Join Date: Apr 2004
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Re: World Cup Discussion Thread
March 20, 2006
German Coach and American Ways Are a Tough Match
By JERE LONGMAN
DÜSSELDORF, Germany, March 19 — With the World Cup opening June 9, Germany is in a familiar panic as the host country, fearing that its coach is merely a "Baywatch" blond, more concerned with his tan lines than with the bottom line of winning a global soccer championship.
Since Jürgen Klinsmann, a former star forward and captain of Germany's national team, became the coach in July 2004, he has continued to live half of each month in Southern California with his American wife and two young children. This transcontinental commuting has aroused three of Germany's favorite preoccupations — soccer, the United States and the weather.
A self-described cosmopolitan who speaks four languages, Klinsmann has hired an American trainer, as well as a sports psychologist, and has opened his roster to younger players. These reforms have unsettled the insular and conservative German soccer federation, which appears to want and fear change, said Oliver Bierhoff, the national team manager.
Germany is split between those who embrace Klinsmann and those who vaguely fear an Americanization of German soccer, according to Andrei Markovits, a professor of German studies at the University of Michigan who has written about Klinsmann and anti-Americanism in Europe.
The United States is still considered a soccer upstart here. In the view of some soccer officials, journalists and politicians, whatever New World approaches Klinsmann has learned in America have little application for an Old World soccer power like Germany.
"It's a clash between the new and the old in Germany," Markovits said by telephone. "There is a real cleavage between the left, liberal, urbane, youngish Germany that really likes him and the 'real' guys who go to the bar every night and think he's the worst because he's sort of an intellectual, he lives in L.A. and brings in American methods and married an American wife."
Particular dread set in March 1, when Italy routed Germany, 4-1, in an exhibition in Florence, Italy. Klinsmann was blamed for everything from poisoning German soccer to grinning too much to undermining the brittle economy.
Speculation even arose that Klinsmann could be fired if Germany were to lose an exhibition to the United States on Wednesday in Dortmund. At the least, soccer officials fear that he will be booed for dropping a Dortmund-based defender, Christian Wörns, from the national team. T-shirts exhorting "You for us and we for you" will be handed out to placate and rally the home fans.
Criticism grew so intense by last week that Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, felt it necessary to deflate mounting pressure on Klinsmann. She declared that he was "on the right track" and urged him to ignore his critics.
"It's simply sad for a country that is going full speed to their biggest sporting event for the next 50 years," Klinsmann, 41, said here Sunday in an interview with a small group of international reporters.
"The World Cup is bigger than the Olympics," Klinsmann said. "It's the biggest thing you can host. And it seems like we do everything possible to be far too skeptical, far too critical, instead of being happy and proud and honored that you have that competition."
German reporters were not invited to the interview. It infuriates Klinsmann that he is portrayed by some as a beach bum. Apart from pledging to spend most of his time in Germany as the World Cup approaches, he has defiantly said he will stick to his plans "no matter where home is."
"I take this job very seriously," he said, adding of the World Cup: "If we win our first two games, everyone will try to jump on our train. But the train will have left already."
Those unhappy with Klinsmann were surely unmoved by the latest rankings from FIFA, soccer's world governing body, which put the United States fifth, the highest it has ever been, and Germany 22nd, the lowest it has been.
"I think there is a lack of respect for our soccer," said Bruce Arena, the American national team coach.
The United States threatened Germany before losing, 1-0, in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Yet Arena said he still sensed a competitive jealousy among traditional powers who felt threatened by the rise of teams from North America, Africa and Asia.
Germany's obsession with the weather, which has been particularly cold this winter, might influence the dissatisfaction with Klinsmann, said Peter Zygowski, a language consultant at the Goethe Institute in San Francisco.
"They are completely obsessed with sunshine and the beach, and when they hear about Klinsmann in California, it conjures images of vacation, slacking off," Zygowski said by telephone.
That was certainly not his image as a rapacious goal scorer. Klinsmann scored 47 goals in 108 appearances with the German national team. He played forward for the team that won the 1990 World Cup and was the captain of the squad that won the 1996 European championship.
After a professional club career in Germany, Italy, France and England, Klinsmann retired in 1998 and settled in Huntington Beach, Calif., to work in sports marketing and consulting. He prefers the privacy afforded him in the United States, believing that anonymity abroad will allow his son and daughter to grow beyond his considerable sporting shadow.
The United States, he said, also appealed to him for its "let's go for it" attitude. Many Germans seem pleased by the new attacking style Klinsmann has put in. There was widespread agreement that change was necessary after Germany's embarrassing exit in the first round of the 2004 European championships, only two years after reaching the final of the World Cup. (It lost to Brazil.
National team coaches face constant second-guessing in soccer-consumed nations. But Klinsmann's management style has been especially provocative: spending half of each month in California, communicating with his players via e-mail and telephone, following their club matches on satellite television.
He would do the same thing if he lived in Berlin or Rome, Klinsmann said. But to some soccer officials, "e-mail and PowerPoint is an American way of doing things," said Bierhoff, who is Klinsmann's second in charge.
"Every proposal seems suspicious," Bierhoff said.
Germany's recent exhibition loss to Italy unleashed an angry response. "Disaster," proclaimed the soccer magazine Kicker. The Bild tabloid, Germany's largest daily and one that has been highly critical of Klinsmann, wrote, "Mama Mia We Are Bad." The tabloid showed a picture of a grinning Klinsmann ("Grinsi Klinsi") and added, "With you, one can only cry about our national team."
Die Tageszeitung wrote that Klinsmann threatened the expected $9.5 billion economic windfall from the World Cup and sapped Germany of its anticipation and general optimism. "Euphoria has been replaced by depression," the paper said, adding, "At most, the gastronomy branch can hope that, out of desperation, the masses grab for the bottle."
After that defeat, Klinsmann returned to California on the anniversary of his father's death, missing a workshop for World Cup coaches. That prompted a rebuke from Germany's greatest soccer hero, Franz Beckenbauer, who led West Germany to the 1974 World Cup title as the captain and to the 1990 World Cup title as the coach.
"Time is running out," Beckenbauer, who is president of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee, told reporters.
Stefan Effenberg, a former teammate of Klinsmann's, urged that he be fired immediately, saying, "The rest of the world is laughing at us."
Some politicians even wanted Klinsmann censured before a sports subcommittee of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, according to Markovits, the Michigan professor. "That's like Larry Brown being cited before Congress for only bringing home a bronze from the Athens Olympics," Markovits said, referring to the Knicks' coach. "Absurd."
In recent days, the criticism has subsided, with Chancellor Merkel supporting Klinsmann and saying: "We should not destroy our justified joy of anticipation with all this negativity. Do not let yourself be deterred from your path."
Beckenbauer, too, offered encouragement, saying, "There is no question that Germany can win the World Cup." But he also could not resist a dig at Klinsmann as they met in Berlin, telling reporters: "It is fine that Jürgen will now stay in Germany. He has had enough of the sun."
The German team does not have the skill of Brazil or Argentina, and the tactical sophistication of Italy, Klinsmann acknowledged. But he also noted that his team would enjoy a tremendous home-field advantage in the World Cup. "The truth will be on the field," he said.
If Germany wins the World Cup on July 9, Klinsmann will again be a national icon. If things go badly, Markovits said a German journalist recently suggested to him that Klinsmann would become persona non grata in his home country.
"Maybe he could visit his parents, but he would be completely vilified," Markovits said. "I would seriously worry about his safety if the Germans lose in the quarterfinals."
"Hyperbole is the greatest thing ever" Redsland