Jurgen Klinsmann decided to give the U.S. Olympic team job to Andreas Herzog. Make that his friend Andreas Herzog. Herzog had absolutely no special soccer qualities that made him a candidate for the appointment. His previous coaching experience was hardly a recommendation, as my colleague Mike Woitalla has made clear. In fact, Herzog has one quality that should have ruled him out immediately: he is not American.
Of all the U.S. international soccer involvements, that with the Olympic Games is the one that stirs most resonance throughout the country. Simply because the Olympic Games are a bigger deal in this country than anywhere else. For many Americans -- probably a majority -- the Olympics represent the acme of global sports involvement. It is also an event that the USA is accustomed to dominating.
Soccer fans think differently. For them, the World Cup is the real deal. They have a point. World cup fans are soccer fans -- millions, possibly billions, who live their sport 365 days a year. Olympic fans -- well, who are they? You could argue, not without justification, that they are mostly patriotic flag-wavers who surface only once every four years.
No matter -- the special U.S. relationship with the Olympics is important. It was surely obvious that the Olympic coaching job should have gone to Tab Ramos. It was Klinsmann’s act of cronyism that blocked that. To have the U.S. Olympic team coached by a foreigner is simply a bad idea. And of course it looks even worse when the team flops.
At some point -- let us hope it is soon -- USSF president Sunil Gulati must stop acceding to Klinsmann’s wishes (demands is probably what they are) and assert a less imperial way of running things. Firing the spectacularly underqualified Herzog would be a good first step toward a much needed clipping of Klinsmann’s wings.
Appointments based of cronyism -- “jobs for the boys” is the expression that comes to mind -- have a long history, in all fields of activity, of going sour. Another such setup has just come to grief in Spain.
Who on earth had the idea that England’s Gary Neville could ever succeed as coach of Valencia? His first coaching job, in a foreign country, where they speak Spanish and Neville does not, and where they play a style of soccer that Neville is simply not familiar with. How could he be when he has played all his life in England, for one club, Manchester United?
But Neville got the job because he is a friend of the Valencia owner Peter Lim, a Singapore businessman. Maybe Lim was influenced by Neville’s newly acquired reputation as a television pundit. I’ve heard some of Neville’s punditry and would say this: he is good on English soccer. And articulate, in English. None of which is necessarily going to be of any help in Spain, where they play Spanish soccer and they speak Spanish.
Neville admitted that his biggest problem would be the language gap. Right. But he got the language wrong. I’d suggest it was not the lack of spoken Spanish that did him in, but rather the language of soccer. The Engish soccer language -- i.e. the way that the English traditionally play the game -- differs from almost everyone else. In this sense, it is approximately 50 years behind the times. The key measurement is crosses. The English still insist that soccer is all about crosses. Talk tactics with any English soccer person -- player, coach, fan -- and in no time at all you’re talking crosses.
On the BBC website, journalist Andy West states that one of Neville’s original intentions with Valencia was to have the team “creating attacking width to deliver crosses into the box.”
As though crosses themselves, regardless of what they bring about, are the important thing. How can they be? It must be clear to anyone who has watched more than a few games, that crosses are a very low-percentage attacking weapon. Valuable yes, but not when used relentlessly.
So Neville was in charge at Valencia for 28 games. Only 10 games were won, of which only three were in La Liga. From being a team fighting for a place in the top four, Valencia under Neville became a team involved in the relegation battle.
And so Peter Lim faced reality, and fired his friend. Would that the same reality and willlingness to admit a mistake were alive and well in U.S. national team circles. Ideally, Herzog would already have done the honorable thing and resigned. But resigning or getting fired can mean a big difference in severance pay.
Whatever USSF has to pay Herzog to go, they should do it, quickly. His departure will open the door for an American coach, and it will also make it clear -- above all to Klinsmann, the man who needs to be told -- that cronyism will no longer be tolerated.