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.

World Cup referees miss yet another physical penalty in box

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Let’s get this out of the way first: VAR (Video-Assistant Refereeing) has been a fabulous addition to the game of soccer. In the 2018 World Cup, the availability of replay has done nothing but improve the ability of referees to correctly officiate the game, providing an outlet for mistakes to be corrected. Earlier on Friday, a referee gave a penalty to Brazil for a foul on Neymar, but with VAR applied correctly, the penalty was wiped off after it was determined Neymar went down easily. The game continued as it should, and a clear and obvious error was erased.

Unfortunately, despite the clear improvement to the game VAR provides, there’s still some work to be done in one very specific area of the game.

[ MORE: Recap of Serbia 1-2 Switzerland ]

On multiple occasions this World Cup, referees have missed wrestling matches in the penalty area, allowing defenders to essentially get away with murder instead of awarding attackers a deserved penalty. The worst example of this yet took place in the 66th minute of the 1-1 draw between Serbia and Switzerland in Kaliningrad.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, already with a goal to his name early in the match, went up to meet a set-piece delivery with his head. He was fully bear-hugged by Switzerland captain Steven Lichtsteiner, and while being wrapped up, was then rugby tackled by Swiss central defender Fabian Schar.

Yet somehow, Mitrovic was called for the foul, as the referee whistled him for ending up over the back of his defender on a genuine attempt to play the ball.

With every replay shown, it became more and more evident that not only should a penalty have been awarded, but the referee missed a clear and obvious call. Yet the match referee, German Felix Brych, was given no assistance from the VAR booth, left on an island after blowing the call.

There have been so many instances of this throughout the tournament, despite a public directive reportedly given by FIFA to referees asking them to crack down on physical play in the box, according to Fox rules analyst Dr. Joe Machnik. England striker Harry Kane was wrestled to the ground numerous times against Tunisia with no call, while many Egypt fans felt hard done by after Mohamed Salah was bullied in the box repeatedly against Russia.

The more defenders can get away with while defending set pieces in front of net, the more the game will be muddied by controversy, clouding an otherwise glittering debut for VAR on the international stage. That’s frustrating.

Serbia 1-2 Switzerland: Late Shaqiri break shatters Serbian hearts

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One of the most exciting games of the 2018 World Cup proved entertaining from start to finish, ended by a stunning breakaway goal by Xherdan Shaqiri that capped a 2-1 Switzerland comeback victory over Serbia.

The start of the game was all Serbia, with Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic the most dangerous option up front, and he delivered on that promise just five minutes in. After a pair of chances just kept out by Yann Sommer, Mitrovic powered in a header off a Dusan Tadic cross to put Serbia in front early on.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The goal confirmed yet another game without a 0-0 draw, 26 in a row to start the tournament, marking the World Cup record set back in 1954 when every single game in the Switzerland event featured a goal.

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After the goal, the game exploded, with Serbia looking to double its lead and Switzerland hoping to gain a grip on the match. Without a second coming, Switzlerland began to build promisingly, and had its first chance right on the half-hour mark as Steven Zuber through-ball sprung Blerim Dzemaili, but his sliding effort was saved brilliantly by Vladimir Stojkovic at the last second. They had a second chance minutes later, but for some reason Xherdan Shaqiri decided for one too many crosses rather than taking the open shot himself.

Serbia didn’t just look to see out the first half, though, as the star of the first half Dusan Tadic nearly gave his team another lift. First, he delivered a fabulous corner that stunningly skipped through the box untouched. Then, just before the break, Tadic came agonizingly close to what would have been a fabulous half-volley strike that flew viciously wide.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

After the break, the back-and-forth action continued, and Granit Xhaka struck an absolute stunner on the counter to level the match seven minutes into the second half. Shaquiri’s initial attempt from the right edge of the box was blocked and the rebound fell to the Arsenal midfielder outside the penalty area. His follow-up was a laser, curling through the defense and past a wrong-footed Stojkovic.

The chaos continued, with Serbia swinging back into the initiative. Mitrovic had a penalty shout turned down after being bear-hugged and wrestled to the ground by a pair of defenders, and minutes later Aleksandr Kolarov delivered a luscious cross into the box but nobody was there to tap it home.

Serbia began to tire as the game inched towards the final minutes, and Switzerland had most of the late pressure. One moment of brilliance caught the Serbians sleeping, and it proved the difference. Mario Gavranovic fed Shaqiri on the break from his own half, and free on goal the Stoke City winger made no mistake as the last ticks of regulation came off.

The win for Switzerland moves them to four points through the first two matches, leaving them level atop Group E with Brazil on points but in second thanks to an inferior goal differential. Serbia, meanwhile, sits third with three points. Switzerland would advance to the knockout stage with a win or draw in their final match against Costa Rica, while the winner of Brazil vs. Serbia will advance as well, with Brazil advancing in the event of a draw.

Southgate asks media to “help the team” after lineup leak

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England management is unhappy with the media after a coach was snapped with the proposed lineup for Saturday’s match against Panama.

Assistant manager Steve Holland was photographed holding a teamsheet that appeared to show a pair of changes in the England attack, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford partnering with Harry Kane up front. While Southgate attempted to play down the leak, stating the piece of paper was “just a squad list” and “the next sheet has different players in different positions,” he was also clearly frustrated with the media’s decision to run the photos.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us,” Southgate said in his pre-match press conference. “So of course our media has to decide whether they want to help the team or not.

The teamsheet showed no changes to the defense, with the team playing a three-center-back system as Kyle Walker continues his role along that back line. Kieran Trippier stays in at wing-back opposite Ashley Young, with Jordan Henderson sitting in the midfield between them. Jesse Lingard retains his place in the attack centrally with help from the addition of Loftus-Cheek, and the pair of strikers ahead of them.

Walker was also asked about the leak, and he said Holland apologized to the team, even if they felt it was unnecessary. “He’s apologised to us all in training, which we had a bit of banter with him about, and that was it.”

“I think if you guys try to keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out to the world,” Walker added, “because it’s not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament, please God we get there. All the rest of the world’s seen our team now, if that is the team or if not. As I say, you guys have to do your little bit, so if you could just please help us with that it would be polite.”

Liverpool to lose $82m Alisson to Real; Klopp turns to Lazio GK?

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Brazilian national team starter and Liverpool transfer target Alisson looks increasingly likely to only see Anfield as a visitor.

Italian outlet Corriere dello Sport says Real Madrid is going to tempt Roma with an $82 million bid that could rise with add-ons.

[ MORE: Lozano to Barcelona? ]

And Real would also offer a near $6 million annual salary to the Brazilian backstop.

It’s coincidence that this news comes on the day that both Alisson and current Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas were at opposite ends of the pitch.

Alisson had little to do, while Costa Rican backstop Navas was outstanding until Philippe Coutinho and Neymar scored during stoppage time.

Meanwhile, TalkSport says the Reds are in on a different Serie A goalkeeper: Lazio’s Albanian backstop Thomas Strakosha.

The 23-year-old old played all 38 league games for the Roman club this season.