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. Injured Oscar out of Brazil squad for upcoming Copa America

    May 5, 2015, 12:22 PM EDT

    Oscar Getty Images

    Oscar hasn’t appeared since his collision with David Ospina, but Dunga says the midfielder’s injury is training related.

  2. Will Chelsea offer Didier Drogba a new contract? Should they?

    May 5, 2015, 11:11 AM EDT

    Drogba Getty Images

    Didier Drogba is 37 years old, but still represents the best option for his role that Chelsea can buy.

  3. US Soccer adds Guatemala to summer friendly list days before Gold Cup

    May 5, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Guatemala AP

    Just four days before opening the Gold Cup, the US will host a familiar CONCACAF opponent.

  4. Report: Newcastle in for Aleksandar Mitrovic, agree to $22 million fee

    May 5, 2015, 9:54 AM EDT

    Mitrovic Getty Images

    Newcastle appears to have lofty goals, but the prospects of bringing a Champions League striker to St. James Park while trying to stave off relegation appear grim.

  5. American defender Will Packwood released by Birmingham City, while Spector’s extended

    May 5, 2015, 8:38 AM EDT

    Packwood Getty Images

    The 21-year-old Packwood saw his playing time significantly diminished this season, and finished the year on loan in League Two. Meanwhile, his experienced teammate Jonathan Spector is staying on.

  6. Reports: Chelsea gearing up contract extension talks with Mourinho

    May 5, 2015, 7:57 AM EDT

    Mourinho Getty Images

    With Jose Mourinho “here to stay” Chelsea has looked to make that sentiment official.

  7. VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Round 35

    May 4, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT

    Christian Benteke, Aston Villa FC Christian Benteke, Aston Villa FC

    Christian Benteke’s two goals against not only pushed Aston Villa closer to Premier League safety, but earned the Belgian POTW honors.

  8. VIDEO: Premier League Team of the Week — Stars of Matchweek 35

    May 4, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT

    Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC

    This week’s standout performers are recognized as the 2014-15 Premier League season winds down.

  9. UEFA Champions League preview: Juventus vs. Real Madrid in semifinal, 1st leg

    May 4, 2015, 8:54 PM EDT

    James Rodriguez & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF James Rodriguez & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF

    The first semifinal kicks off on Tuesday, as Juventus host Real Madrid, with Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema out injured.

  10. VIDEO: Wenger rues early-season injuries that prevented Arsenal’s title challenge

    May 4, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT

    Alexis Sanchez & Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC Alexis Sanchez & Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC

    If not for an incredibly slow start to the season, Arsenal might be neck and neck with Chelsea for the Premier League title.

  11. Premier League Playback: Title in the bag, can Chelsea now create a dynasty?

    May 4, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes a look back at Week 35 of the PL.

  12. Hull City 1-3 Arsenal: Gunners dominant in first half, cruise past Tigers

    May 4, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT

    Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC

    Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey provided all the scoring Arsenal needed in a dominant first half, making it a comfortable victory in the end.

  13. MLS Player of the Week — Week 9: FC Dallas’ Fabian Castillo

    May 4, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT

    Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas — Photo credit: FC Dallas Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas — Photo credit: FC Dallas

    Our first repeat winner as MLS Player of the Week, Fabian Castillo is in scary-good form right now.

  14. MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 9

    May 4, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Obafemi Martins, Seattle Sounders Obafemi Martins, Seattle Sounders

    The stars of Week 9 are recognized as MLS’s standout performers. Giovinco, Oba and the Dallas duo highlight this star-studded cast.

  15. How did Chelsea’s players grade out in their run to the title?

    May 4, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Twenty-two players have hit the pitch for Chelsea so far this season. Let’s grade them out in order of Premier League import.

  16. Juventus director: “Right now there are no grounds to put Pogba on sale”

    May 4, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT

    Juventus FC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Getty Images

    But what does that mean? If you’re reading it like we are, Marotta has not ruled out accepting a mega-millions offer for Pogba.

  17. Watch Live: Hull City vs. Arsenal (Lineups and Live Stream)

    May 4, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer FA Cup AP

    Laurent Koscielny makes his 200th appearance for Arsenal, which seeks to move into second place in the Premier League standings.

  18. Five things to look out for in UEFA Champions League semifinals

    May 4, 2015, 12:55 PM EDT

    FC Bayern Muenchen - Training Session Getty Images

    Inside: some keys to the fortunes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus as the first legs begin this week.

  19. Premier League Preview: Hull City vs. Arsenal

    May 4, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT

    Hull City v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    Arsenal still holds the inside track in the race for second place in the Premier League.

  20. Four Old Traffords? LVG-mandated, OT-mirroring pitches now ready for Manchester United

    May 4, 2015, 11:11 AM EDT

    manutd.com manutd.com

    Now, when United prepares for a home match, it can prepare for everything but the crowd.

Featured video

Week 35: Premier League recap