It Seems To Me. . .
Klinsmann's new contract calls for elevation of men's program, not just the national team.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, January 16, 2014) -- Let me preface this by saying I am not a big fan of Jürgen Klinsmann as coach of the United States men. He has not yet shown me that he is demonstratively better than Bruce Arena or Bob Bradley were, nor is he worth the significantly higher salary he is being paid. However, having said that, I would probably in agreement that it was a good idea for the U.S. Soccer Federation to have extended his multi-million-dollar contract for four more years.
The timing of this contract extension might seem odd. Normally, national associations don't consider the status of a their men's coach until after a subsequent World Cup. If a team does well, the coach is often awarded with a new contract offer. Sometimes the coach accepts, or many times uses his team's success to move on to a high-paying club job. Conversely, if the side does not do well in the World, then no new contract is offered and the coach moves on.
Had U.S. Soccer and its president Sunil Gulati waited until after the World Cup this summer Brazil, they might have been placed in a bit of a quandary. If, as most observers believe, Brazil will be a three-and-out for the Americans, then extending Klinsmann for four more years after the results in Brazil are known would have, at the very least, placed U.S. Soccer in something of a public relations dilemma.
Already, something has been made of the fact that Klinsmann has qualified the U.S. for Brazil, but qualifying is something that Arena and Bradley, and even Steve Sampson before them, accomplished. Moreover, Klinsmann will have to be something of a miracle-worker to accomplish what Arena did in South Korea in 2002. The U.S. emerged from its group to defeat arch-rival Mexico in the Round of 16 and then came within a blown hand-ball call of taking Germany into extra time and then a penalty-kicks tiebreaker. Given the way U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller had been playing, who knows what might have happened.
So Klinsmann's contract extension has to lie in what might be called the other half of his responsibilities over the next four years -- that of technical director of the entire U.S. men's national program.
Klinsmann has made it very clear he does not think much of the technical abilities of American soccer players -- excluding, of course, goalkeepers which the U.S. continues to develop in abundance.
By and large, American players are very fit and aggressive, and they can run all day. That is essentially the description of two teams battling it out in any Major League Soccer match. But you can just about count on one hand the number of U.S. players who can use their off-foot equally as well as their dominant one, or who can trap even difficult passes almost without thinking, and who instinctively knows what to do with a pass even before it gets to them.
Watch any of the top European or South American league matches and almost every player has these skills. It likely is something they learned early in their development and it's something that young Americans are usually not being taught. Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer want to change this.
U.S. Soccer is putting a great deal of time and money into youth development and into coaching development. Klinsmann over the past four years, has had a role in this, and over the next four years the effort must be doubled.
In many countries, young players develop using the same system on the field. That way, as they move up through age groups, they don't have to re-learn positional responsibilities and the like.
This has been something utterly lacking in the U.S. development system, but U.S. Soccer has taken the first steps in changing this. It has identified youth clubs all over the country and have organized them into a network which they oversee. It has made it known that if a young player has any realistic hope of moving up into the national youth men's program, he needs to come from one of these club. The USSF is putting money into these clubs to ensure that no player is denied entry for financial reasons, as well as increasing funding for coaching development at these clubs.
Klinsmann needs to lead this effort and oversee the U.S. youth program and see to it that young players are being developed with the skills to compete on the international level. If he can move this process along over the next four years, then he will be worth the millions he is being paid.
Four years from now, Klinsmann should be judged not simply on how the U.S. does in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but on whether the Americans are finally developing the young players needed to compete at the youth international level and whether these young players are poised to take the senior national team to a higher level.