Klinsmann's skill set is better suited to international management
Jürgen Klinsmann re-engergized an ailing, demoralized Germany from 2004-06
Klinsmann brought a new philosophy and implemented a direct, attacking style
Klinsmann's tactical weaknesses were exposed in his stint at Bayern Munich
The joke was too obvious, but it still had to be made. "Finally, no more debate about the residency", wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung on Saturday, in a nod to 2004-2006, when California-based Jürgen Klinsmann's reluctance to move back to Germany had dominated the headlines with regularity.
The irony is that living in the U.S. while coaching the German national team was, in hindsight, much less damaging to his reputation than his return to the Bundesliga in 2008. Klinsmann's 10-month stint in charge at Bayern Munich was more or less a disaster, bad enough to make him nigh unemployable in German club soccer. That is not to say, however, that the 47-year-old Klinsmann could not do very good job in charge of the U.S. team, on the contrary: it's quite possible that his unique skill sets are much more effective in international soccer.
Here's a look at the pros and cons of Klinsmann, the manager.
1. A strong sense of purpose. Klinsmann took over an ailing, demoralized Germany team after the 2004 Euros and made good on his promise to "take the whole shop apart." The headstrong Swabian got rid of loads of dead wood in the bureaucracy surrounding the team, installed trusted lieutenants in key positions (assistant coach Jogi Löw, chief scout Urs Siegenthaler, general manager Oliver Bierhoff) and set about redefining the side's identity. He pushed through a new training regime in the face of strong resistance from the clubs and vested media interests. Under his guidance, the national team managed to emancipate itself, to a certain extent, from the influence of tabloid Bild, a paper that had become used to gathering inside information and exercising a fair amount of power.
2. Open-mindedness and a commitment to science. Klinsmann was unafraid to look at other sports, namely hockey, in order to bring soccer into the 21st century. His installation of U.S. fitness coaches who in turn devised individualized exercises for the players was initially sneered at but became accepted once the benefits became apparent. At Bayern, he was instrumental in re-designing the player's building at the club's HQ on Säbener Strasse and brought in state of the art facilities.
3. Delegation and flexibility. The Germany-Klinsmann knew that he was a complete novice in terms of coaching and decided to get the best possible help. Löw and Siegenthaler were mostly in charge of preparing the team while Klinsmann worked more like a figurehead or project-manager. As the face of the risky operation -- the German soccer brand was radically changed -- he deflected criticism from his young team. Klinsmann was also flexible enough to allow input from his most senior players. Before the 2006 World Cup, Michael Ballack had become to realize that he needed to play deeper, alongside Torsten Frings, in order to protect the back four. Klinsmann allowed his captain to modify the tactical setup.
4. A sense of philosophy. Germans found his boundless optimism and penchant for marketing-speak a little overbearing at times. But there was no doubt that his insistence on a decisively new, almost extreme style of play shook the team out of its slumber and galvanized the public. Klinsmann wanted Germany to forsake the negativity and pragmatism of recent years, in place of which he wanted to see a kind of idealized Premier League type of soccer: fast, direct, always going forward. He identified a lack of creative players in midfield and thus decided to overload on the wings, where his Germany was hunting down opponents in packs and tried to overpower them. He chose young, fast players who were able to fulfill that brief; some big, established names were unceremoniously cast aside in the process.
1. A good manager, but not a coach. Klinsmann's biggest, crucial mistake in Munich came before the first ball had been kicked: he overestimated his own abilities. Instead of hiring another Löw-type assistant -- Klinsmann's successor was revealed as the true brains of the soccer side of things in the 2006 World Cup documentary "Sommermärchen" -- the Swabian was convinced he had learned enough to coach himself. He employed Martin Vasquez as his No. 2, a man with no practical experience in European soccer, who made little to no impression on the Bayern players. Instead of "improving every player, every day", as he had promised, Klinsmann's lack of detailed match-preparation left the players baffled. Before a crucial Champions League match away to Barcelona, striker Miroslav Klose was unsure whether he was supposed to pressurize his opponents high up on the pitch or defend deep. Bayern lost 4-0.
2. Lack of conviction. His revolutionary instincts were curbed in Munich, where a powerful board was unwilling to underwrite too many changes. But Klinsmann was also at fault for giving in too easily in certain matters, and he lost some of his authority in the process. Captain Mark van Bommel, for example, was first demoted to the bench and then reinstalled in the team while Klinsmann's expressed doubts about goalkeeper Michael Rensing but never had the courage to bench him until it was too late. His tactical experiments -- Bayern dabbled with an outdated 3-5-2 formation for a number of games before going back to a half-baked 4-4-2 -- didn't convince either.
3. Poor judgment of squad strength and transfer market. Klinsmann told the Bayern bosses that didn't need any new players but soon regretted that stance when it became obvious that the team was overly reliant on Franck Ribéry and lacking quality at the back. When he did make his move in the January transfer window, however, his choice of Landon Donovan exasperated both the team and the board: Donovan was a decent enough player but nowhere near good enough to make the immediate, telling impact the team so desperately needed.
4. Management style. Klinsmann resigned after the World Cup in Germany, citing a lack of energy. It came as no surprise: for two years, he had put all his efforts and focus into getting the team to perform at the competition. His motivational speeches were hard-hitting, his battles with the authorities wearing. This round-the-clock devotion to the task at head was impossible without the lengthy breaks in the international schedule; on a day-to-day basis at club level, it simply didn't work. There were so many big speeches in Munich that the team had started to switch off, exhausted by the overblown rhetoric.
Club soccer, especially at Bayern, where instant success is much more important than long-term reform, was perhaps not quite for him. But there's a good chance that he will modernize the U.S. setup and push through some necessary reforms. Klinsmann's energy and drive could also unlock some hidden potential in the U.S. team, especially if he manages to bring in some young, quality players and a coherent soccer strategy. Appointing the right No. 2 is absolutely vital in that respect, however. U.S. supporters must therefore hope that USSF president Sunil Gulati asked the most pertinent question in the negotiations with the new man in charge. "Who will be the coach?"
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