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Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – Carlos Bocanegra’s evolving role

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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: Carlos Bocanegra’s evolving role

Clearly, Carlos Bocanegra cannot bravely strap on the armband forever. A shame, too, because he’s a heck of a fellow, a reliable center back and a captain that U.S. soccer supporters can be proud of in every way.

But we all have calculators on our smart phones, laptops and i-Whatevers … so no supporter can ever drift far from the hard truth that their trusty U.S. captain will be 35 by the next World Cup. Ouch.

Supporters may wish away the harsh realities, hoping against hope that Bocanegra’s little hiccups on the field of late were just that – hiccups, glitches in the Matrix.

Trouble is, Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t have that luxury. “Wishing” and “hoping” cannot be variables in the player selection equation. The U.S. manager has hard choices ahead, and none seem more critical than this one. Because the final stage of World Cup qualifying looks like a bugger – and the Americans didn’t exactly waltz effortlessly through the semifinal stage, if we’re being honest.

So what does that mean for Bocanegra and his evolving role? Clearly, whether it’s on the bench or in the starting XI, Klinsmann wants the former Rangers man in the picture.

“To that group, Carlos is a tremendous leader. He leads by example. The way he is kind of fighting through his career [with Rangers and the unfortunate, forced switch into Spain] … every time he comes into camp with us, he is still a role model. That’s why it’s important to have him around.

“At the same time, I tell Carlos, ‘The other ones are knocking at your door! Geoff Cameron broke in, Clarence [Goodson] is not happy sitting on the bench. Gooch [Oguchi Onyewu] is waiting for his moment. Omar Gonzalez is a name who will become part of that future, too. … We have had Matt Besler come in. There are other center backs who want your spot. He knows that. But he is standing his ground.”

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That last part, Klinsmann said with a note of respect rather than annoyance.

For most of us, this is just delicious fodder for discussion over a good ribeye and a merlot. But it’s a critical choice for the manager – when to begin the inevitable transition? Considering all the moving parts, just what is the ideal synchronization for this switch-over, when Bocanegra becomes more valuable as a guiding shepherd than as a member of the herd?

Just guessing – well, “guessing” while listening closely to Klinsmann – it sounds like the manager hopes Bocanegra can sustain starter status through qualifying. Then, perhaps, might come the switcharoo. We asked Klinsmann if he believed Bocanegra would accept a different role?

“Those roles exist as well. I don’t know. It will be down to conversations with him. We will approach that step-by-step.”

But then Klinsmann talked about similar situations. And, without prompting, he began speaking of the chemistry, selflessness and leadership that are essential elements for any World Cup roster.

“A world Cup roster is a different animal. A World Cup roster is made out of players that are there 24-7 for the team. The chemistry is the biggest card to play,” he said.

Klinsmann believes toxic chemistry is frequently to blame as some of the talented global heavies fall out of the World Cup race earlier than they should. African teams, he mentioned, are notorious for this. Others, too.

“They can’t sustain it within their own group. … They are falling apart after the group stage. England usually falls apart. France usually falls apart. … You need to have a group of 23 guys who really are there for each other. They are pushing each other. Everybody understands his role.”

Klinsmann said that six years ago with Germany, en route to that surprising third-place finish, he left more talented players off the roster, preferring self-aware worker bees who were satisfied with support roles.

Klinsmann cited a like-for-like in Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who keeps earning call-ups but is not starting for the United States lately. No matter, in Klinsmann’s eyes, because he loves what Beckerman brings in attitude and daily training.

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“He’s a giver, and you need givers,” Klinsmann said. “When you go two months in such a stressful campaign, you can only carry along a few takers. Very, very few takers. Sooner or later, the energy [of the group] will be gone.”

In Germany before the 2006 World Cup, Klinsmann had a toughie to deal with in Oliver Kahn, a giant figure in German soccer, Die Mannschaft’s longtime No. 1.  Only, Klinsmann had to inform Kahn that he would be No. 2 in goal for World Cup 2006. Not a pleasant conversation.

“Obviously he was not happy. But he understood it. I told him to take a couple of days and think about it. We feared he would say ‘I am not part of it anymore, because I am … who I am.’  Then he came back and said, ‘I am pissed off.  I am mad at you, but I am in.’

“If you understand your role, if you become a real driving force from the bench, a real connector, a kind of a solution finder when there are problems [between players] … He became that driving force. He became that mentor. He became that pusher. Even though he was pissed as hell at me, that was OK. So there are specific roles that are even more important than guys on the field.”

Remember that was about Oliver Kahn – but it’s not hard to draw the parallels with Bocanegra. (Well, all except the huge ego part; that’s never been part of Bocanegra’s DNA.)

So has Klinsmann begun having those conversations with Bocanegra?

