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History repeating: Klinsmann and Eriksson’s time in Mexico

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Broad strokes can paint an array of tenuous similarities between Sven-Goran Eriksson and Jurgen Klinsmann, men whose 16-year gap in age may be their least-compelling difference. Still, both have managed major European countries and are known for their affability. They’re media darlings who carry a cosmopolitan air that allows them to easily navigate different circles. The two even passed each other in the night at Sampdoria, Eriksson leaving for Lazio as Klinsmann arrived in 1997.

In 2008, Eriksson’s long managerial career took an unexpected turn when he began an ill-fated tenure as coach of the Mexican national team, a move that would eventually create another flimsy link between himself and the German icon. Three years later, Klinsmann was hired to overhaul CONCACAF’s other power, accepting the head coach’s role with the United States.

Since Klinsmann’s appointment, the parallels between him and Eriksson continue to grow, even if the vastly different worlds of American and Mexican soccer often make for clumsy comparisons. But given the striking similarities between the two coaches’ mandates, the follies of Eriksson’s 10-month tenure offer a number of lessons.

Eriksson’s eventual demise begged a question still relevant for Klinsmann: Can you overhaul a program and qualify out of CONCACAF for a World Cup? With Eriksson, Mexico didn’t wait to find out.


“The decision of the club directors was unanimous.” – Jorge Vergara, member, Mexican soccer federation (FMF) selection committee, announcing the hire of Sven Goran Eriksson1

At the time of his appointment, the 60-year-old Eriksson was still a hot coaching commodity, even if he’d just been harshly dismissed from Manchester City by then-owner Thaksin Shinawatra. The former Benfica, Lazio and England boss had guided Manchester City to ninth in the Premier League, a place in Europe (via fair play), and two derby wins over Manchester United. But a hot start that saw City take an early league lead was ultimately his undoing. Shinawatra cited a series of poor, end of season results as cause for termination, a bizarre euphemism for (what was then) City’s best Premier League points haul.

For the United States, landing Jurgen Klinsmann was a similar coup. Like Eriksson, he had his skeptics. The success of his Germany successor (Joachim Löw) has led to the meme that the former Nationalmannschaft boss was little more than a figurehead, an unfair assessment. Klinsmann is rightfully credited with leading Germany’s mid-oughts resurgence. Resuscitating the country’s youth system made him a perfect candidate for U.S. soccer. The highest profile coach the States had ever hired, Klinsmann represented a chance to start the country’s much-debated overhaul.

So it was that after a five-year courtship – with near elopements in 2006 and 2010 – the California native was announced as Bob Bradley’s replacement. One day shy of his 47th birthday, Klinsmann was back coaching. Three years after rival Mexico had swung for the fences with their own hire, the States had followed suit.


“This is not the time to hire a European coach .. if you do that, you are not thinking in soccer terms.” – Jared Borghetti, forward, Mexico2

“I don’t think I’d like to see 11 naturalized players in the national team.” – Guillermo Ochoa, goalkeeper, Mexico3

There was never going to be a good time for the FMF to hire a European coach. Bora Milutinovic was Serbian but had roots in Mexico, where he had resided for over a decade before being appointed national team manager in 1983. That connection allowed the future U.S. men’s coach to transcend the suspicions Mexican soccer fans hold toward Europeans, an attitude born of pride that sees no reason their futbol should bow to perceived European arrogance.

Initially Eriksson helped downplay their fears. He took hours of Spanish lessons each day, often giving interviews in the language, even when it didn’t help. “We’re at a level now to make life complicated for any team,” he said early on, assuaging concerns he’d subjugate Mexico.4

Those concerns returned with Eriksson’s naturalization policy. He aggressively sought to bring in talent from outside Mexico’s player pool, recalling Matias Vuoso, Lucas Ayala (both Argentine), Leandro Augusto and Antonio Naelson (Brazilians) for a 2009 friendly against his native Sweden. Whatever hope Eriksson had of winning over the Mexican public was lost when those players gained access to the tricolor.

