Skip to content

Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – Being OK with being wrong

Dec 11, 2012, 11:30 AM EDT

FBL-RUS-USA

I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast recently with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.

Over the next week or so, we will extract one element each day of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.

Today’s topic: Being OK with being wrong

Jurgen Klinmann recalled one particularly tough, recent conversation with a U.S. player. The test results, performed at regular intervals, weren’t what they needed to be for this individual.

Klinsmann feared the guy just wasn’t “getting it,” was not embracing the collective push for individual enrichment. The U.S. coach feared his pupil had reached a plateau, more or less satisfied about his place in the profession, lesser willing to push through the sticking points and lean into the extra work attached to a perennial drive for improvement.

So he had one those conversations, a man-to-man talk that only a type like Klinsmann can have, where harsh words don’t sound so harsh, where it all remains rather positive. Said he U.S. national team boss:  “He told me ‘I will prove you wrong, coach’ I told him, ‘I want you to prove me wrong!’

If Klinsmann can make the breakthrough the U.S. national team needs, to get past its own sticking point, that attitude surely will be a bedrock of the betterment.

This is where Klinsmann’s obvious lack of ego pays off.

Klinsmann is nearly peerless in this place where experience, life balance, personal confidence and positive energy all meet to spin a relatively ego-free cocoon around the program. If it all works – and we’ll know by the summer of 2014 – this will be the foremost of less tangible reasons.

Lesser secure managers can get tripped up and distracted, worried about their jobs or their reputations (which leads to worry over their next job.) Then comes the gradual creep of shifting priorities; the safety net of short-term results may begin to overwhelm and displace the larger reach for success. They get obsessed with being “right” and fumble the larger plot.

By all appearances, Klinsmann doesn’t need to be “right” about things, which is why he avoids closing doors (or leaving them open when they shouldn’t be).

“When we have that kind of a conversation, we hope for that kind of reaction,” he said of the unnamed player’s figurative fighting stance. “We hope for this kind of learning curve.”

You may disagree with Klinsmann’s decisions; I certainly have raised a curious brow here and there. But the decisions seem reliably rooted in some sort of long-term strategy, devoid of the internal politics and petty distractions.

Klinsmann may opt not to select this guy or that guy, and we may not always understand why. But Klinsmann’s security, his clear embrace of transparency and his congenial relationships with media tells us this much:

His choices truly are about tweaking the chemistry and the individual talent factor, about the push for long-term improvement rather than about lesser motives, the power struggles or about the desire to “be right” about this player or about that strategic philosophy. Stubbornness and a rigid inflexibility that can rule some managers’ worlds don’t seem to infect his.

source: Getty Images

Look at Brek Shea. The FC Dallas winger was plucked by Klinsmann and loaded into a launching tube of potential stardom. Shea played in Klinsmann’s first 14 games in charge. Then came the important May-June training came, and Klinsmann decided that Shea just wasn’t where he needed to be.

No matter what you think of Klinsmann and his first year and a half in charge, this much is clear: The man is OK with being wrong about something or someone.

“I definitely had coaches that had huge influence on what I am doing today, where specific moments had more of a long-term perspective,” he said.

Klinsmann then spun long stories about managers who had a similar flexibility, like Arsene Wenger and Giovanni Trapattoni. (Although that may have been harder for some of us to see from the outside.)

He told a story about Trapattoni. (“An amazing, amazing personality, and that’s why they still love him there,” Klinsmann said.)  During their shared time at Inter Milan, Trapattoni did not understand Klinsmann’s desire to learn the Italian language and culture, to break down personnel barriers and get to a place where everyone could focus on the game and not waste energy on language-impaired locker room politics.

Later, when they were together again at Bayern Munich, Trapattoni acknowledged his error:  “He told me, ‘Jurgen, remember all those years ago at inter Milan? … I should have approached that differently. Now I understand how important the language is.’ ”

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: explaining Jermaine Jones)

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: Landon Donvan’s career crisis)

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: Jozy Altidore’s recent roster omission)

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: tough friendlies ahead)

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: the relentless drive for individual improvement)

TOMORROW: Carlos Bocanegra’s evolving role

Latest Posts
  1. Better Deal: Sigurdsson and cash or Vorm and Davies?

    Jul 23, 2014, 11:27 PM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur v Everton - Premier League Getty Images

    Surely one of these clubs enjoyed the sweeter side of this deal and here we set out to see who it was.

