If you didn’t know much about new U.S. national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann prior to today, then this is a good time for you to learn a few things.
Klinsmann held a press conference in New York this morning, and a follow-up conference call with national reporters this afternoon. I wasn’t in New York for the press conference, but I was on the conference call. Here is the transcript of it.
Sunil Gulati, U.S. Soccer Federation president
Obviously, it’s an important day for us, and I’m very pleased that Jürgen Klinsmann will be joining us as head coach of the national team. It’s been a busy summer on all fronts, and it’s still continuing, with a lot of international exhibition games, MLS in full swing, the Women’s World Cup having just concluded.
We think Friday’s announcement and today’s introduction mark an extraordinarily important point for the future of the national team, and the sport in general. So it’s a great pleasure to introduce Jürgen as our head coach, and with that, I’ll turn it over to him.
Well, hello everybody. I’m really, really happy for this special day today. I think it’s been well-introduced this morning with the press conference, and the great event that Niketown put together as well. I’m really excited about moving forward, approaching the first game already next week against Mexico, and obviously the next two games in September.
With that being said, I’ll pass it on to you for your questions.
Jürgen, in building a team, the player pool stays pretty much the same with a national team, unlike a club team. So what do you think you can do, and what do you think you can add, to the program and make it more successful, given the fact that the players are pretty much the same?
It will take me a couple of weeks and months to analyze most of the players, and also to see what is coming through the ranks from the younger teams, and then go from there. I’m extremely happy that I’ve got this opportunity to move things hopefully in the right direction.
It’s clear, as you said, that the player pool right now is mainly the player pool that was already together during the Gold Cup, and now we are already approaching a game that is a week from now. It’s not that easy, based on the fact that a lot of overseas players haven’t even started their seasons yet. They just came out of vacations and are starting to train.
So we’ll need to find some solutions for that game in the short term, and then obviously it’s my job, step by step, to see how I can help every single player to get to another level. That is part of my work.
When do you plan to announce the roster for the Mexico game, and how many players will be on it?
Well we’re trying to put things together for Wednesday. Obviously, I called a couple of players already, and will follow up tomorrow with all the rest. To see who’s available, and in decent shape, what their individual club situations are. Especially the few guys overseas who are struggling there right now, and not knowing where their futures lie.
I will get that all together tomorrow night, and then hopefully by Wednesday we can announce the roster. It should be a roster of about 20 players.
When you first became familiar with the U.S. national teams, let’s say in the 1998 World Cup, what was your impression then, and how much has it changed now? What progress have you seen since then?
If you look at the development of the game in this country since the 1998 World Cup, it’s been just outstanding. It’s amazing what has happened here with soccer: the establishment of MLS, the national team advancing to the World Cup finals every time since 1990, all the experience that they have gathered on the international stage. There is a lot of media attention for the game of soccer in this country as well.
It’s been a very busy last 10 to 15 years for soccer in this country, and it’s great to see that. I was involved here and there with MLS teams, I was a bit involved with the Home Depot Center. So I’ve kind of followed that path, and it is a good foundation that is laid out now, from all the people who have worked on it over the last 10, 15, 20 years.
Now the question is to analyze where we are right now, and how we can improve it even further. On many levels: on the youth level, on the pro level, on relationships throughout the world, and find ways to get the players even more ways to become better.
You have a match coming in the very short term here against Mexico. Can you outline as specifically as possible what the priorities will be over the next couple of months? Whether it be picking assistants, or familiarizing yourself more with the player pool, etc.?
Well, a priority definitely is to meet the players, to understand their issues, to understand where they’re at, and to develop slowly a plan for each of them to hopefully improve further. Also, obviously, over the next couple of months, to try to build a coaching staff that will be established for the World Cup qualifying campaign, and going toward Brazil in 2014.
I mentioned this morning that I don’t bring in a staff right away. I will work that some people that I know, just to get my feet wet over the next couple of weeks, but I would also really like to meet some people here in the U.S. soccer environment that I don’t know yet, and see if maybe there are some common philosophies, or common ground to work together in the future.
So I need that time to make sure that I get all the right people with me. Those are the two major priorities, absolutely. And then, besides that, helping Sunil and Dan [Flynn, the CEO and Secretary General of the U.S. Soccer Federation], and Claudio Reyna, wherever I can and on all sorts of topics.
Certainly right now, just looking forward to the Mexico game, I need to get a roster together, and make a really good impression in Philadelphia, and show that it’s kind of a new style for everybody.
You spoke a lot about youth this morning, and young players. I wonder if there are any particular young players that you might call in for the Mexico friendly, or for the double fixtures in September.
