Wednesday, November 22, 2006
It's obvious to me that most people concerned with American soccer want to see Jürgen Klinsmann become the next US National Team head coach. And I have my heart set on Jürgen as well, but if Jose Pekerman becomes the next head coach, I believe we should still be ecstatic.
Because Jose Pekerman took an Argentine national side that had struggled and led them back to the quarterfinals of the World Cup after he developed the young players who had largely dominated at the Under-20 level - and that will lead Argentina in 2010 and 2014.
Everyone should remember that Brazil is the only South American country that has won a World Cup in Europe, and then only once. In 1990, Argentina got second place at the World Cup in Italy, which is the best they have ever done on the continent.
After 1990, the Argentine national team fell from the prominence it had during Diego Maradona's peak years. At the 1994 World Cup, Maradona was sent home after failing a drug test and Argentina exited the tournament in the second round.
At the 1998 World Cup, Argentina got to the quarterfinals in France before being overcome by Holland. After 1998, the Argentine program really went down hill and the team went home in the first round at World Cup 2002.
Getting back to the quarterfinals at Germany 2006 and losing on penalty kicks to the hosts should not be interpreted as a disaster.
In the quarterfinal game against Germany, Pekerman undoubtedly made a number of controversial decisions that ultimately led to the loss. Yet the outcome of that one game shouldn't completely tarnish Pekerman's excellent reputation and achievements.
Losses are part of the game, as we Americans well recognize. But also remember that Argentina played some of the best attacking soccer at World Cup 2006.
We shouldn't judge Pekerman too harshly based on one penalty kicks loss to the host country, when the whole body of his work points to him being a great coach. The head of the Argentine soccer federation (AFA), Julio Grondona, didn't even want to let Pekerman go after the loss.
In our own situation, success in future World Cups will largely be determined by the strength of the young players we're developing - who are better, faster and, arguably, more soccer-skilled than our veterans.
However, despite promising talent, our history at the youth level isn't any more impressive than our history at the senior level. Since 1997, we've exited in the second round of every World Youth Championship except for the 2003 tournament when we got to the quarterfinals (and lost to Argentina).
Under Pekerman's direction, the Argentina U-20's largely dominated the World Youth Championships.
In 1993, the team didn't qualify for the tournament. Pekerman took over in 1994 and lead them immediately to victory in 1995, then again in 1997. In 1999 they lost in the second round, but came back to win it all again in 2001. In 2003, they got to the semifinals.
Pekerman left to become head coach of the national team in 2004, but the youth system he created won it all again in 2005.
He is a coach who can refine and improve our whole system, not just take the best senior players to a tournament. He's a person that can help us develop youth programs that will continue to pump out promising players through 2010 and beyond.
In my opinion, this is the primary reason Sunil Gulati is interested in him, and furthermore, we should all recognize that this is what he brings to the table as head coach (or head coach/general manager of the system, which may be the redefined role that he occupies).
I don't believe that Klinsmann is better than Pekerman, or vice versa, I just believe that one is as good an option for our particular situation as the other.
They both believe in taking young players over veterans, they both believe in attacking soccer, they both are willing to take risks - many of which have paid off, some of which have not.
The fact that Pekerman doesn't speak English is a concern, undoubtedly. But a talented coach can manage to communicate with, motivate and inspire his players even if he's not speaking the same language.
Pekerman would communicate through a translator at first, and later, when he learns English, by himself. Benching a player is a universal message in any language.
Fundamentally, I think Klinsmann or Pekerman are going to pick a new, younger crop that they can mold rather than going with the guys, albeit still young, who have already been molded.
The good 'ol boys club on the 'Nats will also be gone and the players will probably start having to seriously compete for their spots - which will cut down on the griping about which language the coach does or doesn't speak.
At the end of the day, or better yet at the end of the era, let's allow any potential results to be the judge of Pekerman. Let's hold off on prophecies of gloom and doom until we have tangible reasons to be hysterical.