Getting Technical About Klinsmann
There is Juergen Klinsmann and there is no one else.
Or is there?
The man who coached Germany to third place in this summer’s World Cup is far and away the best choice to lead American soccer to the next level. Glance down the long list of requirements, and Klinsmann can tick virtually every box.
The trouble is, he has said repeatedly that he does not want to inherit Bruce Arena’s job as coach of the U.S. national team.
So, accept him at his word and be done with it.
Then offer him an even better position.
If Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, can shake up the pieces in his jigsaw puzzle box of coaching possibilities, he could emerge with a picture that looks something like this: Peter Nowak as U.S. coach and Klinsmann as technical director.
It would be a formidable pairing. Nowak did himself no harm this weekend when he coached an MLS All-Star team to a deserved 1-0 victory over two-time English champion Chelsea in Chicago on Saturday.
It was the latest in a long line of successes for the former Poland national team captain.
Nowak, 42, won an MLS title as an inspirational, all-over-the-field playmaker for the Chicago Fire in 1998, then won another as the rookie coach of D.C. United in 2004. This season, he has United playing the best soccer in the league and on course for another championship.
So what if Nowak is a prickly character who has a quick temper and no time for fools? That is only to the good. It’s high time American players stopped being coddled and learned to live in the real world. Unless, that is, they want to continue exiting the World Cup in the first round every four years.
The fact is, Nowak has the respect of his peers, here and abroad. You could see that in the warm greeting extended to him by Chelsea Coach Jose Mourinho before and after the All-Star game.
Almost two decades of playing against the best in Poland, Turkey, Switzerland and Germany provided the foundation for Nowak.
Now, with more than 10 years in MLS under his belt, it is safe to say that he also understands how the sport works -- or doesn’t work -- in this country.
He might still be somewhat wet behind the ears as a coach, but look what he has accomplished. And consider what Klinsmann achieved in only two years in charge of Germany.
The two of them, working together, could be just what the U.S. needs.
Said Nowak: “I don’t know what the future is going to be. I have a couple of months left in my contract and then we’ll see. It’s not my decision. It’s the decision of U.S. Soccer.”
If not Nowak, who else from within MLS coaching ranks is positioned to take over from Arena?
Galaxy Coach Frank Yallop is a definite possibility. Like Nowak, he has proved himself in the league as a player and coach, winning two MLS titles with the San Jose Earthquakes.
But Yallop gave up MLS to coach Canada, then gave up Canada to return to MLS. Can he give up on MLS a second time to take the U.S. post? Possibly, but he can’t keep flip-flopping like that forever.
Chivas USA Coach Bob Bradley is almost certain to hold the U.S. coaching reins one day, but that day is still in the future.
Beyond that, New England Revolution Coach Steve Nicol hovers on the fringe as a longshot, largely because of his established history with Gulati in New England. The former Liverpool and Scotland player has the credentials, but it seems more likely that he will gravitate to a top coaching spot in the English Premier League.
The key to everything, of course, is Klinsmann. If he is not in the mix, the chances are that no MLS coach will be seriously considered and Gulati’s search will shift overseas.
It might well be that Gulati sees the need for some Latin flair and considers a coach from Central or South America. Perhaps even from Mexico.
Still, the position of technical director would seem a perfect fit for Klinsmann. His family could still come first, he could spend as much or as little time as he liked at home in Huntington Beach, and yet he could shape the direction of U.S. soccer while leaving the day-to-day matters to the coach.
On the horizon for the U.S. is the CONCACAF Gold Cup next year, as well as a possible appearance in the Copa America in Venezuela if the federation sees sense and agrees to take part in the tournament. Perhaps most important in the longer term, there is qualifying play for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
There is no need to rush into a coaching decision this year. Next spring will be time enough to fill the post.
Klinsmann does not want it, so Gulati needs to be creative. He has to tailor the job to the man. It’s the only way.