Why Klinsmann isn't the U.S. men's national team coach (cont.)
And so the U.S. is left, again, with a giant what if?
What if Klinsmann had gotten the job that Gulati and U.S. Soccer have now pursued him for twice? How would his U.S. teams have played?
"You can't really talk about what could have been because it's a working process," Klinsmann said. "Obviously, I'm a deep believer in an attacking style of soccer, there's no doubt about it. I admire a Johan Cruyff that built the Barcelona of today, basically. When I played he was the coach of Barcelona, and I was a player for AS Monaco in the Champions League confronting him with [coach] Arsène Wenger, and they gave us a lesson in 'Total Football.' I just love that style of play. Spain right now [is] demonstrating it, and that's why I was very happy that Spain won the World Cup. They live and breathe that type of soccer.
"But every environment, whatever team you take over, you have to get people on board in believing what hopefully is the right direction. Whatever you do has to fit the people that you work with, and especially the players that you work with. So it is a process that can take years. I started that process with Bayern Munich, but I wasn't given the opportunity to finish it because the board wanted to go in a different direction. And that's O.K. Then it's better that you part ways.
"So you can't discuss today what would be. ... It is something that you discuss in detail with the people that are involved, and maybe along the way, as it happened with the German team, you have to make some changes, you know? Soccer is no different than the normal business world that you live in: You constantly have to adapt to new situations, to look for new things out there, if it's in sports science, psychology or scouting software. You can only hope that you share the same philosophy with the people around you, and then you go and move forward. The key issue is if you're the responsible person for that, and the head coach is the guy who puts out his head in case things go wrong, then you have to have the ultimate say in whoever follows you in that path."
Ultimately, reasonable people can disagree over whether Klinsmann was the right man for the U.S. job, or whether he has demonstrated enough in his short coaching career to issue the kind of demands he was making on U.S. Soccer. But the fact remains that the federation wanted to hire Klinsmann and went down the negotiation road with him for the second time in four years -- and couldn't reach an agreement. Where does that leave the principals? Let's break it down:
Bob Bradley: The hard-working coach who led the U.S. to the second round of World Cup 2010 finally signed another four-year contract, but it wasn't exactly a vote of confidence for him that U.S. Soccer went after Klinsmann again. Then again, Bradley expressed his interest in other jobs (Aston Villa and Fulham), so perhaps the U.S. job wasn't his first choice, either. Considering no other candidates have come up for the U.S. position, other than Klinsmann and Bradley, it may be that Bradley was Gulati's first choice among candidates who were actually willing to sign on the dotted line.
In the end, Bradley is the U.S. coach, even if it may be a marriage of convenience. But you can be certain there will be pressure on Bradley to lead the U.S. to the Gold Cup title in 2011. Whether the onus to win conflicts with the development of new U.S. national team players -- that back line isn't getting any younger -- may well determine the success or failure of Bradley's second term.
Sunil Gulati: The U.S. Soccer president aimed high with Klinsmann (again) and failed to land his man (again). As a result, there's probably more pressure than ever for Gulati to land the real big fish for the U.S.: winning the right to host World Cup 2018 or '22. We'll find out on Dec. 2. If Gulati can do that, those U.S. fans who are upset with him may well calm down a bit.
Dan Flynn: The general secretary of U.S. Soccer keeps a low profile, but he may have had the most to lose had the federation accepted Klinsmann's demands. From a business perspective, Flynn has been good for U.S. Soccer's bottom line: Since he took over as general secretary in 2000, the federation has gone from financially shaky to solid ground. That has given Flynn a lot of power inside the halls of Soccer House, but some fans may wonder: Is it too much power?
Jürgen Klinsmann: It will be interesting to see what comes next for Klinsmann. After his turn as an ESPN analyst during the World Cup, I asked him if he sees himself more as a media member or as a coach. "Definitely more of a coach," he said. How much demand will there be for his coaching services in Europe? Perhaps not much in Germany, if you believe conventional wisdom, but he may have opportunities elsewhere. He's also in the financial position that he doesn't need to take a job now, either.
After Klinsmann expressed his respect for Gulati and U.S. Soccer "and especially for Bob," I asked him if this was the last time he would have negotiations for the U.S. job.
"In soccer, the doors always remain open," Klinsmann said. "You never know what happens tomorrow."