Thursday, February 7, 2013

Klinsmann Out!

Imagine that you came from a nation where soccer is the only sport that truly matters.  And that you were one of the greatest soccer players -- or "footballers" -- that country had ever produced.  And that your national team, which is usually good enough to at least seriously contend for the World Cup, won it, and you were one of the biggest reasons why.

Now imagine that the World Cup is going to be on home soil.  And that your homeland has asked you to manage the national team.  That team would be one of the favorites anyway.  Since the tournament is going to be on home soil, you are now the favorite.

And you don't even get into the Final.  And the team that beats you in the Semifinal, and the other Finalist, are arguably lesser teams.

By the standards set, you have failed.

Would you expect any other national team to ever hire you as a manager?


Jurgen Klinsmann was born on July 30, 1964, in Goppingen, outside Stuttgart, Baden-Wurttemberg, in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland -- or, as it is known in English, the Federal Republic of Germany.  Or, as it was commonly called during the Cold War, "West Germany." His family runs a bakery in Stuttgart's Botnang area  and he apprenticed there, and so he is known as "the baker's son from Botnang."

He reached the senior level of German soccer (or "fussball") with hometown club Stuttgart in 1984.  They were defending Bundesliga ("federal league") champions, but fell to 10th.  He was named West German Footballer of the Year in 1988, and was purchased by Milan-based club Internazionale, whom he helped win the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) in 1991.

In 1990, he starred for West Germany in the World Cup, and they won.  A few months later, the Bundesrepublik was reunited with the formerly Communist German "Democratic" "Republic," or "East Germany." The united Germany reached the Final of Euro 92, but lost to a Denmark squad that had a "team of destiny" aura around them.  (It remains Denmark's only trip to a major tournament's semifinal.)

Klinsmann moved to AS Monaco in 1992, where he played for future Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, and in 1994, following Germany's poor performance (by their standards) in the World Cup in the U.S., to Arsenal's North London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur (or "Spurs" -- not to be confused with the San Antonio basketball team).

The English media dubbed Klinsmann "Der Bomber," not because of memories of World War II, but because of his diving.  To this day, it is insisted that Klinsmann introduced the desperate, illegal tactic to English football.  After all, Englishmen never dive.  This is a lie: There were divers in the old Football League as far back as the mid-1960s.  Leeds United captain Billy Bremner was an expert at it.  (Well, to be fair, as he would have happily told you himself, Bremner wasn't English.  He was Scottish.  Rolleyes.)

Anyway, Tottenham did not do well in 1994-95 -- although that remains the least season in which they have finished ahead of Arsenal in the League.  When Bayern Munich, Germany's most successful club, made Spurs an offer, they happily accepted.

In his first 2 seasons with Bayern, Klinsmann helped them win the 1996 UEFA Cup and the 1997 Bundesliga title.  Meanwhile, Tottenham won nothing.  To further rub it in to the English media, which have loved Tottenham ever since their 1951 "push and run" club won the League title, Klinsmann captained the German team that knocked England out of Euro 96 (which England were hosting) in the Semifinal, and then won the Final.  Suffice it to say, Jurgen Klinsmann was not popular in England.  (But because of this, he was popular in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.)

In 1997, he was sold to Sampdoria, of Genoa, Italy.  And in midseason, they sent him on loan -- to Tottenham! Who, of course, won nothing that season.  In fact, it was only a few big goals from Klinsmann, late in the season, that saved Spurs from relegation.

He retired after that 1997-98 season, and moved to Southern California, home of his wife, Debbie Chin, a former model.  Except for a 1999 testimonial in Stuttgart, and 8 games in 2003 for his "local side," Orange County Blue Star -- under the pseudonym Jay Goppingen -- he was done playing at age 34, a genuine legend.

His stint with Blue Star -- which is now in what is considered to be the 4th division of America's "soccer pyramid," 3 levels below Major League Soccer -- sparked a desire to manage.  After Germany's poor performance at Euro 2004, Klinsmann was hired as manager.

He has been hailed for overhauling Germany's youth program, which has borne fruit with such talents as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose, Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze, and current Arsenal players Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker.  But Germany was defeated by Italy in the Semifinal of the 2006 World Cup, thanks to 2 goals late in extra time.  Italy went on to defeat France in a controversial Final.  In spite of a lot of praise, he decided to resign after the tournament.  (Germany has since failed at Euro 2008, and reached the Semifinals of both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.)

In 2008, Bayern hired Klinsmann as manager, but he failed to last the first season.  In 2011, more to the point of this post, Klinsmann was hired to manage the United States team, replacing Bob Bradley, whose son Michael Bradley is one of the team's best players.

Klinsmann got off to a slow start, winning only one of his first 5 matches.  In particular was a match played in Paris against France on Veterans Day, November 11, 2011, in honor of the alliance between America and France that has lasted continuously since World War I, and was first cemented during the War of the American Revolution.  It was an awful game, with France winning 1-0 and the U.S. looking like they weren't going to score if the game lasted all night.