“No, it’s still too early for that. A lot will happen in 2013 … Hopefully, all for the better.”

MORE of the Klinsmann conversation …

 

Report: Man United make several star players available for transfer

WIGAN, ENGLAND - JULY 16: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho looks on during the pre season friendly match between Wigan Athletic and Manchester United at the JJB Stadium on July 16, 2016 in Wigan, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho’s is about to wield the axe at Manchester United.

The Daily Mail claims that up to seven high-profile international players at United will be put up for sale this summer.

[ MORE: Manchester derby cancelled ]

Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian are apparently surplus to requirements at Old Trafford, while Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Ashley Young and Memphis Depay have all been told they won’t be regulars, per the report.

Mourinho has already added Eric Bailly, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibramimovic to his squad this summer and is looking to trim his wage bill considerably to tidy up the roster left behind by Louis Van Gaal.

Negotiations over Paul Pogba’s massive $130 million move from Juventus are said to be continuing behind-the-scenes and all of that adds up to a bloated squad at United.

What of the three highest profile players who are apparently up for sale? Well, we all know Mourinho’s thoughts on Mata.

[ MORE: Allardyce bullish on England job ]

The Spanish playmaker, 28, was sold by Mourinho when he took over at Chelsea for his second spell in charge of the club. It was claimed Mata’s defensive abilities was the main reason Mourinho sold him to United and now it looks like the Spanish international could be on the outside looking in once again.

As for Schweinsteiger, 31, the German national team captain endured an injury hit first season at United last season and played 31 times, scoring twice. He was a key signing in Van Gaal’s era but now the veteran midfielder may be moved on, especially if Pogba does arrive.

Memphis’ struggles last season are well documented with the Dutch winger, 22, scoring just twice in the Premier League all season after his $40 million move from PSV Eindhoven. With Mkhitaryan arriving, plus the emergence of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford last season, open slots in wide positions seem to be sparse in Mourinho’s squad.

That also spells bad news for Young and Januzaj, with the latter loaned out to Borussia Dortmund last season, while the full back position seems stacked too as Rojo and Darmian appear to be behind youngsters Luke Shaw and Timothy Fosu-Mensah in the pecking order.

Mata and Memphis could still fetch sizable transfer fees, while Schweinsteiger may be tough to move on given the fact that he’s reportedly on almost $200,000 per week at Old Trafford. Young, Januzaj, Darmian and Rojo may be hard to move on too, but loan deals seem likely if United picks up a chunk of their wages.

With Mourinho and his team heading back to Europe following the cancellation of their International Champions Cup friendly against Manchester City in China on Monday, the serious business of trimming down his squad and making tough decisions has already begun.

Winds of change are swirling around Old Trafford.

Allardyce on England unveiling: “Time to stand up and be counted”

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - JULY 25:  Newly appointed England manager Sam Allardyce attends a press conference at St. George's Park on July 25, 2016 in Burton-upon-Trent, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Sam Allardyce gave his first press conference as the new manager of the English national team on Monday and the overriding theme was easy to pick up: confidence.

Allardyce, 61, strode into the room with a huge smile on his face and gave forthright answers, as expected, on his appointment as new boss of the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Manchester derby cancelled ]

The former Sunderland manager insisted England hasn’t “hit rock bottom” and admitted this “will be the greatest challenge for me in my long career.”

Asked about his style of play and his somewhat direct tactics clashing with the now widely-stated DNA of the English FA, who want to be a passing team, Allardyce shared his belief that he has always adapted his playing style to the players at his disposal.

“I think choosing styles of systems depends on the players available and who we are playing. My coaching technique is to try to give players the opportunity to win football matches, home or away, and make them aware of the opposition,” Allardyce said. “I think the bonding of the team is exceptionally important and trying to create that team spirit and have some fun. I have enjoyed my life in the game, this job is the pinnacle and I want to enjoy this the most.”

He also pointed to diminutive forward Jermain Defoe playing up front on his own last season for Sunderland and the Englishman scoring 18 goals.

Allardyce is still trying to dispel the myth he is a long-ball merchant and it could take some time to convince England’s fans despite the overall reaction to his appointment being a positive one.

When asked if Wayne Rooney would still be his captain when his first game rolls around — expected to be a friendly against Croatia on Sept. 1 — Allardyce was coy, not confirming if Rooney would indeed be his skipper.

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - JULY 25:  Newly appointed England manager Sam Allardyce poses after a press conference at St. George's Park on July 25, 2016 in Burton-upon-Trent, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Allardyce also gave some interesting comments when asked about the possibility of having a winter break in the Premier League and the former Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United and West Ham United boss was crystal clear in his belief that the PL should take a break.

“I have been an advocate of that for 10 years or more. The demand on players is enormous,” Allardyce said. “The Premier League is the best league in world so demand has to be on the players. It would help the Premier League and us at international level if we could try and achieve it. In my time when we finish at Christmas, in January and February it is always the most difficult time to get players through.”