And as a follow-up, I am curious about your off-the-field approach, and how you would characterize it. Do you run a tight ship, or are you a little more laid back? Are there likely to be curfews, or do you kind of let players have their down time to themselves a little bit more?
Well, it’s difficult for me to describe myself. I’ll leave that up to you guys. Definitely, we will dig into the whole generation of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, no matter whether they are in the U.S. or overseas. That’s why I have Claudio Reyna with me, to give me his input. Tab Ramos is important as a resource.
These two will definitely talk to a lot of coaches over the next couple of weeks and months, where they see talent coming through. This is something that goes parallel with the work with the team itself.
Describing my own kind of style in working with the team, I really don’t know. I’ll leave it up to you guys. My personal philosophy is that I want to learn something new every day. I have the feeling that I do that, and I hope that the players are also eager to learn something new every day. I’d like to improve the foundation that is there, and help everybody to reach his potential.
You mentioned the youth level. Do you have any plans for, or interest in, changing the youth system as it exists in the United States? Or is it a system that you intend to work within?
I don’t have any intention as of today to change things, because you have to look back at what has happened over the last 5-10 years. It’s amazing, with the introduction of the academy programs throughout the country, the new coaching curriculum from Claudio. There’s a lot of great stuff already happening.
So, yes, we will definitely discuss all those different topics and issues, and if there’s a need for change, we can change things. But that will be discussed in a group, with Sunil and Dan here, and Claudio, and with other people involved. And just hopefully, making always the right decisions to strengthen and improve the programs at every age level.
When you started with the German national team, you spoke of the need for the team to have a real identity to it that the country could identify with. Do you have an idea at this point of what identity you would like the U.S. national team to have under your coaching?
That’s a real big topic that we’ve got to discuss over the next months. Everybody is involved with it, whether it’s you media people, players and coaches across the country, the leadership of U.S. Soccer. I think that down the road, it should be our goal that we build something that people here in the United States really identifies with.
Similar to what happened with the women’s team, where everybody really identified with the way they played their final at the World Cup. Unfortunately they lost it, but everybody identified with the way they presented themselves.
So there are a lot of ingredients coming into the pot for that. It’s the culture, it’s the diversified culture, and it’s the way people look at soccer. It’s the way people look at their own lifestyles. And step by step, you can throw all those bullet points into the pot and see how we can make something positive and something identifying out of it.
I like that discussion, I like that topic, because that’s what soccer is about. Soccer is about identifying with your favorite team, with your favorite style, and hopefully we can build something that people really like. Obviously, it’s also based on the playing material that you have at the end of the day.
Do you feel that there’s a pool of talent that can be better exploited that may be outside of the U.S. system right now - specifically, maybe in some of the ethnic communities - that has not been explored? If so, how will you go about doing that?
[Note from me: This question was asked by Daily News columnist John Smallwood.]
Well, that’s definitely something that we need to dig into: where to find more talent, where to maybe find somebody kicking the ball around in the street, and develop in. There’s no easy answer to all of that, because I think there are a lot of people out there who know that even better than I do.
But it’s definitely something that comes along, also with the attention that soccer gets in the United States. Today, it’s at a completely different level to10 years ago. We have three or four television channels that broadcast soccer 24/7. We have all of you on the line now who are really covering soccer more and more.
The more attention the game gets, the more interest there is for everybody involved in it. And getting down to the kids’ level, the more they want to play the game, and the more they see it. So down the road, I hope to find ways to find a Lionel Messi in the United States. That would be awesome, but obviously I can’t give you all the answers right now.
Sunil, you are a Nike federation and you just hired a guy who is a long-time associate with Adidas. How do you hope to reconcile those differences and have you already done that?
There aren’t any differences in that. First, Jürgen is not with any footwear or apparel company now. We’ve talked with Nike, and Jürgen will work out a relationship that works with both of them. But there are no commercial hurdles to cross in that. We’re all very much of the same understanding.
Sunil, we’ve heard a lot of thoughts from Jürgen about the challenges that his job presents, and that are inherent in American soccer. What are your thoughts about those things? A lot of us thought Bob did a good job with the talent he had available.
How much can a national team coach make the players at a national team level better? Are they a finished product? And how much can a national team coach, in this case Jürgen, do to influence grassroots development, which some think is where we still need to make a lot of progress in this country?
In a broad sense, you’re asking does the national team coach matter, and the answer is yes. I think the earlier question about the player pool is right. For next Wednesday’s game, my guess is we’re going to see many players that people are familiar with, and that Jürgen is familiar with, that have been part of the team in recent months.
