Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – Being OK with being wrong

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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: Being OK with being wrong

Jurgen Klinmann recalled one particularly tough, recent conversation with a U.S. player. The test results, performed at regular intervals, weren’t what they needed to be for this individual.

Klinsmann feared the guy just wasn’t “getting it,” was not embracing the collective push for individual enrichment. The U.S. coach feared his pupil had reached a plateau, more or less satisfied about his place in the profession, lesser willing to push through the sticking points and lean into the extra work attached to a perennial drive for improvement.

So he had one those conversations, a man-to-man talk that only a type like Klinsmann can have, where harsh words don’t sound so harsh, where it all remains rather positive. Said he U.S. national team boss:  “He told me ‘I will prove you wrong, coach’ I told him, ‘I want you to prove me wrong!’

If Klinsmann can make the breakthrough the U.S. national team needs, to get past its own sticking point, that attitude surely will be a bedrock of the betterment.

This is where Klinsmann’s obvious lack of ego pays off.

Klinsmann is nearly peerless in this place where experience, life balance, personal confidence and positive energy all meet to spin a relatively ego-free cocoon around the program. If it all works – and we’ll know by the summer of 2014 – this will be the foremost of less tangible reasons.

Lesser secure managers can get tripped up and distracted, worried about their jobs or their reputations (which leads to worry over their next job.) Then comes the gradual creep of shifting priorities; the safety net of short-term results may begin to overwhelm and displace the larger reach for success. They get obsessed with being “right” and fumble the larger plot.

By all appearances, Klinsmann doesn’t need to be “right” about things, which is why he avoids closing doors (or leaving them open when they shouldn’t be).

“When we have that kind of a conversation, we hope for that kind of reaction,” he said of the unnamed player’s figurative fighting stance. “We hope for this kind of learning curve.”

You may disagree with Klinsmann’s decisions; I certainly have raised a curious brow here and there. But the decisions seem reliably rooted in some sort of long-term strategy, devoid of the internal politics and petty distractions.

Klinsmann may opt not to select this guy or that guy, and we may not always understand why. But Klinsmann’s security, his clear embrace of transparency and his congenial relationships with media tells us this much:

His choices truly are about tweaking the chemistry and the individual talent factor, about the push for long-term improvement rather than about lesser motives, the power struggles or about the desire to “be right” about this player or about that strategic philosophy. Stubbornness and a rigid inflexibility that can rule some managers’ worlds don’t seem to infect his.

source: Getty Images

Look at Brek Shea. The FC Dallas winger was plucked by Klinsmann and loaded into a launching tube of potential stardom. Shea played in Klinsmann’s first 14 games in charge. Then came the important May-June training came, and Klinsmann decided that Shea just wasn’t where he needed to be.

No matter what you think of Klinsmann and his first year and a half in charge, this much is clear: The man is OK with being wrong about something or someone.

“I definitely had coaches that had huge influence on what I am doing today, where specific moments had more of a long-term perspective,” he said.

Klinsmann then spun long stories about managers who had a similar flexibility, like Arsene Wenger and Giovanni Trapattoni. (Although that may have been harder for some of us to see from the outside.)

He told a story about Trapattoni. (“An amazing, amazing personality, and that’s why they still love him there,” Klinsmann said.)  During their shared time at Inter Milan, Trapattoni did not understand Klinsmann’s desire to learn the Italian language and culture, to break down personnel barriers and get to a place where everyone could focus on the game and not waste energy on language-impaired locker room politics.

Later, when they were together again at Bayern Munich, Trapattoni acknowledged his error:  “He told me, ‘Jurgen, remember all those years ago at inter Milan? … I should have approached that differently. Now I understand how important the language is.’ ”

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: explaining Jermaine Jones)

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

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: Jozy Altidore’s recent roster omission)

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: tough friendlies ahead)

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: the relentless drive for individual improvement)

TOMORROW: Carlos Bocanegra’s evolving role

UEFA: Wales in trouble; Spain dominates; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear at the top midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.

Dele Alli to miss next three European matches, UCL or UEL

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Tottenham Hotspur is primed to qualify for a second-straight UEFA Champions League campaign this year, and will have to start that sophomore run without Dele Alli.

The 20-year-old playmaker has banned for his next three matches. If Spurs finish fourth, that would mean both qualifying matches and an additional match.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ]

If they finish higher, Dele will miss the first three group stage matches.

Dele was shown red for a tackle on Brecht Dejaegere in Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Gent in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, as Tottenham left the tournament.

Men in Blazers podcast: Man City-Liverpool review, USMNT preview

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Rog and Davo recap the Top Four battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, ask (again) whether it’s time for Arsene to go, and break down two of the most important USMNT games in modern history.

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