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Have you seen this manager? Jurgen Klinsmann

Sunday 30th April 2017
Whether still chasing silverware, desperately seeking to avoid relegation, or sitting comfortably mid-table, clubs across Europe are beginning to plan for next season even as this one runs down. Some will be searching for a new manager. One or two are already available. Since Simon Pegg was allowed to make a three flavored Cornetto trilogy, I thought I'd start a milk carton series on managers who have been away from the public eye for a time but may be on a few clubs' radar as the off-season approaches. Laurent Blanc and Frank de Boer have already been featured. Next up, Jurgen Klinsmann.
While espousing different footballing philosophies, Laurent Blanc and Frank de Boer shared three key traits. Both have a definitive playing style, work well within an organization, and, outside the clubhouse at least, exhibit quiet stoicism. You know what you're getting with either.

In contrast, Jurgen Klinsmann has picked fights in and with the media. He has criticized influential figures and agencies with which he'd have been best served to foster a cooperative relationship. He's displayed a distinct need to be in complete control over any project in which he's involved. Perhaps most concerning, after having managed one powerful club and two high-profile national teams, no one is quite certain just what his playing style is. The next club or country which takes him on had better know what it's getting.

Whenever a position opens at a big club, one or two among its playing legends are inevitably mooted. Thierry Henry has been put forward as Arsene Wenger's replacement at Arsenal. Ryan Giggs was considered as a permanent solution for David Moyes. When his understudy role with Louis van Gaal ruled the Welshman out by association--a curious bit of damned if you do, damned if you don't irony--Gary Neville became Manchester United's alumni candidate. Unlike Zinedine Zidane, Diego Simeone, and Antonio Conte, who first paid their dues gaining significant experience at smaller clubs or with a B side, Henry, Giggsy, and G-Nev were ruled out for their inexperience as men in charge.

Laurent Blanc began his managerial career at Bordeaux, a well-established Ligue 1 side, yes, but one that hadn't matched bygone glories since a brief relegation in the early nineties. His immediate success pushed him to bigger things in short order.

Frank de Boer traveled a career path similar to Zizou, bossing the Ajax youth side, then sitting beside Bertie van Marwijk on the Netherlands bench before taking full charge at Ajax. Zidane had been number two under both Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti before giving it a go on his own with Real Madrid Castilla.

Simeone managed four clubs in Argentina, then Catania in Serie A, before being given an opportunity at Atletico Madrid. Similarly, Juventus was Conte's fifth Italian job. What I'm saying is experience is generally considered to be important.

Klinsmann was having none of that. He jumped in the managerial pool's deep end, Germany being his first coaching assignment.
World Cup success in 2006, with mostly young players yet to establish their pedigree, was unexpected. While one or two rumors hinted Jogi Loew was the tactical kingmaker supporting Klinsmann's coronation, general consensus was the former striker was the new crown prince in football management. Bayern bought into the hype, hiring him as its own squad underwent a generational turnover.

When a playing legend cuts the queue, winning a job over more experienced candidates, expectations generally demand he surround himself with qualified people, adopt a suitably humble attitude, delegate well, learn, then assume greater authority over time. When the club in question's front office is filled with even greater legends than himself, say Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and Uli Hoeness, the newbie probably shouldn't insist on revolutionizing the entire program from the off.

Klinsmann's ego had long since forcibly evicted humility from his personality, though. His mastery regarding American sports science methods may have been better appreciated had it been presented with more tact. Bayern benefited from Klinsmann overhauling its training regimen. Still, ramming it down the throats of a board who had collectively won twenty-one Bundesliga titles, fourteen DFB Pokals, four European Cups/Champions Leagues, and a UEFA Cup, all by doing things in a time-tested, traditional manner before he came along, inspired resentment.

He was sacked in true Moyesian fashion with five games remaining in the 2008-09 campaign. Klinsmann's tenure was an inglorious end to Bayern's four-year run as champions. Finishing third in the Bundesliga, given the competition, was even worse than Moyes' seventh with United in the Premier League, five years later.
For all that, Klinsmann was universally welcomed as Bob Bradley's replacement with the United States national team. Swansea fans might now feel Mr Bean would have been a better choice after their experience with the Yank boss, but the USSF and Sam's Army believed they were getting far more by bringing in the German. Here was a man who could wed American ingenuity with tactical nous. He'd played for several top European sides before settling in Southern California with his family, only to look in the mirror one morning while shaving and conclude he was a manager in all but name. The USMNT would finally be more than the fittest eleven on the pitch.