  2. James Milner denies contract offer from City but will stay and fight for his place

    Jul 23, 2014, 10:40 PM EDT

    Manchester City v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    Despite starting only 12 Premier League matches last year, James Milner has decided to remain at Manchester City and fight for his place.

  3. Watch Live: Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes (Lineups and Discuss)

    Jul 23, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

    Mike Magee

    Catch the San Jose Earthquakes and Chicago Fire live on NBCSN and online via Live Extra tonight at 10:30pm ET.

  4. Liverpool 0-1 AS Roma: Marco Borriello winner gives Italians victory at Fenway

    Jul 23, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT

    Philippe Coutinho AP

    In a relaxed match featuring over forty players, the difference came in the 89th minute as Marco Borriello knocked home a corner.

  5. Croatian club call Manchester City’s racism claim ‘baseless’

    Jul 23, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT

    Manchester City v SL Benfica UEFA Youth League Quarter Final Getty Images

    Rijeka have come forward to say they “clearly and unequivocally reject” City’s allegation of racism.

  6. Houston Dynamo land USMNT legend DaMarcus Beasley

    Jul 23, 2014, 8:21 PM EDT

    DaMarcus Beasley AP

    Beasley signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Dynamo and becomes the club’s third Designated Player.

  7. Watch Live: Liverpool vs. AS Roma (Lineups and Discuss)

    Jul 23, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT

    Steven Gerrard believes Liverpool will prove themselves champions come next season. Getty Images

    Catch Liverpool and AS Roma live on NBCSN and online via Live Extra tonight at 7:00pm ET.

  8. USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem on Arsenal’s roster for Red Bulls match

    Jul 23, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT

    Gideon Zelalem

    Jurgen Klinsmann has long coveted Zelalem and the 17-year old looks to be next in line to don the Stars & Stripes.

  9. Stripping Russia of World Cup 2018? Germany makes the argument

    Jul 23, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT

    germany celebrate AP

    According to Fuchs, Germany and France would be happy to take over if needed.

  10. Tottenham and Swansea City swap Sigurdsson for Vorm and Davies

    Jul 23, 2014, 4:21 PM EDT

    Gylfi-Sigurdsson-Tottenham-vs-Watford_2811248

    Sigurdsson, who scored seven goals during a loan spell with Swansea in 2011/12, returns at the Liberty after two seasons at Spurs.

  11. Diego Costa urged to “not change” his game, but can he deliver for Chelsea?

    Jul 23, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT

    Spain Training Session and Press Conference Getty Images

    Can the Spanish international be a success at Chelsea? You bet.

  12. New York City FC to announce “major signing” on Thursday… Frank Lampard?

    Jul 23, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C3-BENFICA-CHELSEA Getty Images

    Will Lampard be suiting up at Yankee Stadium for NYC FC next season? We find out Thursday…

  13. Teams relocated outside of eastern Ukraine ahead of new season

    Jul 23, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT

    waxtap AP

    The show will go on, but not in eastern Ukraine as fighting between pro-Russian rebels and the military continues.

  14. World Cup winner Joachim Low will stay on as Germany’s manager

    Jul 23, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT

    Coach Joachim Low of Germany sings the National Anthem of Germany before their friendly soccer match against the Netherlands in Amsterdam Reuters

    German boss reveals he will stay on as manager until at least 2016. Can you smell a dynasty?

  15. Barcelona sign French defender Jeremy Mathieu for $27 million

    Jul 23, 2014, 10:18 AM EDT

    Everton's Robles and Valencia's Mathieu fight for the ball during a cornerkick at their Guinness International Champions Cup soccer match in Miami Gardens

    Substance over style: Barca sign towering defender from La Liga rivals Valencia.

  16. Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez linked with move to Inter Milan

    Jul 23, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT

    Manchester United's Javier Hernandez keeps the ball from Newcastle's Cheik Ismael Tiote during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Saturday Dec. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super) AP

    Will the Mexican international be moving on this summer?

  17. “Luis Suarez treated like a murderer” – Former Liverpool teammate Iago Aspas

    Jul 23, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT

    Liverpool v Crystal Palace - Premier League Getty Images

    Aspas to Spanish radio: “They are treating Luis like a murderer and not like a footballer.”

  18. Ashley Cole hits back at critics, takes a swipe at Major League Soccer

    Jul 23, 2014, 8:07 AM EDT

    Juventus v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    Cole: “People were killing me about possibly playing in the USA, saying it’s for the money and easy lifestyle, I choose to play in a more demanding place and team.”