I feel like I have a staggering amount in common with Jürgen Klinsmann. For starters my base assumption much of the time when I am talking to people is that I am smarter than them … I want to lean on my (blah blah) decades of experience watching the game and blather on about what is wrong, what needs to be fixed, what we need to improve. I also like to hear the sound of my own voice, I think I have something to say which should come as no surprise – I’m here blogging, I’ve done the podcast thing and written for years. Tweeted. Facebooked. Done the radio thing.
I’m not alone, I might be a bit of an extreme example but so many dozens of people that I consider to be friends spend much of their time online talking about the game. When we go out to dinner we talk about the game, we keep each other in touch with the news, we make travel plans … and we get up on our soap boxes and pontificate a bit and then we fight with each other about whatever hot take we have shared and then get back to tweeting about the latest vomit or shit saga from the kids we have, what we are cooking and if SI Swimsuit is appropriate for a father of two daughters to buy.
As part of this we compare. I think it is an American thing that is extremely prevalent within the soccer community because there is a wee bit of an inferiority complex. We as a collective want MLS to be good, we want to believe that Don Garber will deliver on his promises and that our league can be a ‘top league’ despite not knowing quite what that means or how we will get there. We want the US Men’s National team to perform well, to improve decade on decade and as part of measuring this progress we compare, speculate and ask questions.
How much TV revenue are we generating? How good do our shirts look? How nice are our stadiums? Look how good MLS attendance is!! The US’s World Cup record is better than England since 1990! More and more star players are coming here! I’ve spend hours trying to map MLS as a league onto the English Pyramid in terms of quality, my opinion that we overlap the lower half of The Championship and the upper half of League One doesn’t always go over well but by golly we’ll talk about it, for hours and hours. How strong is our supporter culture? Do we steal too many songs? Should we have playoffs at all? Should we have promotion and relegation like they do elsewhere? Should we get on the FIFA schedule? Should we play a winter season? When will we start beating Mexican teams in the CONCACAF Champions League? How do we improve?
The discourse never stops. When I am not actively taking part in it I am listening to the talking heads in American Soccer’s media scene taking on the same topics. Grant Wahl, Jason Davis, Alexi Lalas, and this week FC Kansas City’s Yael Averbuch.
We do this to ourselves all the time and then Jürgen Klinsmann joins the national soccer guys past time …and we get angry.
The things he says, the way he says them … he’d have a following on Big Soccer, and while the majority might try to shut him down in many different ways be it logic, passion, or comparison there would be others sitting there nodding along in agreement. He is absolutely a polarizing character, but even divisive characters can be good for discussion online, the difference of course is that is not a Facebook Rant but a National Team coach talking via the national media. Our National Team coach on ESPN. It can sting at times, apparently enough to make Don Garber lose his marbles.
For good or for bad we as a community seem to have bestowed upon him an ambassadorial role that is not necessarily his responsibility.
We don’t just want him to win, we seem to feel the need to have him also make us feel good about where we are, and where we are going and how far we have come. Have we invented this role for ourselves? It is at least worth pondering and I do not profess to entirely have my arms wrapped around this but I think that maybe we do.
He doesn't need to be nice. He doesn't need to hold up MLS and promote it. He doesn't need to make fans happy by pandering to us. He just needs to win and improve and build upwards and onward.
We all know this, and yet he still manages to irk us.
There is something about Jürgen Klinsmann that feels … out of bounds, off side … like he is talking out of school, and that some of the discussions he wants to have might be better served happening in person.
Why deliver a fitness update through the media? Why not pick up the phone and say ‘Yunno what Mr Shea, your fitness is not where I want it to be" or to communicate with the squad or the player pool as a whole in a productive way. Don’t they have phones and email accounts over at the USSF?
Delivering a rocket or message via the media is nothing new, Luis Van Gaal dropped Falcao at Manchester United and talked about him needing to "prove his worth" in January, it feels like a comfortable comparison, and Van Gaal is also a guy that is never shy about talking to the media. He’ll say what he needs to, recently criticizing the winter schedule in the Premier League, and fixture congestion gripes have come from every corner of the managerial world from Alex Ferguson to part timers in semi-professional leagues.
We never seem to get angry at these folks. Frustrated maybe, Arsene Wenger’s pointed refusal to ever see a penalty incident that went Arsenal’s way get my eyes rolling hard. At no point do I ever listen to Arsene Wenger, even if I disagree with what he says and believe that he doesn’t want the best for the Gunners. I believe Luis Van Gaal does for Manchester United, I know Peter Vermes does when he talks Sporting, but then I think about managers that have irritated me throughout the years. Guys that for whatever reason have rubbed me the wrong way.
The ridiculous Phil Brown at Hull grabbing a Microphone and singing to fans after Hull avoided being relegated by a point, Rafael Benitez who seems to be able to talk himself out of a good situation almost anywhere, and our old friend Jose Mourinho.
Jose beyond all seems to be a guy who despite all the genius, all the talent, just cannot stop himself from talking. The thing about Chelsea is above and beyond anybody who plays there, no matter how amazing the genius of Diego Costa or Cesc Fabregas it always has to be about Jose Mourinho. They are Mourinho’s Chelsea and he is always front and center in the media complaining, coaxing, criticizing of somebody for something. No personalities are on his teams are bigger than him, which may very well explain why his time at Real Madrid went so sour so quickly. He was never going to outshine Ronaldo and some of his team mates, and in the balance of power Real were never going to choose Mourinho over Ronaldo.
Could this be Jürgen Klinsmann?
Could he be the kind of character that demands to be heard and listened to? A guy that if he wasn’t playing might just be writing poorly on SB Nation? Could it be that he needs to hold the limelight and be front and center at all times? Could it be that this at least partially explains his (#narratives) apparently shoddy treatment of Landon Donovan? (#narratives) Could it really just be that he believes that he is the star of this whole deal, and he is here to lead us out of the wilderness like … Soccer Moses?
Or does it just fit?
I am a person who has always loved public discourse, sometimes I’ll be the contrarian just to make it happen, and I appreciate people that do it often. If Jürgen Klinsmann provided this then maybe I’d feel more warmly towards him but the talk he is generating isn’t revolving around soccer, and tactics, and improvement … it is almost all now about Jürgen himself. His motives, his relationships, his ever changing yard sticks and standards, and unlike the Wenger and Vermes characters of this world, I never really feel like he is on my side, more that this is all becoming a bit of a circus, and one that many of us are beginning to tire of.