KENYA BROWN - Sunday, June 8, 2014
It has been a rough couple of weeks for United States national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann as he and his staff have been working hard to get the team prepared for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
It all started with questions and intense criticism over his omission of Landon Donovan from the 23-man roster as well his selection of some untested players such as Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin.
Now, with the tournament starting in a matter of days, he is being embroiled in more controversy over comments he made last year.
"We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet," Klinsmann said in an interview with New York Times writer Sam Borden in December 2013. "For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament."
This comment led to a rash of harsh responses by sports writers across the country on Thursday.
On ESPN's "Around the Horn," New York Daily News sportswriter Frank Isola called Klinsmann's comments "un-American."
"This is about as un-American as you can get. Can you imagine Herb Brooks before the Olympics saying, 'Okay boys, we have no shot. We're not going to win,'" he said. "Bruce Arena took the team in 2002 to the quarterfinals. We're now 12 years after the fact. How come Jurgen Klinsmann making all this money, has got the big name and is already setting up that we can't win? Give me a break."
Meanwhile, Bill Plaschke, who blasted the U.S. team for celebrating their qualification for the World Cup after a 2-0 victory over Mexico in September last year, said the former German national team coach's comments were "embarrassing."
"I can see people around the world looking down at our soccer team, but this guy he's our coach. He says, 'We have to play the game of our lives seven times.' Well, maybe they will. Why didn't he leave that open for possibility? He's counting them out too soon," he said.
Denver Post sports columnist Woody Paige fired in by saying Klinsmann's statements were "ludicrous."
"Here he is talking about Americans overpaying you for what you've done. How did he get the job? How did he get so much money that he can live in Malibu? Because of what he's done in his past, not because of what he's going to do," he said. "If they're not going to win the tournament - and we Americans don't go to anything we don't think we can win - then why in the world wouldn't he put Landon Donovan on the team at least for a goodbye, goodwill tour. It makes no sense whatsoever."
While these comments were harsh, the worst would come from former Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon on "Pardon the Interruption" as he responded to further comments Klinsmann made about aging American sports stars still getting high salaries because of past accomplishments.
"Kobe Bryant, for example - why does he get a two-year contract extension for $50 million? Because of what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not. Of course not. He gets it because of what he has done before. It makes no sense. Why do you pay for what has already happened," said Klinsmann in the same New York Times article.
Those comments led to the tirade Wilbon made on the show, telling Klinsmann emphatically to "get out of America."
"I've known Kobe Bryant. And you, Mr. Klinsmann, are no damn Kobe Bryant. I mean seriously, Mr. Klinsmann now wants to tell all of American sports how to work. Get the hell out. Get out of America," he said.
"You haven't won anything," Wilbon added. "You're so gutless you went out and said 'Oh, our team can't win, we can't win.' You're supposed to be such a great coach, why are they paying you? They're apparently paying you for something you did not only yesterday, but somewhere else about 4,000 miles away. I repeat, get the hell out. When did Klinsmann become an expert on American sports, which I'm going to take over whatever he's doing?"
Comments like these show once again how some writers who have never covered the sport fulltime - or cover it once every World Cup cycle - have little knowledge of the players, coaches or the atmosphere that goes on at training for the teams.
First of all Klinsmann has lived in the United States for a long period of time with his American wife and children, with a son who plays on the U.S. under-18 national team as goalkeeper. And this writer is pretty sure the money he made as a soccer player bought him the house in Malibu before he ever started coaching.
Second, Klinsmann's comments about Bryant and other aging sports stars being overpaid is most likely coming from what he has seen happen in Europe's top leagues. As some of the top stars hit the over-30 mark, teams are not willing to sign them to long-term contracts and pay them either the same amount of money or more as their value to the team may diminish.
Third, Klinsmann is not the first coach to say that a team is not good enough to win the World Cup. Some coaches have made this comment to downplay their team's chances if they are considered heavy favorites, while others have used it as motivation for their team. Even former Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson and current Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho have used this tactic to inspire their players to exceed expectations.
While there are many detractors, Klinsmann also has his supporters.
Bomani Jones on the television show "Dan Lebatard is Highly Questionable" said the coach was "100 percent absolutely right."
"Everybody thinks it's nice to give the gold watch on the way out, but when you're dealing with something that's finite and scarce like in basketball with cap space with Kobe or in the national team with scarce roster spots, he 100 percent correct. Thanks for the memories, but you've got to go," he said.
Dan Levy over on the Bleacher Report described Wilbon's rant as "nothing but an attention-grabbing, anti soccer-laden, misguided attempt at big media grandstanding."
"Wilbon ripped Klinsmann to defend his pal, because in a way, Wilbon is Kobe Bryant, paid now for the award-winning work he did in the past and living off his own greatness," added Levy.
Back on ATH, sports journalist Kevin Blackistone also showed his support for Klinsmann, calling his comments "realistic."
"I don't mind buying reality. You're talking about a team that's not Top 10 in the FIFA rankings. You're talking about a team that's in a group that includes Germany and Portugal. It's going hard for them just to get out of there if they can get out of there at all. So, this is a dose of reality," he said.
"And people have to remember when Klinsmann took this team over he took it over to develop a culture of winning for the future," Blackistone added.
There seems to be a huge divide between those who support or loathe Klinsmann at the moment over his player selections and comments, but the important thing to remember is that the 23 players heading down to South America are in no way thinking they are going to lose.
Like previous World Cup teams, this group will go into the tournament fighting all the way to end as they hope to prove the critics wrong about their chances.
So no matter if you are for or against Klinsmann, it is time to get behind the boys as they look to impress in Brazil