With the English national team the youngest in terms of average age at EURO 2016, Allardyce was asked about the potential of the players he is inheriting.

“It is not potential anymore, it has to be reality and they have to stand up and be counted. The young players have a lot of experience now and some has been bitter. They don’t want to feel like that again,” Allardyce said. “Potential is not a word I want to use, you want the quality player to produce his best performances immediately. This squad of players is very experienced and going forward hopefully will produce better.”

One thing is for sure, “Big Sam” tells it like it is and we can expect plenty more honest answers in the years to come as England first aim to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and then improve drastically on their recent poor record in major tournaments.

Manchester derby in Beijing cancelled due to poor pitch after adverse weather

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Manager Jose Mourinho of Manchester United looks on during a press conference of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola’s eagerly awaited battle will not take place.

The new managers of Manchester United and Manchester City will have to wait until September of the new Premier League season until they can lock horns for the first-time in Manchester.

[ MORE: Messi’s new hairdo ]

The first-ever Manchester derby to take place on foreign soil was set to take place in the International Champions Cup 2016 but it was cancelled Monday as extreme weather conditions in Beijing in recent days led to severe damage to the playing surface at the Birds Nest Stadium in the Chinese capital.

Both teams have made huge deals of their preseason tours to China with new kits being unveiled on the Great Wall and plenty of promotional events lined up.

[ MORE: PL preseason schedule ]

However Manchester United vs. Manchester City will not be rescheduled and the two clubs, along with the organizers of the ICC tournament, released the following statement after the cancellation of the high-profile friendly.

The cancellation was made in the interest of player safety and comes following extreme weather events in Beijing over a multiple day period, that have left the playing surface in a condition deemed to be unfit for play. The conditions experienced in Beijing on July 19 and July 20 were reported as being some of the most extreme weather conditions the capital of China has experienced in recent history. Regular rain occurred also on July 21 and July 22.

The decision was made collectively by tournament organisers, participating clubs, the China Football Association, the Beijing Football Association and the management of the National Stadium.

Due to international travel schedules and planned sporting commitments, the match cancellation is definitive and the match will not be re-scheduled.

The International Champions Cup and its participating clubs thanked and apologised to fans in China and around the world who were planning to attend the match or watch the match broadcast.

To acknowledge the support of fans, players of Manchester City and Manchester United will record and distribute a thank you video for fans in China before departing Beijing.

Both Mourinho and Guardiola had expressed severe concern over the playing surface in Beijing, with both teams forced to train elsewhere leading up to the game. Mourinho also had his press conference first cancelled due to the extreme heat inside the conference room and then hastily arranged on a running track on the side of a pitch.

Media covering the game in China’s largest city called the organization of the event “farcical” and the group running the ICC tournament, Relevant Sports, will certainly have plenty of questions to answer.

Reports claim that a fungus had developed on the pitch after record rainfall in Beijing in recent weeks. That was coupled with soaring temperatures which ensured the pitch could not be patched up in time and wasn’t suitable to host the game.

It is a big blow for fans of both clubs in China, with over 50,000 tickets sold in the 90,000 capacity stadium. The event was capped to 60,000 tickets but now both clubs have traveled to China to each play one game in the searing heat.

United lost 4-1 to Borussia Dortmund in temperatures close to 100 degrees last week, while City will play Dortmund on Thursday before returning to England.

City have forged close links with China after owner Sheikh Mansour sold a 13 percent stake in the club to Chinese investors last December. In the coming months and years the organizers of the ICC and other friendly tournaments will try to make sure these events aren’t replicated.

Weather is weather and can’t be controlled but it is clear the situation surrounding this mammoth game in Beijing was far from ideal.

Klopp played three positions in Liverpool staff team’s draw with Stanford

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC (Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer)
Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer
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From the Endearing Jurgen Klopp Tales file, the Liverpool manager reportedly starred in defense, midfield and attack for a squad full of Reds coaches against Stanford on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Liverpool, who have based themselves on the sunny, warm Stanford University campus as part of their preparations for the 2016-17 Premier League, took on the collegiate side and played the youngsters to a 1-1 draw.

Klopp failed to get his name on the scoresheet, though the former Mainz striker had one golden chance turned away by Stanford’s goalkeeper. The same couldn’t be said for physiotherapist Ruben Pons, who scored from beyond the halfway line on a mishit long ball over the top.

With all the goodwill Klopp has banked with Reds fans in his first nine months at the club, he’s now only a PL title away from securing his place as an eternal Liverpool legend.

Liverpool will take on Chelsea in each side’s first International Champions Cup fixture Wednesday night (11 p.m. ET) in Pasadena, Calif.