Thursday, December 14, 2017
Sports

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann blends German, American influences

SAO PAULO, Brazil

Jurgen Klinsmann was 19 and playing for his hometown Stuttgarter Kickers in Germany's second division when he touched down in the United States for the first time.

The team president had wanted to challenge his players to achieve more in the 1983-84 season.

"So he came into the locker room after the first part of the season and said, 'You know, guys, if you end up in the top 10 (in the standings) out of 18 or 20, I get you 10 days in Miami because I have a house in Fort Lauderdale, book you a nice hotel,' " Klinsmann recently recalled with a smile. "We finished eighth."

The son of a baker, Klinsmann arrived in sunny South Florida and was shocked.

"They took us on a boat ride, and I said, 'My gosh, I didn't know that this kind of a planet exists.' And so we had a blast for 10 days," he said.

As soon as Klinsmann got home, he headed right back to the United States with a teammate, visiting New York, Chicago and California.

"And that's how my kind of American journey began," Klinsmann said. "I never had an idea that later, years, years later, that I'd bump into a California girl in Europe."

Now, he's coaching the U.S. team at the World Cup, preparing for today's Group G game against Portugal in Manaus, Brazil. The former forward with the German national team — and later its coach for the 2006 World Cup — turns 50 on July 30 and has spent nearly a third of his life living in America.

When his playing career ended in 1998, Klinsmann moved to Orange County, Calif., with his wife, former model Debbie Chin. While coaching Germany, Klinsmann commuted nine time zones to work.

Then in 2011 he became the U.S. national team coach.

In Germany, many view Klinsmann as an American. As a player, he drove a 1967 Volkswagen with a sticker of Snoopy in a rowboat with the words: "Ist es noch weit bis Amerika? (Is it much farther to America?)"

"He's more American than a German," said Berti Vogts, who coached Germany with Klinsmann as his star striker and is now a U.S. special adviser. "Jurgen is always positive. That's an American way of life."

He brings that positive energy to games and practice, though Klinsmann memorably said before this World Cup that it's "not realistic" to think the Yanks can win this tournament.

Having lived in the States for so long, Klinsmann comes across to American players as one of them. "I think it's a natural process that everyone of us goes through when he lives over a longer period of time in a different country," said Klinsmann, who also played for clubs in Italy, France and England.

One difference between Germany and America is that here, other sports are more popular than soccer. Because of that, Klinsmann says American players lack "a higher demand of accountability," or daily pressure to perform from fans and media.

But Klinsmann thinks the timing is right. A decade ago, American soccer might not have been ready for him. A decade from now, a foreign coach might not be wanted.

''You have quality now available that is ready to compete on the next stage," he said. ''We are ready to go eye to eye with the bigger ones. And that's what the fascinating side is."

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