Thursday, December 14, 2006
In case you were wondering, that sonic boom you heard last week was the "Klinsmann for US" bubble bursting into oblivion.
That, of course, is not to be confused with the deafening roar you've been hearing ever since which amounts to the collective panic from just about every soccer fan in the United States.
Now, as much as I love loud noise (who doesn't?), I feel the need to give the Sunil Gulati head-hunters a subtle piece of advice:
In the growing excitement of potentially having a coach who had taken an unsung team to the World Cup semifinals, US soccer fans had forgotten a very important thing. Hiring Klinsmann would have been a huge gamble for US Soccer and one that might not have paid off.
For starters, there's his lack of experience. Now, I know that this issue had been beaten to death, before and after the World Cup in Germany, but the fact remains that the former Germany national team star has only been coaching for two years, at any level.
Somebody with that little time in charge of any team needs to prove his worth with success over time and one tournament just doesn't cut it.
Here is a bit of trivia:
What do Klinsmann, Senol Gunes, Tommy Svensson, and Miroslav Blazevic all have in common? They have all managed to lead their teams to the semifinals of the World Cup in the past 12 years.
In fact, one could argue that Klinsmann had the easiest job of all of them. Neither Gunes(Turkey '02), Svensson (Sweden '94), nor Blazevic (Croatia '98) had the large and diverse talent pool that Klinsmann had to pick from. Germany also benefited from an undeniable home-field advantage throughout their World Cup journey.
Why then haven't the past five months been filled with rumors about the USSF's targeting the Turk, Swede or Croat? Well, that is partially because these coaches' careers each took an absolute nosedive after their World Cup achievements.
Gunes failed to qualify Turkey for the 2004 European Cup and is now coaching in Korea. Blazevic couldn't secure Croatia's place in Euro 2000, nor was he able to help Iran gain a berth for World Cup 2002. He was last seen coaching Neuchatel Xamax in the Swiss second division. (Heck, he couldn't garner even one percent of the national vote in his 2005 run for President of Croatia, for crying out loud.)
Though I didn't mention him earlier, another example is Bruno Metsu. Remember the 2002 media proclaimed genius whose Senegal team was one golden goal away from a semifinal berth? He is now coaching club ball in the United Arab Emirates.
For all we know, Klinsmann's record with the US could have been as bad or worse than any of these managers (with the exception of Blazevic, of course, since Klinsmann can't legally run for US President).
The absolute last thing we need at this point in the US's development as a soccer-playing nation is a disastrous showing at the 2007 Copa America or, even worse, missed qualification for the 2010 World Cup.
Another factor that makes Klinsmann a gamble is that very few people actually know how responsible he was for the German's World Cup success, and most casual observers probably give him a little too much credit.
Klinsmann's preference to commute to Germany from California was well-documented and ridiculed by the German press. After all, how involved could he have possibly been in the day-to-day affairs of the national team when he was located a half a world away?
Was he watching Bundesliga games on television like the rest of us?
The fact is that Klinsmann was never the primary driving force behind the German national team, especially not during the tournament itself.
For starters, German fans, who were boosted by a sudden re-birth of national pride, made every World Cup game against Germany an extraordinarily difficult one. It was home-field advantage to the "nth" degree, and it only intensified as the tournament progressed.
However, of equal or more importance was the role of current German number one, Joachim Löw, who served as Klinsmann's primary assistant coach.
Though not much is known about the specifics of their relationship, Löw is widely regarded as a far better tactician than Klinsmann, in addition to being just as well liked by the players.
Many German media outlets declared Löw one of the unsung heroes of the German's World Cup run, stating that it was his tactics and organizational techniques that allowed the Germans to adapt to Klinsmann's attacking aesthetic.
Since his appointment as Germany's head coach, Löw has simply picked up where Klinsmann left of; While still maintaining the attractive, forward-thinking style seen in the World Cup, he has guided the Germans to five straight wins, four of which were Euro 2008 qualifiers. This has been the best ever start by a Germany manager.
Without a doubt, though, the single most used argument in favor of the Klinsmann-to-US hire was the fact that he "knows the US system."
Klinsmann has lived in the US for several years, worked with the LA Galaxy, and even played a few third division games. It's only natural that he should learn about our unique soccer structure, what with college soccer and Bradenton complicating things for youth development.
The thing is, Bob Bradley knows about that stuff too. In fact, I would say he even knows more about it. All he's done is coach at all levels of the college game, in addition to being MLS's all time leader in wins - with three separate teams.
He also has had experience nurturing some of the US's best talent along the way, with Eddie Pope at DC United (as an assistant), Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley in Chicago, Michael Bradley and Eddie Gaven in New York, and most recently Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan at Chivas USA.
There aren't too many coaches that can claim a better resume of success and youth development, including Klinsmann.
Then again, everything I just said could be completely bunk. Maybe Klinsmann fits into the "Big Phil Scolari" model of a World Cup semifinalist coach. Maybe Germany wouldn't have gotten out of the group stage without him. Maybe he knows the US system just as well as any MLS coach, and can turn Chris Rolfe into Lukas Podolski.
The fact that all these questions are valid tells me that Klinsmann might not be what the US needs right now. Bradley may not be the sexy name that most US fans were looking for, but he's got a proven track record and, worst case scenario, he's only in charge until the USSF can find somebody better to take over.
That, to me, is much less of a gamble, and a much smarter hire.