Commentary: Now Klinsmann must back up his salty talk
Recent headlines from the US national team recently wrapped January camp in Southern California have been sprinkled with some surprisingly salty sound bites from head coach Jurgen Klinsmann regarding even the top members of his player pool.
Klinsmann has been hammering home what has become a relentless theme from him: the relative naivety and complacency of US players compared to the world's elite.
"The stage where we are with soccer in this country, and also the stage with a lot of American players that are actually in Europe, is a stage where there’s a lot of education still necessary," he told The New York Times.
"The soccer environment within our American system is too easily content. People give them too early the feeling of being content. So if it’s: 'I make it into MLS, I made it.' I always say, 'You haven’t made [expletive].'"
Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, he applied much the same statements to Clint Dempsey, probably the USA's most prominent player at the moment and certainly one of the most dynamic attackers in the program's history.
"[Dempsey] hasn't made [same expletive]. You play for Fulham? Yeah, so? Show me you can play for a Champions League team, and then you start on a Champions League team," Klinsmann said. "There is always another level."
His sentiments are, at their core, justifiable. A World Cup, European Championship, UEFA Cup and Bundesliga winner on the field, Klinsmann carries an individual pedigree that gives him carte blanche, in the eyes of both players and fans, to critique even the brightest stars American soccer has ever created.
Klinsmann maximized his own talents in exactly the fashion that he urges the current crop of US international hopefuls to achieve today. His homeland of 81 million citizens has earned many times more major trophies than the nation of 315 million in which he now resides. And the simple honor of playing UEFA Champions League soccer is one that has eluded all but a handful of Yanks.
However, if we're dishing out hard truths, at some point someone is going to have to mention that his track record as a coach looks a bit different. In fact, the circumstances surrounding his prior managing job, a star-crossed 10 months at Bayern Munich in 2008-09 (right), suggest that Klinsmann may have almost as much to prove in the technical area as his charges do on the field.
"We practiced little more than fitness,"defender and Germany captain Philip Lahm wrote of Klinsmann's time at Bayern in his 2011 autobiography. "Tactical things were neglected. The players had to get together before [the games] to discuss how we wanted to play.
"After six or eight weeks, all players knew it wouldn't work with Klinsmann. The rest of the season was damage limitation."
Granted, Lahm was likely motivated to use controversy to sell copies, and there's little doubt that Klinsmann, overall, got a raw deal in Munich. Brought in to overhaul and modernize the club with his reputation soaring two years after Germany's run to the 2006 World Cup, he found himself undermined by the self-serving cabal that guides the club and was scapegoated in much the same way as others previously had been at "FC Hollywood."
Klinsmann shook up Bayern's ways of doing things and still almost won at the rate required to maintain the club board's faith, departing with a record of 25-9-9.
However, those watching his team's performances — and his own tactical and roster decision-making — week in and week out were unconvinced by what they saw. Some supporters groups even cried "Klinsmann raus!" ("Klinsmann out") in his final game in charge, frustrated as Wolfsburg cruised away from Germany's richest club en route to the Bundesliga title.
International management is a very different beast from the club level, and Klinsmann seems a more natural fit for the former. Bayern's club politics made sure that player discontent was soon common knowledge, and the day-to-day grind over a nine-month season clearly took its toll.
Last year's struggles against Jamaica and Antigua & Barbuda, and underwhelming patches in other matches, sent only modest ripples through a USMNT fan base that is far more willing to give deep changes time to work than its Bavarian counterparts. Yet the CONCACAF Hexagonal round, which begins with next week's testing trip to Honduras, can spring surprises.
And when it does, Klinsmann's decision-making will be put on the spot to a degree it hasn't since those pressure-cooker months in Munich. Whether he calls out his players or takes the heat himself if the teams fails, however, remains to be seen.