Now that the recent hubris of the USMNT is over and the dust has cleared, fans can't wait to see new USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the US team in action vs. Mexico on August 10th. While many US fans no doubt have heard the name of Jurgen Klinsmann, I don't know if many people know the scope of career he has had both as a player for Germany and a manager at the club and international level. So, I thought it would be a good idea to get a piece of summarizing Klinsmann's journey to the helm of the US National Team and what fans may be able to expect from him going forward. Join me after the break for his playing/managing history and a bit of discussion as to what I think he will bring as head coach of the USMNT, as well as a couple of good articles that every USMNT fan needs to read.
Jurgen was a soccer prodigy from a very young age. Although these stats sound crazy, Jurgen actually scored 16 goals in one game and 106 goals in one season as a 9 year old for his hometown Gingen, Germany soccer team. He would prove he wasn't just a flash in the pan as he scored more than 250 goals in his time at SC Geislingen from 1974 to 1978.
Jurgen signed a professional contract at the age of 16, and at the tender age of 17, made his professional debut with the Stuttgarter Kickers, a Bundesliga second division side. In his 3rd season as a pro, he had began blossoming in his role as striker, notching 19 goals in 35 matches to open eyes in Germany. These performances began to put him in demand, and he moved up to the top division of the Bundesliga with VfB Stuttgart in 1984. He was able to maintain a scoring ratio of 1 goal every 2 matches in his time with Stuttgart. He also helped lead the team to great heights in his time there, with a German Cup Final appearance in 1986. Jurgen was the top scorer in the Bundesliga in 1988 and also earned the player of the year award for Germany. In 1989 he helped Stuttgart reach the UEFA Cup final.
Internationally Klinsmann featured for the German National team (obviously). His first cap came in 1987, and just a year later, he helped lead Germany to a bronze medal in the 1988 Olympics. Jurgen would also move club teams, spending time with Internazionale, where he won the Italian Super Cup in 1989 and the UEFA Cup in 1991. From here, Jurgen would go to AS Monaco in League 1 under one Arsene Wenger, and played well yet again, notching 29 goals in 65 appearances.
Klinsmann would use all of his experience from various European leagues to ply his trade in the English Premier League. Jurgen signed on next with Tottenham Hotspur, and made a big impact for the club. He scored 21 goals in 41 appearances and was named English footballer of the year in 1995. Jurgen would return to Germany however, playing for Bundesliga giant Bayern Munich from 1995-1997. He was their leading scorer, and went on a tear at one point, leading Bayern to the UEFA Cup in 1996 after reeling off 15 goals in 12 appearances. He also lead Bayern to the Bundesliga title in the 1996/1997 season.
To wind his career down, he then went to Sampdoria, and was loaned to Tottenham mid-season. He helped the Spurs fight off relegation, then played in the 1998 World Cup before retiring as a player. To total some stats, he played 17 seasons in 4 major European Leagues. His goal total are eye popping, as he netted 226 goals in 506 club matches. He had 47 goals in 108 caps for the German National Team. To list just a few awards that I haven't already mentioned, he won the World Cup in 1990, German footballer of the year in 1993, and winner/MVP of the US cup in 1993. Yeah, the guy has a bit of soccer knowledge.
Let's take a look now at his managing career. Jurgen earned his German Football Teacher License in 2000. His first big coaching step came in 2004, when he worked as Technical Advisor for the LA Galaxy. Jurgen would get his first big break that same year when Germany asked him to take over the German National Team. After a shocking exit in the group stage of the 2004 UEFA European Championships, the German team was in disarray and they looked to Klinsmann to get them back on track. Basically, Jurgen saw the need to overhaul the whole approach of the German program. He concentrated on an attacking brand of soccer and emphasized superior fitness, much like the US National Team is known for (the fitness part, that is). In the 2004-2006 time period, he had 20 wins, 8 draws, and 6 losses. His German side finished 3rd in both the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2006 World Cup.
He left the German National Team after the 2006 World Cup. In 2008, he became head coach of Bayern Munich. Under his guidance, they reached the UEFA Champions League Quarterfinal, losing to eventual champions Barcelona. However, after a falling out with Bayern's Board of Directors, Jurgen's tenure at Bayern ended in 2009. There were only 5 matches to go, and Bayern was only 3 points out of 1st place, but he was relieved of his duties after clashing with the powers that be.
