Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – Jozy Altidore’s roster exclusion

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I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast recently with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.

Over the next week or so, we will extract one element each day of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.

Today’s topic: Jozy Altidore’s roster exclusion

The domestic soccer world nearly fell over backwards when Jozy Altidore was left off the U.S. roster for a pair of critical World Cup qualifiers.

“The World Cup is on the line, and this coach is leaving behind a man who cannot stop scoring goals in the Dutch league! Is he off his German meds or something?”

For Klinsmann, it wasn’t about Altidore per se. It was about all the things we talked about in yesterday’s post, about embracing discontent. It was about demanding accountability and a drive for improvement. It was about a bigger message.

And Jozy Altidore wasn’t getting it.

“This is what we look at. We want to see consistently in what they are doing.  But we also want to see them improve. If they are settled with a level, where they say, ‘This level is OK with me,’ we want the next younger guy to come in and bite his ear off. … No matter who they are, what their name is, that’s what we want to see. And they are getting that message more and more.”

Only, Altidore didn’t seem to be getting the message last summer. And it wasn’t sinking in by September’s World Cup qualifiers. So came the conversation.

“I told Jozy, what happened [before] is not OK. It’s simply not OK.”

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Klinsmann says he always kept the situation in context.  Altidore may already have a career full of national team caps, but he is still a young player, just 23.  The U.S. striker and current Alkmaar man was even younger when he was sold to Spain’s Villarreal for $10 million. Who wouldn’t have a little “I’ve arrived” about them at that point? Still …

“So I told him, ‘I always try to put myself into your situation. But right now, because of what we went through together, it is the right thing is to leave you out, and to make you understand that it is not working this way. And let’s get together next time, and there will be [a next time], and we’ll talk through it again.

Klinsmann said he subsequently saw the reaction he wanted – which was always the point, to spur improvement.

“And he [later] said, ‘Yes, I totally get it now.’  So it’s a learning curve. That’s why I say, the door is always open. But sometimes you just have to shut it for a second …”

Klinsmann likened it to his time in AS Monaco, under Arsene Wenger, when the current coach of Arsenal sat a talent young striker named Youri Djorkaeff on the bench. That team also had Lilian Thuram and Emmanuel Petit, fellow Frenchmen would all go on to win a World Cup in 1998. But in the early 90s, they weren’t “getting it.”

So Klinsmann started hanging out with Djorkaeff and the others. He said they all got along famously, so it was easy.

“I told them … you guys, you have a huge future ahead of you. But you have to get it. And slowly and slowly it was coming, and then he broke through.”  That relatively unknown team went on to play AC Milan in the Champions League semifinal.

What Klinsmann tried to do all those years ago with Djorkaeff, he’s doing now with Altidore.

What about those Altidore Tweets that dropped after his roster exclusion in October, social media messages which seemed to express a certain discord? Does that stuff bother Klinsmann, these potentially incendiary public reactions?

“No. Not as long as they are not going completely overboard. If somebody says something out of emotion, if they are upset or expresses something out of emotion, that’s fine.”

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: explaining Jermaine Jones)

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: Landon Donvan’s career crisis)

MONDAY: The friendlies ahead

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.