Jurgen Klinsmann hasn’t had to deal with such concerns. Having adopted the United States as his home, Klinsmann’s an established fixture in the country’s soccer, appearing in analyst roles on television and serving as an advisor to Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC. His biggest criticisms – an abhorrence of pay-to-play development, his desire to see the country’s soccer reflect its makeup – are shared by the average U.S. Soccer fan.


“I’ve been around a long time … I’ve been to very good schools in that way, Italy and England. I’m not worried about that.” – Eriksson2

“It’s a European style … Little by little he’s trying to implant it, but he’s respecting the essence of Mexican soccer, the way we play with the ball.” – Francisco Fonseca, forward, Mexico2

Klinsmann’s big point of deviation is style – playing and tactical. Under previous coaches, the United States had been reactive, approaches that allowed the team to leverage their athlete’s strengths while minimizing the their technical weaknesses. Hired with a platform to change the program, that’s necessarily had to change under Klinsmann. If Bob Bradley had adopted a style that compensated for the U.S.’s weaknesses, Klinsmann was going to face the challenge head on.

That challenge reached a climax last week, with Klinsmann nearly losing the fans the same way Eriksson lost Mexico’s. When Jozy Altidore was left out of his 24-man team, the U.S. soccer-following public reacted. Some supported leaving him out, but most reacted with wonder: How can the U.S. not call in their best goal scorer, somebody who was leading a European leave in goals?

On Friday, Klinsmann was two minutes away from the decision flying in his face. Had the States left Antigua with less than three points, Altidore would have become a red herring. He would have been the four South Americans Eriksson called up for Sweden. He would have symbolized the plot Klinsmann had lost, whether the details matched the narrative or not. Instead, when Alan Gordon crossed to Eddie Johnson, Klinsmann was vindicated, his two most emblems of change combining for a qualifier-winning goal.

The problems still exist, though. Just as Eriksson was able to navigate third round qualifying despite discord about his callups, Klinsmann has the U.S. on the verge of the hex, even if his changes have yet to take root. The U.S. often looks labored in attack, the team’s new approach yet to create a final-third mentality that will consistently produce goals.


“Jamaica are a tough team but we’re not scared of playing there … I’m not going to send out a team of battlers. We are not going for a war.” – Eriksson4

“We could not take risks with qualification for the World Cup, and we could not rely solely on results at the Estadio Azteca.” – Justino Compean, former FMF president5

“We told Mr. Eriksson that his term with the national team has finished.” – Compean5

On November 19, 2008, Mexico lost 1-0 in Honduras in third round qualifying, putting their 2010 World Cup hopes in Jamaica’s hands. The Reggae Boyz had kicked off one hour later in Kingston. A blowout win over Canada would give them Mexico’s spot in the Hex. Instead, their 3-0 win left them three behind on goal difference. Despite picking up only one point on the road, Mexico were through, and for the time being, Eriksson’s job was safe.

Opening The Hex with a Feb. 2009 loss in Columbus was disappointing, but road defeats to the United States weren’t something gets a CONCACAF coach fired. When Mexico beat Costa Rica the following month at Azteca, Eriksson was widely seen as having saved his job.

Four days later, he was gone. El Tri had lost 3-1 in Honduras, a demoralizing performance that saw the Catrachos up three before Mexico saved some face. The next day (Apr. 2), 10 months after Eriksson had been hired with unanimous approval from Mexico’s club presidents, he was dismissed. Former Atlético Madrid manger Javier Aguirre started his second tenure with Mexico two days later, eventually guiding El Tri to South Africa.

As much as Eriksson was fired because of poor results, the FMF took action because they didn’t have faith the results would improve. Winning at home with mixed results on the road could be tolerated if there is faith in the future, but the federation no longer believed in his project. Eriksson undermined his plan when we challenged Mexico’s culture and never did anything to correct course. That he didn’t seem to understand the challenges of CONCACAF (particularly on the road) forced Mexico to move on.

Like Eriksson, Klinsmann’s unlikely to change direction, but that doesn’t mean he’s destined for the same fate. Had Mexico shown improvement in the winter of ’09, Eriksson would have survived, but with the raised stakes of The Hex, the FMF couldn’t take any chances. A country with Mexico’s history couldn’t risk missing another World Cup.