How will he coach the USMNT? The first thing that people should understand is how well he understands the US and how the soccer structure works here. He also knows how US soccer vastly differs from everywhere else in the world. Jurgen has lived in the US for years, so he has had great exposure with our soccer. He knows the talent levels/pool, how we develop youth, how soccer philosophy, play, and talent is unique to the US, and also importantly, he knows the MLS. As I mentioned, he was an advisor to the Galaxy, and more recently, a special advisor to Toronto FC. I think his level of US understanding is essential for him to be successful. Many fans were clamoring for a big foreign name, Guus Hiddink being one of them. Personally, hiring a name that doesn't know how the US works vs. the rest of the world wouldn't have worked well in my opinion. If we played like every other country, then it wouldn't matter. You come in, learn the talent pool, and start plugging people in. You can't do that in the US. You have to learn the confines of the system we have, but also be able to work with what we do have to find and develop the best talent. I think a foreign coach with vast US knowledge/experience is the next logical step for the USMNT. We still play a certain way, but it's time to start expanding our horizons and bringing in other serious viewpoints from other parts of the world. Jurgen will be able to bring world-class, foreign soccer knowledge. What remains to be seen is how he will meld this into the US system.
For those wondering how the US team will be shaped going forward in terms of playing style, my answer would be attacking soccer. Grant Wahl Tweeted a link to a good article penned by Jurgen during last year's World Cup. As Wahl said, it's basically a blueprint of what we might expect from Jurgen and how he may shape the team. To make a long story short, he finds defensive minded soccer more boring. That's not to say he doesn't emphasize a good defense, that would be disastrous. Basically, he likes attacking soccer. His teams are going to attack, and they are going to score. His teams don't bunker down and play for a tie or a 1-0 win. He likes flashy soccer with good pace. So, most fans should be pleased at this. One thing to keep in mind is the overhaul he brought to German soccer, as he explains in the above link. Can he do the same here? If in fact Sunil Gulati did relinquish a great amount of control over personnel and youth development to Jurgen, that could be very good. That's not to say the US can emulate other countries. We have to accept the fact we are different, but there is no reason that we can't make our uniqueness work for us. We just need the right hand to lead us along. Even if we tried to change our soccer culture to match other countries in the world, it could take decades to do so, if it can even be done given the talent levels we have to work with in this country. The simple fact is that the problems we have are known, but Gulati doesn't seem to want to address them. If Jurgen has more power than any other USMNT coach in history, he could be allowed to finally implement solutions to try to fix some of the glaring issues we have. Let's hope for the case of US soccer that's true and Klinsmann can be the guy to start that.
Another issue to think about is our current desperation at the striker position. Hopefully Altidore continues to grow, and hopefully Juan Agudelo pans out fully. Beyond that, there is not much in the pipeline. Landon and Clint can score, but they are getting older. That is one major issue for me. I would love to see attacking soccer by a USMNT side, but who will be the attackers and are they good enough to consistently score? I think this is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, issues Jurgen is going to have to address. If we don't have goal scorers, the whole system doesn't work. It will be interesting to see how he addresses this.
There are of course down sides to every coach. If a perfect coach was out there, he wouldn't have to worry about ever being out of a job. So what might be the downsides to Jurgen's hiring? Take a good look at this article, again courtesy of a Grant Wahl tweet. It does a good job summarizing some of the pros and cons. The two most cited cons by detractors are the fact that his assistant during his stint as German Nation Team head coach was actually the brains behind the operation (allegedly). That man is Joachim Low and it seems as though Low is very much all he is said to be. Whether this is true or not, the fact that he picked a good assistant is a pro to me. Even if Jurgen wasn't the main brain of the operation, he put someone in place who was. The end result is the same. The manager of a factory doesn't know how to run every machine as well as the guys that work with them every day. But they put people in place who can run the machines and make the business go. While the Low theory may be true, I am not as worried because Jurgen recognized and placed Low's talent in the right place. Let's hope he does the same in choosing a coaching staff for the USMNT.
The other big con mentioned is the falling out/short tenure at Bayern Munich. While the second article I linked brings up some of Jurgen's mistakes as coach of Bayern Munich, two things can be said. He had to fight boardroom battles as well as pitch battles. It's one thing to clash with a player, it's another to clash with your bosses. The other thing is that it was his first real big experience as head coach at the club level. Anyone can fail, and I think that, given more chances, Jurgen could do good at the club level. He would have the opportunity to learn from his mistakes at Bayern Munich and apply them to a possible future club coaching gig. Basically, he was 0-1 in a tough situation. Not exactly a large sample size to draw from.
In the end, managing the US will be a much different animal than Jurgen has ever experienced. I think his blend of foreign experience with his knowledge of the US system can be a good marriage. He can take bits and pieces from his previous experiences, and fit them in the US system. And hopefully begin to evolve and change the US system for the better. He definitely has his pros, as I have already illustrated. He has experience at the highest levels as a player and manager, and has intimate knowledge of a flawed system here. I look for good things from Jurgen. The US clearly was not evolving or advancing in the last year or so under Bob Bradley, and I think Jurgen was the clear, best choice available given the circumstances and needs of the USMNT. Whatever happens, it's an exciting, unique time in US soccer and the possible dawning of a new era. It's definitely something that any USMNT fan shouldn't miss.