The last time Jurgen Klinsmann was seen in a public setting, he was seated behind a flimsy card table in Costa Rica’s national stadium, fending off pointed questions about his future with the U.S. soccer team.
Less than a week later he was fired, ending a 5½-year roller-coaster ride in which the national team climbed to new heights and sank to historic lows.
Klinsmann will step back into the spotlight Friday when he speaks at a national soccer coaches’ convention at the L.A. Convention Center. Ahead of that, Klinsmann on Thursday gave his first interview since his November sacking and while admitting frustration at not being able to finish the job he started, he said he is concentrating on the future, not the past.
“When a moment comes like that,” he said, “you obviously will reflect and summarize what you did, and then you look forward. Soccer is like any other environment. When one door closes, the other ones open up.
“So I will be starting to look out there and see how other opportunities come up.”
Klinsmann is perpetually positive and upbeat, which may have contributed to his downfall: When others saw problems, he insisted he saw solutions that hadn’t yet taken hold.
But as he sat behind a massive wooden table in the back of an Italian café in Costa Mesa, massaging a small glass of bottled water, Klinsmann appeared worn and his smile forced.
So although he stayed on the high road, thanking U.S. Soccer for giving him the opportunity to coach the national team and insisting he holds no bitterness, it was clear the firing stung.
“It was, in a way, an incomplete picture that was given,” he said. “And you will never see if anything will be complete because it’s just kind of cut off.
“It just shows you how abrupt the business is. Incomplete may be the best word.”
Incomplete also describes Klinsmann’s progress on revolutionizing U.S. Soccer. When he was hired to replace Bob Bradley in the summer of 2011 Klinsmann took a holistic approach, emphasizing fitness and diet regimes, pushing players out of their comfort zone and pointing to the European leagues as the crucible young players needed to endure to progress.
Two and a half years later the revolution took a big step forward when Klinsmann was named technical director of all national team programs, putting him in charge of the Olympic team, the development academy and coaching education.
But the results were mixed. After winning 16 games in his second full calendar year as coach, Klinsmann won 28 over the next three years combined. He won a Gold Cup, advanced out of the “Group of Death” in his only World Cup and reached the semifinals of last summer’s Copa America Centenario. But he also lost a CONCACAF Cup playoff to Mexico, suffered the most one-sided World Cup qualifying loss by an American coach in 36 years and watched the U-23 team miss the Olympics in consecutive tournaments for the first time.
So after the U.S. started the latest round of World Cup qualifiers with consecutive losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, Klinsmann knew what was coming.
“No, I was not surprised,” he said of his firing. “I can read people. I can read statements. I can read between the lines.”
But, he added, “the fact will remain we were let go because we lost two games.”
Klinsmann said that several players reached out to him after he was sacked. Others shared their thoughts on social media — and not all were positive.
Asked if he thought he’d been given a fair chance, Klinsmann waffled.
“In the professional world, you don’t have the right to put it that way,” he said. “If the people that pay you, at the end of the day, think you lost two games and [they] decided to go in a new direction, you’ve got to give them the OK to do so.
“That’s part of your job. It’s not about if you think it’s right or wrong.”
Some of the innovations Klinsmann brought to the national team — such as the diet and fitness program, which was wildly unpopular with the players — have been abandoned by his replacement, former Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena. Klinsmann, however, said it may be years before anyone can truly measure his impact on the U.S. program beyond wins and losses.
During the last 5½ years, he brought young players such as Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, John Brooks and Jordan Morris into the program and helped develop others, such as Geoff Cameron.
“We laid the ground for another generation of players,” he said. “But that cycle of players, they will need time to grow.”
In the meantime Klinsmann, whose contract reportedly pays him $3.2 million a year through the 2018 World Cup, will watch from afar while brushing up on a fourth language and considering his options.
“Maybe learn a bit more Spanish,” he said with a wan smile. “In order to be prepared if a move comes in a Spanish-speaking environment.”