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. Three former players at center of Austrian match-fixing investigation

    Apr 18, 2014, 11:08 PM EDT

    Kuljic Reuters

    A trio of players have been charged in a match-fixing ring involving 17 first-division matches in the Austrian Bundesliga since 2004.

  2. Americans Abroad Preview: Howard looks for bounceback vs Manchester United

    Apr 18, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT

    Howard Getty Images

    Everton takes on Manchester United this weekend as the American shot-stopper hopes to save their Champions League dreams.

  3. Felix Magath’s blueprint to save Fulham revolves around the fans

    Apr 18, 2014, 9:09 PM EDT

    Magath Getty Images

    The German manager says when he was brought in the players were afraid of his reputation, but that fear has long since dissipated.

  4. Premier League Preview: Cardiff City vs. Stoke City

    Apr 18, 2014, 7:38 PM EDT

    Hughes Getty Images

    Stoke City are on a tear, but they have yet to truly figure things out away from the Britannia. Can Cardiff City capitalize on the Potters’ shaky away form for a second straight surprising result?

  5. Report: 10-year-old daughter of former FIFA official received over $3 million

    Apr 18, 2014, 6:53 PM EDT

    Teixeira Getty Images

    Whether this new corruption allegation implicates Ricardo Teixeira with regards to the Qatar World Cup bid or his ties to Barcelona, it’s more bad news for the former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation.

  6. US Soccer names roster for U-21 Olympic prep camp

    Apr 18, 2014, 6:09 PM EDT

    Ramos AP

    With the World Cup still over two years away, Tab Ramos is beginning preparation with North American-based players.

  7. Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs Sunderland

    Apr 18, 2014, 5:24 PM EDT

    Mourinho

    Jose Mourinho has guided Chelsea to an astonishing nine straight clean sheets at Stamford Bridge. Can the bottom-dwelling Black Cats pull off an unforseeable upset?

  8. Yaya Toure believes his African heritage hurts his world perception

    Apr 18, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT

    Toure AP

    Following in the footsteps of Samir Nasri’s comments last month, Manchester City’s Ivorian believes being from Africa is preventing him from reaching the game’s individual pinnacles.

  9. Homegrown star Shipp hoping to guide Chicago to first win of 2014

    Apr 18, 2014, 4:23 PM EDT

    Source: USA Today Source: USA Today

    With Chicago the draw specialists early on, can they beat New England on Saturday? Watch live on NBCSN, 4 p.m. ET:

  10. Valencia police issue Bale a “speeding ticket” for Copa Del Rey final goal

    Apr 18, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT

    Bale AP

    With the game played in Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium, the local law enforcement decided to have some fun…at Marc Bartra’s expense.

  11. WATCH: Premier League TV schedule – Week 35

    Apr 18, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT

    nbcsports_new

    Where and how to watch all the PL games during Week 35:

  12. Jurgen Klinsmann on Jozy Altidore’s situation, USMNT squad and more

    Apr 18, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT

    Italy US Soccer AP

    U.S. national team head coach speaks out on Altidore, USMNT squad, American Outlaws and more:

  13. Premier League Preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham

    Apr 18, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    Spurs and Fulham set for derby scrap, with both team desperate for three points:

  14. Wayne Rooney hands Manchester United boost, will return vs. old club Everton

    Apr 18, 2014, 10:27 AM EDT

    Two goals from Wayne Rooney in the first half helped United to a 4-1 win over Aston Villa. AP

    Rooney and Fellaini fit to face their old team, as United aim to scupper Everton’s top four:

  15. MLS Insider: Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman – Pair of Aces

    Apr 18, 2014, 7:51 AM EDT

    Art by J McQuade Art by J McQuade

    Beckerman and Bradley; the perfect midfield combination for the USMNT?

  16. Week 7 Preview: Fire look for first win vs. Revs; Dallas gets its crack at Toronto

    Apr 17, 2014, 11:33 PM EDT

    jhon_kennedy_hurtado_felipe AP

    MLS’s nine-match Saturday kicks off Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET, with Chicago hosting New England on NBCSN.

Featured video

PST Extra: Race for the PL title