Klinsmann's supporters have 3is  achievements to point to.  On February 29, 2012, the U.S. beat Italy, the defending world champions, on Italian soil at Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa -- the stadium where Klinsmann played home games for Genoa.  The U.S. had never beaten Italy, first playing them in 1934.  And on August 15, for the first time in history, the U.S. beat arch-rival Mexico at Mexico's national stadium, Estadio Azteca, 1-0.  The 3rd achievement is that 2012, in terms of winning percentage in a calendar year, was the U.S. team's best ever.

But those were international exhibition games -- "friendlies." For teams in North America and the Caribbean, there's 2 tournaments that count: The CONCACAF Gold Cup, which the U.S. will host this summer, and the World Cup.  The last round of CONCACAF qualifying for the World Cup is underway.  It's called the "Hexagonal," with 6 teams going for it: The U.S. Mexico, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras.  The top 3 teams will qualify, and the 4th place team will play one more match against an also-ran from another region, in which the winner will be in the World Cup and the loser will be out.

Last night, the U.S. played away to Honduras.  A nation of 8 million people -- less than New York City.  And they beat us, 2-1.

This was a game that counted.  And Klinsmann blew it.

My biggest argument against Klinsmann as a manager is that he cannot pick a lineup.  He was slightly hampered by the facts that Landon Donovan, who plays his club soccer for MLS Champions Los Angeles Galaxy, the greatest performer the U.S. national side has ever had, has retired from international play; and two defenders, usual Captain Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander in Spain) and Steve Cherundolo (Hannover in Germany), were injured.  Personally, I'm not bothered by those injuries: Bocanegra and Cherundolo are over the hill.

As usual, North Brunswick, New Jersey native Tim Howard (Everton, based in Liverpool) started in goal.  No problem there.  The back four were Tim Chandler (Nuremberg of Germany), Omar Gonzalez (Galaxy), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City of England) and Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim of Germany).  These were the best 4 defenders Klinsmann could come up with, in the absence of Bocanegra and Cherundolo? He could have taken Connor Lade (New York Red Bulls), or Clarence Goodson (Brondby of Denmark), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg in Germany), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla of Mexico), or a pair of veterans, Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City in England) or Oguchi Onyewu (Malaga of Spain).  Okay, Spector has also had it, but the Gooch is still quite capable.

The midfield was Michael Bradley (AS Roma of Italy), Jermaine Jones (Schalke of Germany), Daniel Williams (Hoffenheim) and Eddie Johnson (AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands).  Klinsmann left Maurice Edu (Bursaspor of Turkey), Jose Francisco Torres (UNAL of Mexico), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht of Belgium) and Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City) on the bench.  And Eddie Johnson is usually a forward, so he was out of position.  He could have chosen Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Mikkel Diskerud (Rosenborg of Norway), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC), Brek Shea (Stoke), or the veteran DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla).

The forwards were Clint Dempsey (Tottenham) and Jozy Altidore (AZ).  Altidore has proven time and time again that he is terrible.  Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna of Mexico -- our players of Mexican descent are better than Mexico's Mexicans) may be about to turn 31, but he's a better option than the 23-year-old Altidore.  So is Johnson, who could have been put up front with Edu, Kljestan or Zusi in midfield.  Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA of Los Angeles) has been injured, and Edson Buddle (Colorado Rapids) is useless, but Klinsmann could have chosen Chris Wondolowski (San Jose).

You can't win unless you have the horses, but Klinsmann is the one picking the horses.  And he nearly always picks the wrong ones.

Like I said: These games count.  It's lucky for the U.S. that Mexico and heavy underdogs Jamaica played to a turgid 0-0 draw (with the Mexican fans chanting "Ole!" with Jamaica's late passes and booing their own national side off the Azteca pitch), and Panama and Costa Rica also played to a draw, 2-2.  This means that a win in the next match, on March 22 against Costa Rica at the Colorado Rapids' stadium in the Denver suburbs, combined with Mexico preventing Honduras from getting a win the same day, and the U.S. is right back in the thick of it.

But the thick I'm worried about is Klinsmann's skull.

Let me be clear: This is not about him being a former Tottenham man.  If he were a former Arsenal man, I'd still be concerned about his results.

If the U.S. does not qualify for the World Cup, he needs to go.

And I'm concerned that we won't qualify.  After all the progress we've made over the last 25 years, qualifying for every World Cup since 1990 and getting to the knockout round last time, to not qualify at all would be a major setback.

And the fault will lie not with the quality of our players, but with the fool picking the wrong ones.

As English "football" fans say when they want their club's (or national side's) manager fired...



Sponge said...

I've read several places that the top 3 from CONACAF make it and the 4th plays in the "playoff". Is that correct? Same concerns about Klinsmann, just more margin for error.

Uncle Mike said...

I stand corrected: It is the top 3. I had it confused with the Champions League format. I will correct the error in the post.

ugur enk said...

Not American but I think Klinsmannn is doing a good job with only decent players, you should remain patient with him. Also Billy Bremner was never the type of player to dive lol, he certainly wasn't an 'expert' at it, he would have laughed at divers. You are probably thinking of Francis lee