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Q&A: Klinsmann, new coach of Germany, sees positive signs at home, in U.S.

Juergen Klinsmann
Juergen Klinsmann is the ninth coach of Germany's national team.
(Monday, July 26, 2004) -- Juergen Klinsmann became the ninth coach of Germany's national team today, given a two-year contract with the hope he will reverse the sagging recent fortunes of his nation to be a contender for the 2006 World Cup which will be played in Germany.

Klinsmann, 39, will be the youngest coach ever for the three-time World Cup champion.

Klinsmann was one of Germany's best and most popular players before he retired in 1998. He was a member of Germany's 1996 European championship team and he scored 47 goals in 108 international matches, including 11 in the World Cup.

He had served as technical director of Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy since February.

Klinsmann recently exchanged e-mail with SoccerTimes correspondent Salman Mitha about the state of soccer in Germany and the United States.

Mitha: There is an opinion that the Bundesliga is not up to par with the English Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A. It's thought that the league consists of 'FC Bayern and the rest.' However, over the past seasons, there have been title chases that are decided at the end of the season and now this year is no exception. And many international players who star on their national teams play in the Bundesliga.
Juergen Klinsmann: "The Bundesliga, in my opinion, is still one of Europe's premier leagues along with the EPL, La Liga, League 1 and the Serie A. It is enjoying its most successful year in terms of attendance and the entire country is excited about the prospects of an outstanding World Cup in 2006. The Bundesliga will enjoy the same boost that Italy (1990), England (1996) and Belgium-Holland (2000) experienced as a result of hosting major international tournaments. The dramatic improvement in stadia, media facilities and the resultant interest in German football, not to mention the economic windfall should result in an increased influx of top foreign players in the years following the World Cup."
Mitha: Is it the quality of the teams that is lacking? The players? The promotion?
Klinsmann: "The quality may be concentrated on fewer teams than in other countries where many more clubs have 'mortgaged' their futures on transfers, salaries and facility development. There may be relatively few teams with the necessary 'depth' to compete in the league, German Cup and UEFA competitions, but Germany's top teams have, somehow, managed to remain competitive and in some specific cases, for example, Bayer Leverkusen, have shown great resourcefulness in finding and developing players."
Mitha: What is preventing the Bundesliga teams from making their mark in European competitions?
Klinsmann: "As I've indicated previously, I'm sure that the economic impact and exposure that German football gains from hosting the World Cup will serve as a catalyst for future success. This investment in the infrastructure of the sport in Germany will, hopefully, result in a resurgence of interest from fans, the media and sponsors."
Mitha: What needs to be done by the teams and the league to make it recognized as one of the top two leagues?
Klinsmann: "They need to do a better job in marketing and positioning the league around the world. This is one of the major reasons why the EPL is so popular now. They have done an excellent job in terms of marketing teams, players and competitions over the past decade. Of course, the EPL has also benefited from the interest of major international broadcasters and global brands with heavy investments in the sponsorship of EPL properties."
Mitha: What is more important: development of young players by the teams? Or is it purchasing already accomplished stars?
Klinsmann: "Both are important, but certainly the Bosman case changed everything. Nowadays, it's simply cheaper to buy a seasoned professional compared to the investment and risk of investing in the development of young players."
Mitha: With the success of the (United States) national team at the last World Cup and now with the arrival and initial success of Clint Mathis at Hannover, there has been recent focus on the development of the American soccer player.
Klinsmann: "Every player that leaves (Major League Soccer) for one of the leagues in Europe reinforces the perception of quality of U.S. players and player development in the minds of football fans around the world. People forget that the U.S. 'melting pot' is a tremendous advantage in terms of player development. American kids get to play alongside kids from every major soccer nation in the world on a daily basis. The boom in the Hispanic population here in the U.S. is reflected on many representative teams in the U.S. I believe that this trend in demographics will result in a U.S. national team and a major league that exhibits a unique blend of multi-culturalism and styles of play. Freddy Adu could be the first of many players to become naturalized U.S. citizens and represent the U.S. national team. This is only natural as families from around the globe seek to make the U.S. their adopted home."
Mitha: With your role with the Galaxy, what is your assessment of current situation of the American player and MLS?
Klinsmann: "MLS has still a long way to go, but it's improving each year. Compared to Europe, the MLS players simply don't play enough competitive games each season. While a top player participates in 65-75 games a year in Europe, here they barely get more than 40 highly competitive games each year and this makes a difference. Also the fact that MLS players are rarely exposed to high level of stress and pressure limits their development in comparison to other high-profile leagues. Having said this, Major League Soccer is making good progress. The development of soccer-specific stadiums is a critical factor if the league is to continue to prosper. With stadiums planned in Dallas, Denver, New York and Chicago, the future of the league."
Mitha: With the influx of international players in the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, do you feel as the American soccer player continues to develop, that the same will happen with Americans entering the European leagues?
Klinsmann: "U.S. players will continue to develop here in the U.S. in MLS and on teams outside of the U.S. The fact that the U.S. national team has now participated in the last four times in a row for the World Cup shows that U.S. soccer is on the rise. The 'tipping point,' in my opinion, will come if and when young Americans see a financial advantage to pursuing soccer over the other major league sports of American football, basketball, baseball and, to a lesser extent, ice hockey. With all due respect to today's U.S. soccer players, many of the country's best natural athletes do not pursue soccer since it does not offer the same financial opportunities as the other sports. The caliber of athletes in other sports, for example, basketball and football is not to be understated. Of course, there is no guarantee that the natural athleticism exhibited by players, for instance, in basketball, could be translated into the technical and tactical aspects of soccer and the subtleties of great soccer players takes many successive generations of players to generate. But, if history is any indication, this country will, indeed, succeed in producing world-class players and teams in the not-to-distant future. I wouldn't bet against it."

Salman Mitha, an American living in Munich for the past two years, covers European sports as a freelance reporter.

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