Jurgen Klinsmann gives US team a ‘cool’ coach

AP, Tuesday 11 Oct 2011

Shaking up the US national team in matters large and small, Jurgen Klinsmann turned on the music in the locker room as he makes changes to notch up his team's competitiveness

Jurgen Klinsmann

“It was quiet,” DaMarcus Beasley recalled. “And then Klinsmann went over to the iPad machine and turned on the music. That’s the kind of coach he is. He’s very cool. He’s fun.”

Did Bob Bradley ever do that?

Beasley shot a look and smiled.

“No,” he said, shaking his head.

From uniform numbers, to tactics, to challenging the American soccer establishment, Klinsmann already has stirred up a programme that had gone a bit stale since its quarterfinal appearance at the 2002 World Cup. A former star for Germany’s national team, and a former coach of Germany and Bayern Munich, he’s also familiar with the plusses and minuses of the sport in the US having lived in California for the past 13 years.

“He’s different, but good different,” Beasley said Monday, a day ahead of the Americans’ exhibition game against Ecuador. “He’s always full of life. He’s always laughing. He’s always smiling. He’s very energetic, even in meetings. You can tell that he’s happy to be here, happy to be the coach of the national team. I just think his persona will kind of rub off on us and give us that fight and that passion, the same how he played when he was a player.”

While Bruce Arena and Bradley practiced in relative secrecy, Klinsmann holds occasional public sessions. He stood on the field Monday and talked into a hand-held microphone, welcoming several hundred fans at Red Bull arena.

“He’s come in and he’s felt he’s needed to change the landscape,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said.

Since Klinsmann replaced Bradley on 29 July, the Americans tied Mexico and lost to Costa Rica and Belgium before defeating Honduras on Saturday. He’s made tactical changes, pushing Clint Dempsey from midfield to withdrawn forward, encouraging outside backs to attack—one at a time. The midfielders also are higher up the field.

And he’s challenging players.

“For example, he said sometimes I’m a little bit static. I need to stay a little bit more on the move, float around, keep trying to get into spots,” Dempsey said. “Whoever is marking me, cause them problems, make them get tired, make them come out of positions they don’t want to. He wants us to play a high-tempo game. He wants us to take the game to our opponent at a level that’s uncomfortable for them.”

Longer term, Klinsmann wants to eliminate the two-to-three months off that Major League Soccer players get each year.

“The big challenge is for MLS overall, how can they stretch that season into a format that is kind of competitive with the rest of the world?” he said. “Right now it’s not competitive. If you have a seven-, eight-month season, that’s not competitive with the rest of the world.”

MLS teams start training in January and their seasons last until mid-October or late November, depending on playoff success. European clubs begin practice in July and play through late May. The World Cup and European Championship fill June every other year.

“If there’s a national team player, he has to do extra work,” Klinsmann said. “He has to do extra weeks, and he can’t go on vacation even if he says, `Well, but I’m supposed now to have six weeks off.’ If he comes and says that, then I give him a hug and say, `Have fun the six weeks, but don’t come back here.”’

Klinsmann spent 17 years in major European leagues and won world and European titles with Germany. That’s made it easier for American players to respond when he has them go through two-a-day workouts when they arrive from their clubs.

“I think the guys are coming into it with an open mind, saying, look, he’s done it,” American captain Carlos Bocanegra said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. He’s done it, and he’s talking about it.”

Klinsmann wears a top to training with his initials “JK” in the European coaching style. He has gotten rid of specific numbers on each players’ uniform, preferring the old system where the starters were assigned Nos. 1-11 based on position, so as to encourage competition.

“It’s a pretty good system. It’s the way it works in Europe, like nothing is yours forever,” Howard said. “I don’t think some of the younger guys quite get it. That’s OK. It’s more my family, trying to explain to them what the numbers are.”

Klinsmann also seems to place more of an emphasis than Bradley on players winding up in productive club situations. On his latest roster, he bypassed Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan, who had been Howard’s heir apparent. Guzan has played just once for the Villans this season.

“I sent a message in my first get-together, for the Mexico game, I said, for me the most important thing is that you guys play,” Klinsmann remembered telling them. “If you are on the bench somewhere, it doesn’t matter in Europe, in the MLS or in Mexico, you have a problem coming in here.”

He’s also getting involved in the US team’s schedule. He was unhappy the Honduras game was Saturday instead of Friday, leaving just two days between matches. And he didn’t like last month’s fixtures, when the Americans played Costa Rica in California on a Friday, then traveled to Belgium for a Tuesday match.

“I won’t sign off games played Saturday-Tuesday because of any television reasons or whatever the reason is for it,” he said.

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