COSTA MESA, Calif. – With the 2018 World Cup now just weeks away, former United States and Germany manager Jurgen Klinsmann hasn’t been shy about sharing
Klinsmann, a world champion as player in 1990 and still one of the most fascinating characters in the American game, didn’t want to wade too deeply into his five-plus years with the U.S. program. But that didn’t stop him from discussing a whole range of other topics during a 90-minute Mother’s Day interview with Yahoo Sports at a coffee shop not far from his beachside home. The rest of the conversation is below.
(Edited for length and clarity.)
Klinsmann: “I took my time off and had fun doing all sorts of things. Basically, I filled up my schedule with all sorts of bucket list items. I was able over the last year to watch my son play in the CONCACAF U-20 championship, and then at the World Cup in South Korea. I saw him sign a pro contract and went to see him several times in his first year at Hertha Berlin, which was a real privilege. I couldn’t have done that as a national team coach. I went down to Buenos Aires to watch Boca Juniors play River Plate at La Bombonera. On the way there, I stopped in Mexico City and had dinner with [El Tri coach] Juan Carlos Osorio. And I built up my Spanish very well. I took a lot of sessions. It’s still not perfect. I’m not fluent. But I know that if [a coaching job] in a Spanish-speaking environment came up, I am capable of dealing with it.”
“I watched it at home with a friend of mine. First we are watching Ecuador against Argentina, because Argentina had to win to qualify, and I had just been down to the Bombonera. The only question we had was would Argentina win at Ecuador. I had no doubt about the U.S. Then, during the Argentina game, my wife came in — she was watching the U.S. game in the kitchen — and said the U.S. is down 1-0. I figured they would equalize sooner or later. Then she came in a second time and said it’s 2-0 in the first half.
“So we switched over to watch the U.S., and you were just speechless as it’s happening. I felt bad. We were already qualified. All you needed to do was just finish it off. One point. It seemed impossible. I watched it unfold in real time just like everybody else, and just like everybody else there were no words. Because you know the consequences of a generation of players not going to the World Cup, the consequences for the program not participating in that competition. And it’s all down to that moment, that one game. Things happen. Crazy games happen all over. Sweden bunkers in and beats Italy, and Italy’s not going either. When you talk about teams can win the World Cup, you always name Italy. So it was down to that one moment in time. They were already there.”
“One problem for the U.S. is there is no high-profile competition after the World Cup where players have to prove they’re staying at the same level. In Europe, teams go right into qualifying for the European Championships. In South America, they’re already gearing up for the Copa America. Those players cannot relax. They’re not allowed to. Meanwhile, the U.S. program is allowed to relax. As a human, when you’re allowed to relax you most likely do. It’s understandable. But it’s a disadvantage for your U.S. national team program. We saw in the  Gold Cup, the hunger wasn’t there.
“Also, when a program is successful or not, it reflects the entire environment, from administration to the medical team to media representatives to the staff to the players to the coaches. You’re only as good as your environment. In countries like Spain or Germany or England there’s a high level of accountability for everyone involved. That culture is still growing in the U.S. It’s nothing negative, because we proved a lot already in the last 30 years. MLS is safe and expanding, and it only will grow more. But we are not there yet in terms of consistency and how we do things at all age levels. We still have a lot of hurdles to overcome, and that must be managed properly. One issue we’re consistently fighting in American soccer is inconsistency.”
as a sub. Can you measure it in terms of confidence or development? Probably no