have fired him after he left Donovan off WC squad for petty personal reasons. Should have fired him after the Gold Cup fiasco. Will fire him after the fiasco next month in Rose Bowl. Good riddance. Need to stop throwing good money after bad.

  8. Santiago 1314, September 4, 2015 at 11:24 a.m.

    Yes, but those of us that are "Educated" and Not ignorant, can tell you that "THE EMPEROR HAS GOT NO CLOTHES"... Don't fall for the JK bluff...He is clueless as a Coach... Great Player; Sure... But his "Flakiness" got him run out of Bayern Munich and Germany...

  9. Joe Linzner replied, September 4, 2015 at 6:19 p.m.

    Well I do not fall for his alchemy, I agree with him. The general spectator and most of the more adressive Bigsoccer posters have no idea how the game functions on a higer order. The bigger is better and tougher attitude is a holover from american football and Basketball. Soccer is a moving chessgam wher the moves have to be three four and perhaps five ahead. That means that when you receive the ball you already have chosen three or four alternaitive pass option and the final decision is made AS not after you receive the ball, which you have take a step or two towards. (how many of our players do that) The reception must be controlled at foot not richocheting 5' 6' 7' away. The problem is this, we do not have the players on a par with the better nations and the vaunted athleticism is a figment the American superiority complex. You can only coach so much into a team. Lack of basics is what is killing us. Players have to play. We supposedly are deeper in the player pool but we simply are not better. We still spray nilly willy. If you watched Germany vs Poland today, even defensive clearances hit team mates more often than not either via foot or head, that rarely happens for us. Like I said without basics it will always be a struggle and NO National team will excel and no coach can make a silk purse out of a >>>>>>>....!?
    But OK, I cede to your wisdom.

  10. R2 Dad, September 4, 2015 at 11:37 a.m.

    JK will be judged on the progress the US makes based on his decisions as the technical director. I wish there were more writers interested in the specifics of those duties and responsibilities because that's where the real changes will occur. Since Claudio's curriculum came out, how is that being implemented? I see no change at the youth level--clubs are just doing whatever they want.

  11. don Lamb replied, September 4, 2015 at 1:38 p.m.

    Good question, but Claudio's curriculum is worthless. It's vagueness and basic nature make it absolutely unimplementable. US Youth Soccer's Player Development Model is a much better resource.

  12. David Mont, September 4, 2015 at 1:59 p.m.

    For the life of me, I don't understand why Germany's 3rd place at WC-06 is presented as Klinsmann's great achievement! For Germany, 3rd place playing at home is not much of an accomplishment. They were second at WC-02 and third at WC-10 -- both times playing far from home. Revolution in German soccer development?? Germany won WC-54, 74, 90; were second in '66, '82, '86; made the semis in '58 and '70. And all of a sudden this country needed a "revolution in its soccer development"??

  13. Vince Leone, September 4, 2015 at 2:42 p.m.

    Paul, you're making too much of the education comment. It's undeniable that because of the overall status of soccer in the U.S. the general understanding of the game is less than in many other countries. That's how I read JK's comment--true enough, and no big deal.

  14. Ric Fonseca, September 4, 2015 at 4:51 p.m.

    To Vince Leone, good point! I agree with you that JK has called as it is, so as P said above, "It is what it is..."

  15. Joe Bailey, September 4, 2015 at 8:34 p.m.

    Too bad Klinsi can use a little more 'education' as a coach. If we gotta deal with the 'you can't argue with me, I'm a European' crap, we should've just hired Joachim Low or Louie Van Gaal and we'd be doing much better...

  16. Joe Bailey, September 4, 2015 at 8:35 p.m.

    I mean, we can beat Italy in a friendly, but we can't beat Jamaica in a competitive game? This is progress we uneducated Americans should be impressed with?

  17. aaron dutch, September 5, 2015 at 1:17 p.m.

    I like JK he is at least forcing the major issues of our Rec/Travel/High School/College/Pro mess. He is out front and has no goal of being a protected american football manager (future job MLS, college etc..) At least we are talking about this then our 1990's-2000's 20 years of lets play harder/tougher/stronger bla bla Go JK give them hell

  18. Ric Fonseca, September 6, 2015 at 5:21 p.m.

    One aspect on the historical development of soccer in the US has to do with the "recreational" mentality that was espoused many years ago via the local, regional, state, and then national ayso group. What many don't seem to remember is the distum that ayso had then, was that everyone played, no matter what age bracket, level of competition, and the fact that teams had to be drafted every season. I remember only too well, when during an U10 regional "all star" competition, there was a young player of Mexican heritage whose talents eclipsed everyone, yet he was duly vetted by the coaches "all star selection" coaches as well as the commisioner. Long story short, at the time of competition, a non-soccer parent, raised a complaint and then forced the lady commissioner, to take the young U10 boy, asked him his age, and even had the gall to see his birth certificate, simply and because his skills were heads and shoulders above all other boys. Luckily, his parents were present and bitterly complained telling the commissioner that he had been vetted inside and out, and so the comish relented and allowed the game to go on. The moral to this bit, is that the complaining parent pulled his son out because he did not believe the player's age had been checked and re-checked time and again; still the young player was visually upset, played but his team lost. I know this only too well, I was there, and it took place at a local junior high school in Santa Monica. Bottom line is that we MUST accept the fact that the recreational mentality is still very pervasive in the US, to wit, that some stater youth associations US Soccer affiliates - through USYSA - also have a recreational side, but those numbers seem to dwindle as our players develop, and since I feel that hope springs eternal, it is my fervent hope that the developmental scene changes if we plan on being an international soccer force to be. Lastly, I feel that JK has been very capable to see the trees for the forest, and has taken a strong whiff of the coffee, and like PG has said, he calls it like it is.

  19. aaron dutch, September 7, 2015 at 3:39 p.m.

    Ric, great ponts. Having grown up in LA i had many of those AYSO experiences in the 1970's/80's as a Mexican/American( i look white as any german:) i was always on teams with lots of "different kids" as they would always say who must not have been the "correct age". Having moved to New Jersey in mid- 90's and seen a version of what i saw growing up here thru US Soccer the last 20 years. I have come to the conclusion that AYSO, US Club Soccer, US Soccer, NFHS, NSCAA, should be defined as Rec/local/School leagues like everywhere else in the world. These would be easy/cheap/fun football not hard core etc..This is where brand of "enjoy the game"can we driven. Then NPL/ID2/ODP/Select and above from US Soccer would all be combined as a real club model which NPL already has the regions. This is where we can partner with leagues/clubs/MLS/NASL etc. to sponsor and build real academy models. USSF will set standards for development, audits, coaching reviews, player pooling to push the best players into the best pools. US Soccer would take the subsidies and pay for ref's, tourneys, coaching development, etc.. Set fees per player would drive the cost model down. Also, low cost/ free clubs could be setup in the 1000's of low income communities which would drive the quality of the player pool up big time. US Soccer could then really have a functional pyramid built on a system of play 4-3-3 dutch or 3-5-2 whatever we want to build. That could funnel our best regardless of background or income into the best teams during the development cycle. College would still be out of the loop as NCAA is wacked and without any alignment with real football.

  20. M L, September 7, 2015 at 11:27 p.m.

    1,405 words to say Jurgen Klinsmann, one of the most accomplished soccer people on the planet, is too rude to the Americans, who have accomplished very little internationally.

    Bleh.

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