Jurgen Klinsmann is directly under the microscope of many American soccer supporters ahead of this month’s World Cup, and The New York Times’ Sam Borden has a long-form profile piece on the German-born coach that delves into his personality over the course of months of interaction.
Klinsmann, who has led the States to an almost-unparalleled run of play, is depicted as a man capable of making tough decisions while alternating between warm, guiding hand and cold, heartless decision maker.
The piece paints a picture of Klinsmann and his controversial decision to remove Landon Donovan from World Cup plans, but is really more about how that decision fits into the coach’s M.O. for American soccer and the USMNT.
And let’s get this out of the way: in December, Klinsmann said the US “cannot” win this World Cup. This doesn’t mean he’s not trying to, nor that he walks around the training ground telling the team it’s useless to try.
Here’s Klinsmann’s quotes regarding his decision to let Donovan’s sabbatical from soccer extend past when the American legend deemed himself ready to return to the national team:
“This always happens in America,” Klinsmann told me, waving his hands in the air. “Kobe Bryant, for example — why does he get a two-year contract extension for $50 million? Because of what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not. Of course not. He gets it because of what he has done before. It makes no sense. Why do you pay for what has already happened?”
Klinsmann then turned to Donovan.
“He came back, and he was playing in M.L.S., and people say, ‘Oh, he’s playing well,’ but what does that really mean?” Klinsmann said. “This is where M.L.S. hurts him. He was playing at 70 percent, 80 percent, and he was still dominant. That doesn’t help anyone.”
Klinsmann shook his head. “I watched the games. What was I supposed to say? That he was good? He was not good. Not then. No way. So he had to wait.”
Donovan’s situation wasn’t entirely about his skill; To Klinsmann, it seems like Donovan was a symptom of the sick for American athletes. We’ve read about his background, observing his family’s business as a baker and serving as an apprentice. He was detail-driven, focused and intense.
He wants to win every practice. He wants to win every game. He wants accountability at every moment. He wants the sort of committed, hungry, unentitled attitude that is the very opposite of what so many American pro athletes regard as their birthright.
The must-read article lays out that Klinsmann loves America and its characteristics but expects, nay, demands much from his players. And he’s not just a strict, demanding egomania (Read his experience ‘scouting’ Jozy Altidore at Sunderland earlier this year).
You may not like his role or permissions as head coach — as the article points out, neither do Bruce Arena and Steve Sampson — but you might know him a bit better (and maybe even feel better about the World Cup… this one and the next.