Sam Borden’s profile of Jurgen Klinsmann in the New York Times Magazine provides color to the character that has led the United States Men National Team through qualifying and into the World Cup.
Some quotes in the more than 5000-word piece will be scrutinized greater than the content of the entire article. Given the length of the profile, and the nature of the internet, the bulk of criticism will be centered on a quote within the first 300 words.
“We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet.”
It is a great line in print, splashed on the opening page. The coach won’t sugar coat it. The cold reality is what United States soccer needs.
The truth is the USMNT is neither the 1980 Miracle on Ice gold medal hockey team nor the 1992 Dream Team. What Klinsmann sees is a sleeping giant with massive untapped resources on a trajectory that will never meet that potential. Equally as important, his boss, Sunil Gulati, believes that too.
From this profile it is evident that the big picture is essential to both men. The big picture requires large culture and symbolic changes that forces an uneasiness on everyone with a stake in the old ways. The exclusion of Landon Donovan and the inclusion of Julian Green was that most notable of that shift. The structural shift, however, is not limited to the act of shedding the old for the sake of the young. Klinsmann has awarded first time World Cup tickets to several German-Americans in Europe and MLS players that are in or past their prime.
The media might focus on the youth of DeAndre Yedlin, John Anthony Brooks and Green, but the bulk of playing time will go to those that demonstrate the form and professionalism Klinsmann desires. He is rewarding the “Rudy’s” this World Cup while trying to shift the trajectory up for the next World Cup as the coach, or perhaps the technical director.
Borden makes the point early and often that Klinsmann is the sole decision-maker, however, there are few references to his ability as a coach aside from the paragraphs outlining his years with the German National Team and the 9 months with Bayern Munich. Can Klinsmann change the culture of US soccer without being in the technical area? Crotchety xenophobic uncle Bruce Arena may be right about “an American should be coaching the national team.”
If Klinsmann wants to change the soccer culture, that will involve coaches as well as players. Klinsmann has a vision and wants to lay out a blueprint. Can he execute this plan? Despite the results of this coming or past World Cups of this century, would you believe Klinnsman is a better strategist or tactical coach than Bob Bradley or Arena? An American coach, from Major League Soccer, could potentially execute Klinsmann’s vision on the pitch, while Klinsmann works on locking up talent and resources to construct his master plan.
What Arena failed to realize, or simply forgot, is the desire to win trumps isolationist tendencies in soccer. Coaches from outside a country have significantly influenced countries soccer identities, whether as a national team coach or at a club. Tiki-taka was not an invention of Spanish coaches Luis Aragonés or Vicente del Bosque. Pep Guardiola perfected the style, but Johan Cruyff of Holland brought the foundation, Total Football, from his national team and club Ajax. And origins of the system were developed from Austria-Hungary coffee houses and implement on the base level by an English man. If you believe Jonathan Wilson’s book “Inverting the Pyramid,” the Italian Catenaccio system derived from a system created by a Swiss Karl Rappan or a Russian Boris Arkadiev.
Klinsmann appears more structurally driven than personnel. He leverages his fame to attract talent. Icelandic-American Aron Johannsson seemed fairly enthusiastic to get a voice message from Klinsmann. He speaks of a style that embodies the American athleticism and energy with the skill and flare from south of the United States. Klinsmann has proven he can attract talent outside the borders. He can play the John Calipari while he practices to be Phil Jackson. There is no evidence, however, Klinsmann can teach that style in total of 40 to 50 practices in no more than 16 month.
The vision requires bottom up implementation and when you rely on a bottom-up implementation long-term planning is needed. What Klinsmann is asking for is an almost decade long process which no national team coach can survive. That is why a country’s style is typically built on the club level in European and not at the national team.
The profile displays Klinsmann as a man more concerned about a legacy built on culture than coaching. That is a disappointing prospect for Brazil, but encouraging for the future after June.
This week’s Throw-In:
- Can the Canadian (Voyageurs) Cup be the turning point for Montreal this season? Since their first Cup match in the beginning of May, in all competitions they are 3-3-2 with wins over Toronto FC and the New England Revolution and a road draw against TFC and DC United. With the trade for Futty Danso which indicates the front office realizes there was a flaw in personnel, and silverware in hand, Klopas may be safe for the season.
- In the other direction, the headline is: Houston loss three straight and shut out each time. The narrative is building to remove Dominic Kinnear. Is it finally safe to bet against him? Simply put, NO. Houston are dogs on the road earning 4 points in 8 games with a minus 12 goal differential. At home they are averaging just under 2 points per match. Add the absence of Brad Davis and Óscar Boniek García, and what we have here is a case of bad timing. Kinnear deserves criticism for the lack of squad depth, but it is still not safe to bet against him.
- An add-on to the Klinsmann piece. Klinsmann and US Soccer priority post World Cup is to steal Diego Fagundez from the Uruguayan National Team. He’s the best young (under-22?) winger in MLS and if he had his US citizenship I would have believed he would be on the plane to Brazil rather than Green. Fagundez is a product of the US youth system and has been playing against grown ass men since 2011. He needs to be wearing the red, white and blue in the 2016 Copa América rather than the sky blue of Uruguay.