Dec 25, 2012, 8:00 AM EST
Will there ever be a more unique figure that the man currently in charge of the United States national team?
Klinsmann, the German-born U.S. coach who has lived in California for about 10 years now, was unique before he ever took the position.
Heck, the state of being “unique” seems to follow the guy around; witness the one-of-kind way U.S. Soccer chased him for the position, pursued him like a fawning John Cusack character pursues the girl in all the movies.
Klinsmann isn’t just a unique figure in soccer, he’s just a different cat altogether.
Sometimes, that comes across in his selections and in his quirky roster selections, which is a biggie among various reasons he’s on this list. (Good example: his sometimes-hard-to-understand affection for Jermaine Jones, which Klinsmann patiently explained here.)
Another ornament on this Christmas tree of Klinsi intrigue is that the man sure didn’t take long to become a somewhat polarizing figure. He’s been on the job less than 18 months, but the groaning and grousing has grown gradually.
It’s not that he’s not successful. In the end, Klinsmann’s first full year in charge finished with a 9-2-3 record. That .750 winning percentage matched the best for a U.S. national team in the modern era, same as in 2005 when the team went 13-3-4. Wins at Italy and at Mexico (the country’s top rival) became signature achievements.
The trip through World Cup qualifying’s semifinal round wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, for sure, and even the preternaturally positive Klinsmann admitted as much at times in 2012. But in the end the Americans finished about where they usually do, at the head of the group.
But Klinsmann didn’t win the right way for some people. And that’s what, most of all, makes him such an interesting figure. With Klinsmann, the conversational always seems to start with style rather than results.
He brought some of that on himself, with assurances of playing higher up the field, of more passing out of the back, of trying to get the Americans to impose themselves on teams rather than sitting back in a more responsive pose.
Still, the bottom line is the bottom line, right?
Or is it? After all, the man wasn’t just hired to improve the ratio of Ws and Ls – he was hired to inspire and conjure something more out of all this, to move the whole thing forward.
And that’s why he’s our No. 3 most intriguing person in domestic soccer this year.
Nos. 2 and then No. 1 are coming later today …
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