Jurgen Klinsmann is so preternaturally jovial and positive that it’s hard to see the guy’s harder edges.
But make no mistake, they exist. I mean, the guy cusses and everything!
Klinsmann wants guys to succeed and does everything within his powers of Klinsi positivity to make it happen. But this business of bottom line wins and losses means hard decisions must be made, and sensitive buttons must occasionally be mashed. Or even beaten on.
Besides, you don’t survive for decades in the shark tank of European soccer (as a player and then as a manager) without a hardened outer layer – even one that is masked by a congenial wrapping.
If you listen to the U.S. manager’s words ahead of tonight’s Gold Cu match against Costa Rica, you get the feeling that he is leaning on his players a little for this one, trying to develop a little more of that comprehensive hard edge, taking extra measures to ward off complacency and further establish that drive and greater professionalism that he has worked so hard to create. He wants these elements hard-wired into the national team program – regardless of whether it’s the “B” team, regardless of opposition, and never mind if things are going swimmingly for the moment.
Tonight’s match doesn’t mean much, and even a draw will suffice to secure first place, which makes it the perfect opportunity for slippage, sloppiness borne of inattention or the lapse into neglectful “looking ahead.”
Check out the Klinsmann Q&A from U.S. Soccer ahead of tonight’s match in Connecticut. Rather than lavishing praise on two wins over small fries, he goes right into “a lot of things we’d like to avoid going forward.”
We were far too open in many areas and disconnected between midfielders and forwards. We weren’t chasing back right away when we lost the ball, and a lot of elements we worked on in training were difficult to implement in that game. …
Next answer: he talks up the need for focus and how “we badly want to win this group and go to the quarterfinals as the No. 1 seed.”
Next answer: Klinsmann goes right back to the things they didn’t do well enough. “It’s really down to the mental side of it. Players understand they need to step it up and that the whole tournament really starts for us with Costa Rica.”
Next answer: He talks about the difficulty of adjusting to time zones and hot, muggy conditions in the Hartford. Again, he reminds, it’s about a tough mentality.
Next answer: More about establishing a business-like approach. And more on developing a hard-ass mentality.
We develop that attitude that every day is serious, it’s about work, it’s about business. Like in every other work, people that go to the offices and work 8-10 hours a day, they have to be spot on. We have to learn in our environment that you can’t switch off in a game against Belize on a free kick or against Cuba on a counter break that they scored the first goal on. You have to be alert, you have to be awake. We can’t get to relaxed, too confident, too easy on things. That winning streak now has shown that change of culture. We want to beat Costa Rica.”
Next answer … well, I think you get the picture. He really is a nice man, a very pleasant person to be around. But if I am a U.S. player, I don’t think I’d love being in the locker room if the result falls wrong in Hartford tonight.