Harsh but right, Jurgen Klinsmann sends a message to his stars

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You’re going to read a lot about Jurgen Klinsmann’s recent thoughts on Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, thoughts published today. The U.S. Men’s National Team boss touched on a myriad of topics in a lengthy interview with the Wall Street Journal, but two missives are going to be picked out, dissected, and used as fuel by national team fans trying to get inside the mind of their team’s head coach.

The most talked-about passage will be Klinsmann’s thoughts on Dempsey, a blunt assessment juxtaposing the attacker’s accomplishments against the U.S.’s aspirations:

My whole talk to Clint Dempsey for 18 months was [about how] he hasn’t made s—. You play for Fulham? Yeah, so? Show me you play for a Champions League team, and then you start on a Champions League team and that you may end up winning the Champions League. There is always another level. If you one day reach the highest level then you’ve got to confirm it, every year. Xavi, Iniesta, Messi. Confirm it to me. Show me that every year you deserve to play for Real Madrid, for Bayern Munich, for Manchester United. Show it to me.

I’m not comfortable completely dismissing Dempsey’s accomplishments as a Cottager, but as we’ve seen during Dempsey’s initial struggles (and recent, relative successes) at White Hart Lane, Tottenham is a different world. And that big move is only a few steps up the English table.

MORE: Better weekend? Dempsey? Or Altidore?

If the U.S. wants to meet Klinsmann’s goals, it’s worth noting that the Spains and Germanys of the world have rosters almost entirely full of players playing at the very top level. Places like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are not only more prestigious, they’re far a more competitive environments than Spurs’. While Klinsmann’s views may be excessively dismissive of somebody who has worked his way up from Furman University, the remarks are still a good reminder: There’s much more left to accomplish.

“Just because you won a game in the World Cup in the knockout stage, you haven’t won anything,” Klinsmann said, views on the States’ World Cup 2002 run that could easily be applied to 1994 and 2010. In each of those years, the U.S. advanced to the second round, but by the time they were shown out of the tournament, they’d still failed to win more games than they’d lost. Winning a second game at the World Cup has been a problem.

It’s a glass half-empty view, one that makes you wonder Why now? Why has Klinsmann picked now — as opposed to a year ago (or months into the future) — to send this message? He seems to want his players humbled before their trip to Honduras. Ahead of a tough trip to open qualifying, he doesn’t want any of his players thinking they’ve accomplished anything, yet.

One person that won’t be joining them in Honduras is Landon Donovan. The LA Galaxy star is still evaluating when to resume his career, but as Klinsmann tells it, that state left to an early decision Donovan would not take part in January camp or the U.S.’s first final round qualifier:

He made certain decisions throughout the last couple of years that are his decisions. I watch that. I evaluate that. I could have evaluated him a few times when he was with us, not that many times, but a few times. I will make the call at the end of the day if he fits into my plans or not. I told him in December he’s not part of the January camp, and I told him in December he’s not part of the Honduras game.

Klinsmann’s not closing any doors, and everything points to the coach wanting Donovan back. But he also doesn’t want to perpetuate an atmosphere defined by Donovan. For somebody for whom attitude and focus are paramount concerns, Donovan’s sojourn has to be confusing. At the same time, if you’re Jurgen Klinsmann, you see that, you make a decision, and (ultimately) you move on. You have no choice but to move on.

MORE: Donovan IS returning in 2013, just not yet

Contrast that with Bruce Arena’s attitude. It really illuminates the difference between the two coaches. While Klinsmann has elected to control what he can, momentarily crossing Donovan off the list for the sake of moving forward, Arena has let the game develop in front of him. He’s reacting to the world he’s given, and he will make the best of whatever he’s presented.

It’s the juxtaposition of an idealist and a pragmatist. Klinsmann’s been brought in to enact a vision. At this point, pragmatism leads to the type of short-term decisions that undermine that goal. Arena, be it now or in his time with the national team, has always reacted to his parts. He’s had favorites and preferences, but nothing was predetermined.

As today’s interviews show, Klinsmann’s predefined concepts demand much more of his players. The Clint Dempseys of the world still have work to do. And the team will not wait for its Landon Donovans.

MORE: Klinsmann talks Zusi, Bruin

More from the interview:

  • On the schedule: “In order to catch up with the rest of the world you need to have an 11-month calendar …”
  • On the region: “… when you go through CONCACAF … I see that as a huge learning opportunity. Inhale it, whatever the opportunity gives to you … If the conditions are bad, it’s the conditions for both teams. As a really good player you always find ways to solve it.”
  • On development: “… it would be great if our 18- or 19- or 20-year-olds would have an environment where they get pushed every day …”
  • On attitude: “There is a difference between arrogance and confidence.”
  • On style: “I can’t come with my German approach and say this is how I want to do it in the U.S., because in the U.S., it would fail.”
  • On what’s missing in U.S. soccer: “This is the problem we have because we are not socially so connected so deeply to soccer in the daily life.”
  • On the down points: “The inconsistency.”

Definitely go read more, both the long form interview and the accompanying piece.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.