With the U.S. in an identical position, Klinsmann needs to show the improvement Eriksson never found; else, we will find out if U.S. Soccer has more patience than the FMF. Given the close relationship between U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and Klinsmann, it will be more difficult for the USSF to change course. By taking the chance of bringing in Klinsmann at Bradley’s expense, Gulati’s endorsed the massive changes to style and development. An unwillingness to accept the hiccups of third round qualifying would be hypocritical.

But like Mexico, it’s unconscionable for the United States to miss a World Cup. For competitive, developmental, and financial reasons, U.S. Soccer can’t be on the sidelines for Brazil 2014.

Klinsmann may be a completely different man than Eriksson, but if the U.S.’s third round struggles persist into The Hex, the parallels between the two men could continue to grow.



1 – http://www.cbc.ca/sports/soccer/story/2008/06/03/fifa-mexico-eriksson.html
2 – http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/11/sports/soccer/11soccer.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
3 – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1124642/Sven-Goran-Eriksson-feels-heat-pick-Mex-controversy.html
4 – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/3174596/Sven-Goran-Eriksson-fits-in-smoothly-down-Mexico-way-Football.html
5 – http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/internationals/7980392.stm

Replacement for Mahrez? Leicester linked with Polish winger Kapustka

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 21: Ruslan Rotan of Ukraine and Bartosz Kapustka of Poland compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Ukraine and Poland at Stade Velodrome on June 21, 2016 in Marseille, France.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Leicester City have been linked with a move to Polish international winger Bartosz Kapustka following his impressive form in the European Championships this summer.

Kapustka played in four of Poland’s five games at EURO 2016 and was suspended for their Round of 16 win against Switzerland.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Sky Sports believe that the Foxes have made a bid of $7 million for Kapustka and have been in talks with his club side Cracovia since he starred at EURO 2016 for Poland. Last season he had a breakout year in Poland’s top flight, scoring four goals in 33 appearances.

Just 19, Kapustka shone out wide with his speed, trickery and eye for goal.

Sound like someone else?

[ MORE: Pro, cons of winter break in the PL ]

Now, the biggest thought which comes to mind when you think about Leicester bidding for a promising, skillful winger, is that they could potentially be lining up a replacement for Riyad Mahrez.

Of course, Claudio Ranieri has insisted that Mahrez is going nowhere despite interest from Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Barcelona among others, plus he could just be bolstering his squad ahead of their UEFA Champions League campaign this season. With Jeffrey Schlupp linked with a move to West Bromwich Albion, maybe Ranieri just wants an extra wide player around at the King Power Stadium?

Regardless, reported interest in another winger will only add further tension to a situation Leicester’s fans will no doubt want clarified before the new season begins.

Multiple reports suggest Mahrez has been offered a new long-term contract at Leicester but he’s yet to sign it. With N'Golo Kante signing for Chelsea this summer, the Algerian winger may be reluctant to lock down his long-term future with Leicester. Maybe he will stay with the Foxes until January to see how their UCL campaign and PL title defense starts?

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Pogba’s move stalling due to agents fee

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United looks on during Paul Scholes' Testimonial Match between Manchester United and New York Cosmos at Old Trafford on August 5, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Paul Pogba to Manchester United is inching closer but Sky Italy is reporting a major snag is holding up the deal.

According to Sky Italy, Juventus and Manchester United are still disputing the transfer fee for Pogba, 23, with United offering $120 million for the French international midfielder with add-ons but Juve want over $130 million plus another $13 million in add-ons.

[ MORE: Winter break pros and cons for PL ]

However, the major point of contention isn’t the transfer fee: it is the fee paid to Pogba’s agent.

Pogba has been seen laughing and joking on vacation in Miami with his agent, Mino Raiola, but it is believed that deal is being held up due to the teams not agreeing on who should pay the reported agent fee of up to $22 million.  No wonder Raiola is having a good time…

Until someone steps down, the fee is waived or another solution is reached, it seems like an impasse has been reached in the Pogba deal. Even though Juve sealed the $98.7 million transfer of Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli on Tuesday which would suggest they are expecting to receive some very serious cash very soon.

