Klinsmann was thisclose to U.S. job
Jürgen Klinsmann claims he had a verbal agreement to coach U.S. men's team
U.S. Soccer refuse to comment and won't even confirm talks with Klinsmann
Klinsmann hasn't ruled out discussing the U.S. job again if it becomes available
How close did Jürgen Klinsmann come to taking the U.S. men's national team job? Awfully close, judging by what the German coach and playing legend says. In an interview with SI.com on Tuesday, the California-based Klinsmann told me:
that he had agreed on financial terms with U.S. Soccer. "Yeah," Klinsmann said. "That was the first thing we got off the table."
that negotiations between him and U.S. Soccer lasted three to four weeks.
that an agreement in principle was reached. "Verbally, it was done," Klinsmann said. "But then the paperwork started, and we couldn't get it done in the paperwork process."
that the full control of the technical side that he wanted in writing from U.S. Soccer -- and which caused negotiations to break down -- was something he had received from the German federation when he coached the three-time World Cup champions from 2004 to '06, reaching the semifinals of World Cup '06.
So, yeah, Klinsmann came close to taking the U.S. job.
Yet no matter how many times I asked Klinsmann -- and I did so at least four different ways -- he refused to disclose the specific nature of the "control issues" that scuttled his negotiations with U.S. Soccer. What exactly would U.S. Soccer not agree to put into writing that he wanted?
"That goes too much into specifics," Klinsmann said. "I don't want to go that far. We couldn't get the deal done because of a couple of issues, and the main issue was we couldn't get it into a written format. And that's it."
Klinsmann's lack of complete candor is unfortunate, not least because U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati (and everyone else I've spoken to from the federation) has refused to comment on their Klinsmann pursuit. Gulati has yet to acknowledge that he even spoke to Klinsmann about the job, allowing Klinsmann to frame the story on his own terms. (Apparently, Gulati is willing to give the German complete control on at least one thing.)
And let's be clear: Whether in Klinsmann's first public comments on the U.S. job (on Sunday to Kansas City TV analyst Sasha Victorine) or in his interview with me, hearing the story on Klinsmann's terms leaves you with his spin on things -- and several information gaps.
What was different about this negotiation than the one Klinsmann had with U.S. Soccer in 2006 (which also was unconsummated over "control issues")? What was the structure he wanted to implement in U.S. Soccer? Was it for youth development in addition to the senior team? Even if U.S. Soccer refused to give him those powers in writing, why did Klinsmann not think he would get them eventually in the course of the job? And how much did he really want the job if he had so many conditions?
"No, I would prefer to leave it," Klinsmann finally said after I kept pushing. "I know it's the most important topic for you. For me it's sad. It went that way, and the thing is done. So I really don't want to go any further [on those details]."
In the end, there appears to have been a lack of trust between Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer, specifically with Gulati and general secretary Dan Flynn, the duo that led the negotiations for the federation. Perhaps that was due in part to Klinsmann's experience coaching Bayern Munich, in which the board ousted him in 2009 after less than one season on the job.
Clearly, Klinsmann wanted powers that went beyond just coaching the U.S. senior team on the field.
"More and more coaches, if they have the position, try to be GM and coach in one person," Klinsmann said. "Bruce Arena did that obviously with the Galaxy. English coaches traditionally work that way. In Germany, there's [Felix] Magath. After his Bayern Munich experience he said, 'I've got to be my own manager as well [at Schalke].' So it is just normal. You can't also compare, necessarily, different places because every federation has its unique politics and structures."
This is purely speculation on my part, but if Klinsmann wanted the final say, in writing, over choosing the U.S.' opponents and venues for games, that would have put him in direct conflict with Flynn, who's in charge of the federation's business side as the de facto CEO, and who relies on friendlies as a significant revenue source.
(Flynn, a former executive with Anheuser-Busch, is U.S. Soccer's highest-paid official, having earned $646,066 in the most recent federation tax statement made available for public review, covering the dates between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009. Flynn earned more than U.S. coach Bob Bradley during the same time period. Gulati, a Columbia economics professor, is not paid as the federation president.)
It's also possible that U.S. Soccer felt giving Klinsmann the final say in writing over some decisions in Flynn's purview -- including the selection of U.S. opponents and venues -- would be impossible given the language in the federation's current contracts, which include big-money deals with Nike and ESPN.
All that said, the current U.S. coach, Bradley, has significant input (along with Gulati and Flynn) over the scheduling of friendlies, which makes me wonder why Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer couldn't have found a way to make things work.
"It's always down to people," Klinsmann said. "It doesn't matter if the person you talk to is coming from a purely administrative side or if he comes from purely a business background like on an English Premier League team that has a structure like a corporation, basically. It is really down to individual people that you meet, and you talk through the process. It matches or it doesn't. You always negotiate things, and you always try to have all the tools available for yourself. You say I need these tools to get the job done, [because] I have to put out my head if things go wrong. [But] then at least I did it the way I thought was the right one."