U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati nearly brokered a deal in late 2006 to hire German legend Juergen Klinsmann as coach of the U.S. men’s national team. He tried again last year and encountered similar obstacles.
This week, Gulati finally got his man.
A day after firing Bob Bradley, the USSF announced Friday that Klinsmann had accepted an offer to oversee a program that had performed well the past four-plus years under Bradley but, in Gulati’s view, was incapable of reaching the next level without new blood.
Details of the agreement weren’t disclosed. The USSF will formally introduce Klinsmann at a news conference Monday in New York. He will then begin the player selection process for an Aug. 10 friendly against Mexico in Philadelphia.
“I’m excited about the challenge ahead,” Klinsmann said in a written statement. “I am looking forward to bringing the team together for our upcoming match against Mexico and starting on the road toward qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.”
The United States, which lost in the round of 16 at last year’s World Cup, will begin regional qualifying for the Brazil-hosted tournament next June.
Klinsmann, who turns 47 Saturday, enjoyed an illustrious playing career — tied for third on Germany’s all-time scoring chart, World Cup champion in 1990, European champion in 1996, 17-year career in top European leagues — but hasn’t fared as well as a coach.
While energizing a stumbling German program before the nation hosted the 2006 World Cup, top assistant Joachim Low was widely credited for the technical improvements. Germany played an attack-minded and improvising style — counter to traditional German tactics — and advanced to the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Italy in an epic extra-time match.
On the club level, Klinsmann lasted just one season with Bayern Munich (2008-09).
“He is a highly accomplished player and coach with the experience and knowledge to advance the program,” Gulati said in a written statement. “Juergen has had success in many different areas of the game and we look forward to the leadership he will provide on and off the field.”
Neither Klinsmann nor Gulati were made available for further comment.
Although he’s the U.S. team’s first foreign coach since Bora Milutinovic in the mid-1990s, Klinsmann has strong ties to American soccer. A longtime resident of Southern California, Klinsmann has worked with USSF coaches, served as a consultant to youth and pro teams, and provided commentary on ESPN.
In 2003, five years after retiring, he used the pseudonym “Jay Goppingen” (Goppingen was his German birthplace) and played for a fourth-division team in Orange County, Calif. He also served as a mentor to then-teenager Robbie Rogers, now a U.S. national team midfielder.
Klinsmann was the de-facto top candidate anytime speculation arose about Bradley’s future. In 2006, after talks between Gulati and Klinsmann collapsed, Bradley was named interim coach and eventually awarded the permanent job.
Klinsmann’s name surfaced again last year when Gulati weighed Bradley’s future.
In both instances, the sticking point was not money but control over the system below the senior national team. The USSF wasn’t prepared to cede power. With coaching vacancies in the under-20 and under-23 squads, Klinsmann is likely to shape the direction of the program from the ground up. The U-23 team will form the nucleus of the Olympic effort next year.
“He’ll go into the job with power and shake up a lot of things,” Low told the Associated Press.
Klinsmann’s critics over the years saw him as the face, but not necessarily the brains, of the German effort — a cheerleader rather than a coach. However, he was aptly credited for inspiring the feel-good spirit that engulfed the squad and the country during the month-long tournament.
With his engaging personality and expressive reactions on the sideline, he became as big of an attraction as many of his players. Gulati is hoping Klinsmann’s energy will influence a U.S. team that, at times during this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, seemed musty and uninspired.
“The man is a legend,” forward Jozy Altidore wrote on his Twitter page, “hope he can teach us new things.”
From a personnel standpoint, Klinsmann will have to work with essentially the same player pool: a mix of World Cup veterans and emerging prospects. However, with 10 months until the next major competition (World Cup qualifying), he could begin introducing younger players into more substantial roles right away and alter the team’s tactics.
After the Mexico friendly, the United States will play Costa Rica on Sept. 2 in Carson, Calif., and Belgium four days later in Brussels. The USSF is also looking to schedule four friendlies this fall.