With Jose Mourinho talking about other players available to United, maybe they will instead move for Blaise Matuidi who would deliver defensive solidity as well as marauding runs from midfield. He’d be much cheaper and even though he’s six years older than Pogba, is the asking price from Juve and the agents fee just getting a bit too insane even for a club as rich as United?


With Napoli all but sealing star striker Higuain to Juventus, another player could be leaving the side who finished second in Serie A last season: Kalidou Koulibaly.

According to his agent, via RMC, Koulibaly is apparently leaving Napoli this summer. Both Everton and Chelsea have been linked with a move for the powerful central defender and the Senegal international is certainly capable of slotting straight into either team.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Chelsea have John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Matt Miazga as central defensive options, plus Kurt Zouma who is continuing his comeback from a horrific knee injury suffered against Manchester United last season. As for Everton, they have Phil Jagielka, Ramiero Funes Mori and John Stones. The latter has been linked with a move to Manchester City this summer so Ronald Koeman is said to be on the lookout for another central defender as Jagielka is now 32 and was riddled by injuries last term.

Koulibaly, 25, would cost in excess of $60 million if he was to move from Napoli which could be a huge stumbling block as Napoli look to make it difficult for him to leave.

Lyon rejects bid of $38.5 million for Lacazette from Arsenal

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 23: Lyon's forward Alexandre Lacazette reacts during the Friendly match between Sporting CP and Lyon at Estadio Jose Alvalade on July 23, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
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LYON, France (AP) Lyon has refused an offer of 35 million euros ($38.5 million) from Premier League side Arsenal for striker Alexandre Lacazette.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Lyon says “Lacazette is irreplaceable and one of the main leaders” in coach Bruno Genesio’s team.

The 25-year-old Lacazette top-scored with 27 league goals in the French league two seasons ago – outscoring even Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and netted 21 last season.

[ MORE: Pros, cons of winter break ]

He is under contract at Lyon until 2019.

In a statement on its Twitter page, Lyon denied a local newspaper report saying it turned down a higher offer of 48 million ($52.9 million) from Arsenal.

Higuain to seal $98.7 million Juve move; Pogba to Man United closer?

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 22:  Paul Pogba of Juventus is tackled by Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli during the 2014 Italian Super Cup match between Juventus FC v SSC Napoli at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on December 22, 2014 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
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A major domino has fallen in the summer transfer window pack.

Gonzalo Higuain has completed his monster move from Napoli to Juventus in Serie A.

Juventus confirmed the deal for Higuain has been completed with the Argentine ace arriving in Turin for a transfer fee of $98.7 million (his release clause) and on a four-year contract believed to be worth over $8.2 million per season.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Higuain, 28, scored 36 goals in 35 games for Napoli last season and has scored 71 goals in 104 Serie A appearances since arriving from Real Madrid in 2013. Obviously he can score goals but is he worth $98.7 million? At his age, maybe not, and especially with Juve making so many impressive signings already this summer as Miralem Pjanic, Mehdi Benatia and Dani Alves all on board, plus Paulo Dyabla looking razor sharp in preseason.

That $98.7 million transfer fee would make Higuain the third-most expensive signing of all-time, although he could be overtaken by one man very soon: Paul Pogba.

Apparently Juve are locked in talks with Manchester United to try and finalize a move for Pogba, 23, and this huge outlay of cash on Higuain could suggest they’ve agreed the reported $130 million transfer of the French international midfielder.

[ MORE: Winter break pros and cons for PL ]

Pogba has been seen laughing and joking on vacation in Miami with his agent, Mino Raiola, but it is believed that deal is being held up due to the teams not agreeing on who should pay the reported agent fee of up to $22 million. No wonder Raiola is laughing.

Seriously, though, let’s see how this plays out but it is highly unlikely Juve would’ve dropped that much cash on Higuain if they didn’t have some major cash coming in from selling a certain player.

We all know who that is…