He picked up English with the help of a tutor. Italy's all-encompassing soccer culture left him no choice but to learn Italian. In Monte Carlo, where he has played for the last four years, he has been taking French classes. He had read about South Africa and Namibia in the newspapers, but in 1991 he went to both those troubled places because he wanted to see them for himself.
"I wouldn't go to America to watch soccer," Klinsmann was widely quoted as saying after the U.S. successfully bid on the World Cup. "I'd go to get away from it." Which he has done; at 19 he spent a month's vacation in the States. After winning the Cup in 1990 he went to California, where he has friends from San Francisco to San Diego, to chill. On visits to Chicago, where Germany will play its first '94 World Cup game on June 17 against Bolivia, he has caught the Bulls and the White Sox in blissful anonymity.
They are his teachers, each of these places he visits and cultures he immerses himself in, professors at the university he missed out on. In Italy he learned how to revel in the moment, at the same time acquiring an appreciation for the discipline and punctuality for which his native land is known. In Monte Carlo he hasn't looked for an escape from taxes or anything else but for a chance to meet and hang out with the workaday people who make the city run—the shopkeepers and craftsmen and waiters "who do things with their hearts," he says, "not with something in the back of their minds."
The perspective he gets from all these peregrinations shows up again and again, on and around the pitch. In 1987, during a club match between VfB Stuttgart and Bayern München, the referee tossed out a Bayern player after he fouled Klinsmann. When Klinsmann interceded on his opponent's behalf, insisting that the Bayern player had done nothing meriting expulsion, the ref reversed his call. Following Germany's bloody 2-1 defeat of Holland in the '90 World Cup, a match marred by fighting, spitting and ejections from each side, Klinsmann sought out Ruud Gullit, Holland's deadlocked star, to fix him with a hug. After neo-Nazis threatened to disrupt an exhibition between Germany and England scheduled for April 20, Hitler's birthday, Klinsmann spoke out stridently when organizers called it off. "Giving in to bully boys and political extremists is always wrong," he said. "Don't people ever learn the lessons of history?"
"In Holland people hate Germans and German soccer," says Mart Smeets, a broadcaster with Dutch national TV. "And we have a saying here: There's only one good German—Jürgen Klinsmann."
Yet for someone who so clearly sees a world beyond soccer, the game is remarkably important. Klinsmann lets go with Latin exuberance after scoring a goal. He's unable to talk to anyone for at least 30 minutes following a match. AS Monaco practices at a mountaintop training center in La Turbie, just over the border in France; when his Teutonic perfectionism outstrips his skill, Klinsmann sometimes blows off his frustration with a big kick, sending the ball spilling down the hillside, a souvenir in search of some young fan. Arsene Wenger, the AS Monaco coach, laughs at the notion that Klinsmann is a dilettante too worldly to throw himself fully into a game.
This isn't to say Klinsmann is an angel. German players are notorious for trying to draw a foul by going down with Sturm und Drang, only to motor merrily along moments later. On April 27, in a European Cup semifinal in Milan, Klinsmann took a dive to frame an AC Milan defender who wound up being ejected. The Times of London likened his performance to "the death scene from Camille" and called on authorities to fine and suspend him for so shamelessly hoodwinking the referee. Yet to Klinsmann there was a sort of justice to it all, for as Monaco's only scoring threat he had been kicked, tripped and gouged throughout the game his team lost 3-0. "These sorts of fouls only happen when someone is scared," he would say. "If not, they wouldn't do it. It's a kind of weakness, you know?"
Yet there is a kind of innocence to the way Klinsmann roots around the field. Children are drawn to him, perhaps because his style of play is so childlike: explosive, impetuous, with an air of discovery. He might score by using his speed to dash up the touchline or by contorting himself in front of the goal into a shape his parents might bake. In Italy he's known as Kataklinsmann, for the consequences that seem to ensue every time he and the ball meet. "I live a lot by my instincts on the field," he says. "I never know what I'll do the next moment. But the other team doesn't know either."
In March, Klinsmann scored both goals, each sensationally, in a 2-1 exhibition victory over Italy that confirmed Germany's role as the World Cup favorite. He was named MVP of last summer's U.S. Cup, which Germany also won, and his inspired play over the past year led one German newspaper to declare recently that Klinsmann has "fallen in love with soccer for the second time."
If you were looking for someone to induce America to fall in love with soccer or to make Germany more lovable to the world, Klinsmann would be a perfect choice. But he rarely does anyone else's bidding. He negotiates his own contracts, a quirk that caused one Italian agent to harrumph that the German star signs deals shortchanging himself by 80%.