Hopefully, and this is certainly the plan, with a change, and with some other ideas, Jürgen can take that group, or find additional players and additional talent that he sees or views differently, or developed, whether it’s younger players, maybe outside the group. People look at the game differently.
In terms of the second part, how much he can influence player development in the long term, that’s an important part of this project. The short term is absolutely qualify for Brazil and do as well as we can there. That’s a three-year project. But we think a big part of this program, and this project, and frankly of the excitement, is how Jürgen can help us and influence what’s going on.
And as he said, there’s already a lot of good things in place, and he’s seen that first-hand. He’s talked about the Development Academy, and MLS’ growth, and so on. He’s already reached out with Claudio, and we had dinner with Don Garber last night to talk about MLS and some other issues.
So frankly, we’re excited for all those other areas where we think that Jürgen’s experience, background and ideas can be very helpful for us going forward.
A question for both Sunil and Jürgen. We’re talking about Brazil in 2014, but there’s also London in 2012. I’d like to get Jürgen’s perspective on this.
He’s mentioned how things have changed in this country. I’d love to get his perspective on how things changed around the world about countries - specifically in Europe and South America - placing much greater emphasis on Olympic teams, and that age group.
And Sunil, could we get a response from you on whether it would perhaps be Claudio Reyna who would coach the Olympic team, with that competition coming up in less than a year.
Sunil Gulati: Jürgen is pointing at me to do the first part. We’ve actually talked about that. We’re going to continue the conversation on the Olympic team coach. One of the unique situations that we are in right now is that the Under-23 and Under-20 teams are without coaches.
We’ve left that open a little bit while this was going on, and we’ve started to talk about the qualities and the sorts of individuals, and some individuals who might make sense for that. It’s a very short-term assignment, with a qualifying tournament in the U.S. in March, and then the Olympics a few months later.
So that gives us a lot of options, frankly, but it’s too early for us to talk about any specific names on that. That will happen in the weeks and months to come. It’s an important topic, and one that we’ve started to discuss.
On the second part of that, emphasizing the Olympics around the world more, I’ll turn to Jürgen.
Jürgen Klinsmann: Well, the Olympics were always a little bit of a tricky topic for the soccer world. I played in the Olympics in 1988, and I was not allowed until that point to play in a FIFA qualifying or World Cup game. So that was the only reason why I could play in 1988, as I had my first World Cup in 1990.
At least talking about the European nations, they never really gave that much importance to the Olympics. You are right that it has changed, because it’s your Under-23 team representing your nation, and it’s televised globally. It’s far bigger than it ever was before.
The nations also would like to see strong teams in that competition, even if it will never be on the level of a Copa America, or a European Championship, or a World Cup.
We will talk through that from a U.S. Soccer perspective, to see what is best for that age group team, in terms of who should be the coach and who should be approached [to play]. I think it’s an important topic, and therefore it needs to be thoroughly thought through.
Sunil Gulati: If I can just add one thing, because some people might not be familiar with it. In 1988, when Jürgen was referencing that he had not played in the World Cup, at that time, the rules on the Olympics were different. In South America and Europe, you could play in the Olympics as long as you had not played in a World Cup or World Cup qualifying game.
The rules for the rest of the world at that time were that it was fine for any age, regardless of whether you had played in the World Cup. Clearly, that has changed today.
The second point is that it’s not a mandatory release event for players, as Barcelona and Lionel Messi discussed a few years ago. So there are a lot of issues. The fact that it’s in Europe makes it easier for the European teams, but it’s still unclear as to whether players will be released.
Jürgen, just a couple of quick questions. First of all, everybody knows that in the past you were considered this job, so what does this mean now to you? And also, what has the reaction been among your friends, your family, and the German public back home?
Today, I’m really just happy and proud that I have this opportunity. We’ve obviously known each other for a while now. We’ve kind of talked our way through it over the last few years, and we feel like it’s time to get things started. There’s a comfort level there, it seems, with Sunil, myself, Dan and the board here.
The family reaction simply couldn’t have been any better. The kids are very excited, and for my wife it means we can stay in California. The Home Depot Center is just 30 minutes away. So that all meshes well.
The response I got from Europe was really overwhelming. I didn’t really expect that. I got so many encouraging calls and emails and text messages from a lot of coaches and media people. I also heard from people in South America.
That shows that a lot of people oversees are looking to the United States with curiosity, to see what’s going on here. A lot of people I have talked to throughout the last couple of years look at the United States as a potential soccer nation. They follow the path of MLS, they follow the path of the national teams, and that raises the bar again and makes the game even more popular in this country. I think that’s great.