Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Poor Bob Bradley. He doesn't deserve to be thought of as the next best thing because the bride jilted the groom at the altar.
He has kick started his reign with a 29-man January camp roster, and I am looking forward to cheering him and the boys against Denmark at the Home Depot Center.
We should relax and look forward with hope, especially as too many of us were enchanted by the global fame of Jürgen Klinsmann and forgot to scrutinize the fine print of the prospective union.
Don't forget; Bradley is the best available American coach, has sound domestic experience and an in-depth knowledge of the unique soccer culture of the land.
There is a lot to be said for having a native in charge, as Marcus Hahnemann explained to YA in September.
"The one thing is we are a bit different, Americans," Hahnemann told me. "Bruce knew that and the man-management side of things was really brilliant, so you wonder if you could get another American guy to step in - that would be good."
Another reason I like Bradley because I am a football fundamentalist. I believe the Beautiful Game is something sacred in its own way, and I do not like its tenets of faith being diluted. I like the fact that, in theory and usually in practice, it is impossible to do "an Abramovich" and buy success at the international level.
Carrying this forward, FIFA should enact a law that national team coaches must come from the same country as the players. Radical, yes, but logical if you have strict eligibility laws concerning a player's provenance.
The US set up is unique in the soccer world, a vast web stretching across a huge nation comprising high schools, colleges, semi-pro leagues, and a professional top division with a draft and single-entity structure.
Understanding this intimately, as well as knowing how to read and motivate the American mentality, should surely have been among the prime job requirements - which places Bradley at the top of the pile.
After the Sven Eriksson experience, I could not believe England offered its blue ribbon job to Luis Felipe Scolari, a man with no knowledge of that country's particular mentality, or even its language.
Klinsmann was Americanized and would not have been so disastrous, but too many - myself included - salivated at the prospect as soon as his name came up, convinced he could do no wrong.
Throughout his playing years, however, a common thread emerged. Klinsmann was a perfectionist who never managed to shape the world in his own image and likeness, so he never settled in one place for long.
How else do you explain such a talented striker, one of the all-time greats in my opinion, moving clubs six times in four different countries? Does the king of the castle need to change the furniture so often? Or was he just a perfectionist who never learned the art of compromise?
Klinsmann was a hit for Stuttgarter Kickers and VfB Stuttgart before a transfer to Inter Milan in 1988, where he formed an awesome Teutonic triumvirate with Lothar Matthäus and Andreas Brehme.
He actually had replaced Inter star striker Ramon Diaz, who spearheaded the Nerazzurri's Serie A championship run a year earlier, so had to stay humble and earn the respect of the San Siro faithful.
When he arrived in England via Monaco in 1994 he was an immediate hit at Tottenham and won the country's Player of the Season award, beloved by fans and journalists alike as a world class player with an attitude to match.
His preference for taking the subway or driving an old VW Bug endeared himself to Londoners and he was a superb ambassador for Germany in England, doing his bit to heal some historic wounds.
But then he jumped ship after only one season, citing a lack of ambition at his club. The Spurs chairman replied by throwing Klinsmann's jersey on the floor on television, saying it wasn't fit enough to wash his car with.
At Bayern Munich, Klinsmann fell out seriously with his former Inter colleague Matthäus to the point they would exchange epithets in the press, but not speak to each other on the field.
National team Berti Vogts decided he could not pick both of them for Euro '96 given their combustibility, so left Matthäus at home while Klinsmann lifted the trophy at Wembley.
Klinsmann moved back to Serie A with Sampdoria, but fell out badly with coach Cesar Luis Menotti because Samp's patient system did not play to his strengths. Replacement coach Vujadin Boskov dropped Klinsmann altogether, so the disgruntled German returned to Tottenham, desperate for playing time before World Cup '98.
Spurs were hovering close to the relegation zone, and regretting having fired coach Gerry Francis for Christian Gross. The Klinsmann gamble paid off as they escaped the drop, but he again fell out with his coach over tactics.
He and Gross, behind whose back Klinsmann was allegedly bought, shocked the training ground with a German language shouting match.
When attending Klinsmann press conferences, I noticed how he seemed muted yet opinionated at the same time, listening to questions calmly before answering politely yet firmly. He appeared almost deferential to his interrogators, but gave off the strong whiff of a dormant volcano waiting to explode.
Whether or not it is due to his baker boy origins in a part of Germany, Swabia, whose folk are known for their frugality and exactness, who knows? But Klinsmann clearly sees the world through his own eyes and appears to be an insecure control freak, which would explain his failure to agree terms with USSF chief Sunil Gulati.
Maybe genius excuses a lot of temperamental behavior, but there is little need to harangue Mr. Gulati for this train hitting the rails before departure. This was a personal and professional clash.
The term 'Realpolitik' might have been coined in Germany, but Göppingen's most famous son seems to have got the balance wrong between what is ideal and what is feasible.
When I heard we had been kept waiting half a year for nothing, I could not help thinking of the great Brian Clough's explanation for being denied the England job in 1977, when he was clearly the best candidate.
"I think they were afraid I was going to run the FA from top to bottom – and that's exactly what I would have done!" he said.
I think we should understand Gulati's reluctance to let Klinsmann get his hands on US Soccer's structures in the first place, however hard that might be in the short term.
When a wise boss takes over at a firm, he has to prove he is a leader, but if he alienates his colleagues and upsets too many applecarts, he fails. In an ideal world, Klinsmann could run the entire US soccer program all by himself, but in the real world...
In addition, one wonders how much the German really wanted what had appeared to be the ideal job for him, given he kept us waiting so long before making up his mind.
And as for his coaching record, Germany were at home when they made it to the semifinals of the World Cup, but looked inept for much of Klinsmann's reign, when he lived in Santa Barbara.
True, he got up at 5:30 AM every day to minimize the nine-hour time difference, but being on the ground in Germany was surely the better option.
Anyway, he turned the US job down. So, let us give it to someone who wants it, who understands the nation's people and its soccer system to the core, who has a good record of success on the field and who is unlikely to throw his toys out his pram if he does not get his way.
And who is an American. Step forward, Mr. Bradley.