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. Maradona’s quote after Pope’s inter-religious peace match is priceless

    Sep 1, 2014, 11:30 PM EDT

    201409011528557269254 AP

    “Today two powers were brought together, the hand of God and that of the Pope,” Maradona joked. No, really. That’s what he said.

  2. Premier League Team of the Week: Find out who starred on Matchday 3

    Sep 1, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT

    Newcastle United v Crystal Palace - Premier League Getty Images

    From a 18-year-old Jamaican-English midfielder to a 34-year-old veteran goalkeeper, this team takes a ride through all types of players.

  3. Premier League player of the week — Round 3

    Sep 1, 2014, 9:38 PM EDT

    diego_costa Getty Images

    In the end, the player had to come from the nine-goal thriller at Goodison Park.

  4. VIDEO: Breaking down the Deadline Day deals with the NBCSN crew

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:48 PM EDT

    stambouli_730

    Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe bring you plenty of analysis on the summer transfer window’s Deadline Day.

  5. Premier League transfer window grades – Which team did the best business?

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT

    Everton v Chelsea - Premier League Getty Images

    Passing or failing? Take a gander at how each Premier League team fared.

  6. Done Deal: Radamel Falcao completes move to Manchester United

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT

    Falcao AP

    Falcao signs for United, arrives on loan from Monaco with view to a permanent transfer.

  7. Done Deal: Better late than never, Arsenal seals deal with Welbeck

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:09 PM EDT

    Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck went away to London for international break, and won’t return to the club after sealing a move to Arsenal.

  8. Americans Abroad wrap: Guzan stays unbeaten, Lichaj & Bedoya thrive

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:26 PM EDT

    FC Nantes v Montpellier Herault SC - Ligue 1 Getty Images

    Nantes, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa are all surprising early-season teams, and Americans are playing big roles in each club’s success.

  9. Done Deal: Listing all the Deadline Day deals from the Premier League

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:13 PM EDT

    Ajax Amsterdam v PEC Zwolle - Johan Cruijff Shield Getty Images

    The biggest confirmed transfers on Deadline Day including Premier League teams.

  10. WATCH: Bart Simpson joins FC Zenit on deadline day; Greeted by AVB

    Sep 1, 2014, 6:40 PM EDT

    BwcxsXUCAAEscIQ

    If Andre Villas-Boas thought Emmanuel Adebayor was hard to handle, wait til he gets a load of this American character.

  11. Alvaro Negredo signs for Valencia on loan, $40 million deal in place

    Sep 1, 2014, 6:23 PM EDT

    Negredo Getty Images

    Negredo leaves City, heads back to Spain to play for Valencia.

  12. Hull City sign Gaston Ramirez on loan, agree deal for Ben Arfa

    Sep 1, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT

    Austria v Uruguay - International Friendly Match Getty Images

    Hull busy on Deadline Day as Ramirez joins on loan, plus Ben Arfa.

  13. WATCH: Own goal for ages, Zlatan hat trick key PSG win over St Etienne

    Sep 1, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT

    Paris Saint-Germain FC v AS Saint-Etienne - Ligue 1 Getty Images

    In the words of NHL commentator Rick Jeanneret, roll the highlight reel for Ibra, Cavani and PSG, and the lowlight reel for one poor keeper.

  14. Reports: Arsenal to fork over $26 mil for Manchester United’s Welbeck

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer England AP

    Not a huge risk for Arsenal, but certainly a good bit of business for United. Could Welbeck become the next Daniel Sturridge?

  15. Deadline Day Transfer Rumor Roundup: 11th hour edition

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:18 PM EDT

    1409570021796_wps_117_BURNLEY_ENGLAND_AUGUST_30 Getty Images

    Jermain Defoe, Danny Welbeck and Hatem Ben Arfa all make one last run through the rumor mill as the deadline draws near.

  16. Done Deal: Daley Blind is officially a member of Manchester United

    Sep 1, 2014, 3:49 PM EDT

    _77314123_bwejvymimaacber

    The Dutch international rejoins his World Cup boss for four seasons at “the biggest club in the world.”

Featured video

Official: Welbeck signs for Arsenal