Yeah, um, about that...

Like Donald Trump's first hundred days as President, Klinsmann's early experimentation with different formations, tactics, and lineups was met with cries to "give him time" from supporters unwilling to look at facts. Players with technical ability, most notably Benny Feilhaber, were frozen out. Physical specimens such as Jozy Altidore and Jermaine Jones were afforded every opportunity to make good. A trained eye could see the new boss was little different than the old. Tactical and personnel experiments continued throughout his tenure. The USMNT lost its identity as a determined, resilient, athletic side while failing to find the promised new one as skilled, tactically adaptable footballers.

Klinsmann did, to his credit, recognize Michael Bradley was an integral leader and captain-in-waiting within the squad. What could have been an awkward situation, the sacked coach's son having to play for Dad's replacement, was admirably negotiated. Yet, Klinsmann insisted on playing the deep-lying destroyer who possesses a fondness for marauding runs as a number eight or ten, rather than his perfect six, helping to keep Jones in the squad.

Then US all-time scorer Landon Donovan decided to take a hiatus from international duty. The LA Galaxy striker had been performing practically year-round, with January loans to Everton and deep runs in the MLS playoffs. Now thirty, he was understandably exhausted. Instead, Klinsmann took it as the ultimate betrayal, exiling Donovan, questioning his commitment in the press.

Just when peace had seemingly been restored with Donovan welcomed back into the squad, he was left off the 2014 World Cup roster. Nor was the legend replaced by a youngster bursting with ability, eager for his chance. Instead, Klinsmann chose thirty-two-year-old lead-footed poacher Chris Wondolowski. Klinsmann laughably claimed Donovan, whose five World Cup goals put him level with Michel Platini, simply wasn't among America's best twenty-three players anymore. The player spent 2014's remainder dominating MLS. In his place, Wondo was less than wonderful. Thirty-something himself, but with no international experience, he succumbed to the pressure. He blazed a sitter over a gaping net from six yards against Belgium which could have seen the Yanks smash and grab their way to the quarterfinals on the back of Tim Howard's ridiculous sixteen-save performance. Instead, they were out.
The mirror holding Klinsmann's grandiose illusions began to crack. Mass and social media were openly panning the German, not just for his squad selection and tactics. His constant complaints regarding Major League Soccer's scheduling, insufficient youth development, and quality were seen less and less as constructive criticism, more and more as deflecting attention from his own shortcomings. Meanwhile, Bayern and Die Mannschaft legend Phillip Lahm confirmed the Jogi Loew rumors in his memoir. Klinsmann's tactical nous was so poor, he wrote, players in both squads would huddle before matches to devise their own strategies.

Yet, it would be another two-and-a-half years until the mirror's shards fell to the floor and former US boss Bruce Arena was recalled to clean up the mess. Opening 2016's CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup qualifiers in Columbus, Ohio, against Mexico, Klinsmann attempted to anticipate and nullify Juan Carlos Osorio's tactics rather than dictate terms on home turf. The German got it horribly wrong. Jones and Bradley approached him in the technical area twenty minutes in, pleading to alter the formation. It was too late. They were behind and would eventually lose. The side's abject performance in Costa Rica in its second qualifier proved he had lost the clubhouse.

Regardless, Klinsmann's past achievements and legend may still land him another job. His strengths make him more suited to be some club or country's technical director. Yet, with his family now firmly settled into the Hotel California, it's questionable whether Klinsmann would be interested in working outside the US. Happily for him, there may be two options in his own back yard.

LA Galaxy's Curt Onalfo is struggling mightily to fill Bruce Arena's shoes with Major League Soccer's most prolific club. Tinseltown's preoccupation with celebrity may convince Galaxy's board members to complete the managerial merry-go-round by bringing Klinsmann into the StubHub Center.

Should they not, new franchise LAFC begins play in 2018. Klinsmann would be an ideal candidate as sporting director, if not coach. His success in Germany applying modern sports science to club and country, and his eye for youth talent, demonstrated by the many dual citizens he's brought into the USMNT, more than qualify him to build a program from the ground up.

It would not be shocking to see Jurgen Klinsmann's name officially attached to either club in the immediate future. Hopefully though, several months away from the bright lights have given him ample time to ease the swelling in his ego so he gets it right this time.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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