With the failure of the U.S. Men’s National Team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, everyone is quick to point fingers. Many of those fingers are pointing at former manager Jurgen Klinsmann. After all, it was Klinsmann who was at the helm when the Americans lost the first two matches of the Hexagonal and put themselves in a deep hole. But it’s not Klinsmann who deserves the blame, it’s those around U.S. soccer who did not heed his words when he was manager.
In what has become a widely seen rant from, former national team player and current ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman briefly referenced a dark period for world superpower Germany when the national team flamed out of the 2004 European Championship. He mentioned how the German Bundesliga and those in the German Soccer Federation got together and came up with a 10-year plan to fix things. Ten years later, the plan they came up with worked, as Germany won the 2014 World Cup.
But Twellman failed to approach that event from the proper perspective. He failed to note that Klinsmann had a front row seat for the beginning of that 10-year plan. Klinsmann took over as German manager following the 2004 Euros and led the team to a third-place finish as hosts of the 2006 World Cup. That World Cup brought back positive vibes for German soccer and set the stage for Klinsmann’s successor and former assistant Joachim Löw to lead Germany to a World Cup title in 2014.
When Klinsmann took over as coach of the U.S. National team in 2011, he had the credentials and the ideas to undertake a plan for U.S. soccer that was similar to what took place in Germany following their hour of embarrassment in 2004. But not enough people wanted to get on board with what Klinsmann was preaching, despite the great credibility he had.
Klinsmann questioned the “pay for play” aspect of youth development. He criticized the college system, and how players in their prime years for development were only training and playing games for a portion of the year and were not training with their college coaches for the entire year. Klinsmann also wanted to encourage more American players to move to leagues in Europe in order to challenge themselves and maximize their development as players.
But not enough people got on board with Klinsmann’s philosophies. Klinsmann wanted American soccer to do things the way the rest of the world does things. He could see that the system was broken. He could see that the “pay for play” system was depriving U.S. Soccer of players that could be added to the talent pool. He could see that not enough players were reaching their potential. But instead of his experience, accomplishments, and ideas being embraced, they were met with backlash.
“Jurgen said, ‘Yeah, we need to do this, this and this better,’ and this was the reason why he started to have a fall-out with the (commissioner) of the league, Don Garber.”
Klinsmann could not convince the powers that be that the system was broken, a sentiment that has been almost universally agreed upon in the wake of the U.S. team missing out on the World Cup. Instead of changing player development to match European powers, or even up-and-coming European soccer nations like Iceland, “pay for play” remains intact.
Instead of players leaving Major League Soccer for the top leagues in Europe, stars like Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore left Europe in their prime and returned to MLS, stunting their development as players by facing lesser competition at the club level.
— Torben M. Welch (@SportsLawyer1) October 11, 2017
These issues are the fundamental reasons why the U.S. won’t be in Russia next summer. They are issues that Klinsmann wanted to fix. But the stubbornness of American Soccer and MLS did not allow him to make those changes.
“Jurgen wanted to help the league keep improving but (MLS executives) were not happy and thought he was just criticizing everything. One point Jurgen was not happy with was that they were buying and overpaying over-aged former European superstars like crazy, but they have already found out that it is not a good way.”
Based on his success as a player and manager, American soccer should have embraced Klinsmann. Everyone should have noted his credentials and expertise and gone along with his ideas, even as he challenged the way things have been run. Instead, they opposed his ideas about how to take U.S. Soccer to the next level, preventing him from making real change in both the short-term and long-term.
When Klinsmann was hired, American soccer had the man capable of fixing the system we now see has been broken all along. But we chased him out because of a couple bad games. Now U.S. Soccer faces questions about its future that it can’t answer at the moment. Questions that would not be as pressing if Klinsmann had his way.