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. Paderborn keeps scoring ridiculous goals, keeps winning

    Oct 21, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT

    Paderborn Getty Images

    Paderborn hasn’t stopped winning or scoring insane goals, if you haven’t noticed.

  2. VIDEO: Men In Blazer – Balotelli, own goals, and Mark Consuelos

    Oct 20, 2014, 11:29 PM EDT

    Men In Blazers

    Actor Mark Consuelos made his way to the Crap Part of Soho while the Men In Blazers tried to keep the ball out of their own net.

  3. Champions League Tuesday preview: City in Russia, Roma hosts Bayern

    Oct 20, 2014, 10:47 PM EDT

    Bayern AP

    Bayern Munich have a very difficult match on the road in Italy, while other matchups in Spain, Russia, and Germany will all prove enjoyable.

  4. USWNT 6-0 Haiti: Wambach braces US in 90 minute demolition of Haiti

    Oct 20, 2014, 9:28 PM EDT

    Lloyd AP

    Meghan Klingenberg bagged a laser beam for her first US goal and Abby Wambach grabbed two as the Americans will move on to the semifinals.

  5. Manchester Police arrest man for flying drone over City vs Spurs match

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:42 PM EDT

    Photo credit: Greater Manchester Police Photo credit: Greater Manchester Police

    Manchester Police confirmed a man was arrested after flying a drone over the match that entertained 45,000 people.

  6. Americans Abroad: Johannsson, Cameron, Boyd all return

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Cameron AP

    Aron Johannsson bagged a penalty in his return from groin surgery, while Juan Agudelo continues to search for a new club.

  7. Adel Taarabt jabs back after Redknapp’s scathing comments

    Oct 20, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT

    Taarabt Getty Images

    Adel Taarabt says the harsh words from manager Harry Redknapp are not only untrue but damaging as a professional.

  8. New York Cosmos reportedly sign Spanish legend Raul, will play and coach

    Oct 20, 2014, 6:16 PM EDT

    Raul Getty Images

    The New York Cosmos completed a massive signing, beating out a few of his former clubs to nab the Spanish legend as a player and coach.

  9. Report: It will be Colombia – not Croatia – for USMNT in November

    Oct 20, 2014, 5:36 PM EDT

    Jurgen Klinsmann

    Despite a solid confirmation from Croatia, the friendly will reportedly not be happening.

  10. WATCH: West Brom 2-2 Manchester United: Blind earns draw for Red Devils on road

    Oct 20, 2014, 4:56 PM EDT

    WestBromUnited Getty Images

    Manchester United came from behind twice but still must settle for a disappointing result away from home.

  11. Teen Lazio striker totals his Lamborghini in Rome

    Oct 20, 2014, 4:35 PM EDT

    Lambo

    19-year-old Lazio striker Keita Balde Diao somehow walked away from what looks to be a major accident. His Lamborghini, however, didn’t.

  12. UEFA fines Wales and Galatasary, spare Arsenal

    Oct 20, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT

    Arsenal FC v Galatasaray AS - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    Unruly fans will cost Wales and Galatasary as UEFA continues to crack down on off-the-pitch incidents.

  13. 2014 Homeless World Cup kicks off in Chile

    Oct 20, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT

    FBL-CHILE-HOMELESS WORLD CUP Getty Images

    The yearly tournament organizes five-a-side matches for people that are homeless or living in extreme poverty.

  14. Transfer talk: Multiple PL clubs interested in Andre Ayew

    Oct 20, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-GUINGAMP-MARSEILLE Getty Images

    Liverpool, Everton and Swansea City are just a few of the Premier League clubs reportedly looking to sign the Marseille winger.

  15. Lukas Podolski: ‘Hell will freeze over’ before playing for Spurs

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:37 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-FACUP-ARSENAL-HULL Getty Images

    With transfer rumors swirling, the Arsenal forward made it clear that he is #AlwaysAGunner.

  16. South Africa rules out hosting Africa Cup of Nations

    Oct 20, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT

    FBL-AFR2015-SUD-RSA Getty Images

    Amidst the Ebola outbreak, South Africa has ruled out hosting the continent’s premier tournament should Morocco back out.

  17. Indian player dies after goal celebration

    Oct 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    Sad news out of India as a young player died after injuring his spinal cord during a celebration.

  18. CSKA Moscow striker says Manchester City are ‘very weak’

    Oct 20, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C1-CSKA-BAYERN Getty Images

    Ahmed Musa stirred the pot ahead of his club’s Champions League clash this week, calling out City’s form.

  19. Premier League Preview: West Brom vs. Manchester United

    Oct 20, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-WEST BROM Getty Images

    Watch the Baggies take on Manchester United today, live at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

  20. Petr Cech is giving Thibaut Courtois safety tips

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:40 AM EDT

    Chelsea v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    The Chelsea backup is teaching his replacement how to stay safe from head injuries, which have affected both keepers.

Featured video

Week 8: Saturday PL recap