The World Cup may be international soccer’s measuring stick, but it won’t have an impact on whether Jurgen Klinsmann gets the opportunity to see out the project he started two-and-a-half years ago.
One day after Klinsmann was handed a four-year contract extension and added technical director to his list of titles with U.S. Soccer, a deal which extends his stay and expands his influence through Russia 2018, federation president Sunil Gulati said the agreement had been in place even before the USMNT was drawn into a World Cup group with Brazil with Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
No matter whether the Americans fight their way out of Group G – the consensus “Group of Death” in Brazil – Klinsmann will be around to lead the charge come the next qualification cycle, a break from past precedent. That’s certainly down to the USMNT’s record-setting success of the past year, but it also takes into consideration what Gulati called "pragmatic market considerations" for both sides.
“After the World Cup, lots of things can happen,” Gulati said on a conference call with reporters. “Jurgen may have other interest. We may have other interest. This is a way, frankly, of making a long-term commitment to each other, one that we’re pleased with. Traditionally we’ve waited until after the World Cup. We’ve decided not to do that here. Jurgen is a unique coach with unique opportunities.”
“All of this doesn’t come down to one game, one missed shot or one save,” he added. “Clearly the World Cup is extraordinarily important, and it’s a measure of where we are. But it’s not the only thing and the only way we measure ourselves.”
Klinsmann had recently been linked to potential openings with the Swiss national team and his former EPL club, Tottenham Hotspur – rumblings which Gulati said he was aware of – but in the end, both sides expressed a desire to formalize their long-term commitment to each other and ensure continuity through 2018.
“We want to show the players, we want to show everyone involved in the game here that there is a plan in place, there are ideas in place but that it will also take time to break through, to develop, to educate,” Klinsmann said. “… This is not just a process that depends purely on the result of the World Cup. It gives you a bit more consistency, it gives you more opportunities to follow through with things, especially now with the technical director role.”
Gulati said the two broached the idea of extending Klinsmann’s deal earlier this year, but conversations became more serious following the US’ table-topping campaign in the Hexagonal.
In addition to success on the field, including a Gold Cup title and a number of high-profile friendly victories, Gulati said the progression of the team’s playing style and overall mentality as well as the growth of the player pool made it an easy decision to do what it took to keep hold of the German long term.
It also allows Klinsmann to tackle the technical director role with the knowledge that he’ll be around for years to come in order to follow through on his vision. Those efforts include a heavy emphasis on revamping the youth-development system and improving coaching standards across the board, he said.
With that in mind, as well as the prospect of leading the USMNT through another World Cup qualification cycle, Klinsmann admitted the decision to commit another four years to the project rather than try his hand elsewhere was fairly straightforward.
“Coming through these two and a half years, I started to really enjoy the work, getting to know everybody involved much better and understand the potential of the United States on an international perspective to grow and to improve and to challenge the so-called bigger soccer nations around the globe,” he said. “I just felt like this is a wonderful opportunity to make it grow more and more and more.”
First things first, though, Klinsmann knows he must get the most out of his team in Brazil.
Despite the fact that his fate doesn’t necessarily rest on results against Ghana, Portugal and Germany, there will be no shortage of judgment passed if the US fail to build on the past year on the world’s biggest stage.
“I’m not looking for any kind of comfort zone going into the World Cup and I would never take that approach because I expect us to do well and get through that very difficult group,” Klinsmann said. “You’re always going to be measured on that, [the media] is going to measure me on the results in Brazil, rightfully so. There is no protection for anything.”