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Harsh but right, Jurgen Klinsmann sends a message to his stars

Jan 23, 2013, 11:05 AM EDT

US national football team head coach, Ge

You’re going to read a lot about Jurgen Klinsmann’s recent thoughts on Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, thoughts published today. The U.S. Men’s National Team boss touched on a myriad of topics in a lengthy interview with the Wall Street Journal, but two missives are going to be picked out, dissected, and used as fuel by national team fans trying to get inside the mind of their team’s head coach.

The most talked-about passage will be Klinsmann’s thoughts on Dempsey, a blunt assessment juxtaposing the attacker’s accomplishments against the U.S.’s aspirations:

My whole talk to Clint Dempsey for 18 months was [about how] he hasn’t made s—. You play for Fulham? Yeah, so? Show me you play for a Champions League team, and then you start on a Champions League team and that you may end up winning the Champions League. There is always another level. If you one day reach the highest level then you’ve got to confirm it, every year. Xavi, Iniesta, Messi. Confirm it to me. Show me that every year you deserve to play for Real Madrid, for Bayern Munich, for Manchester United. Show it to me.

I’m not comfortable completely dismissing Dempsey’s accomplishments as a Cottager, but as we’ve seen during Dempsey’s initial struggles (and recent, relative successes) at White Hart Lane, Tottenham is a different world. And that big move is only a few steps up the English table.

MORE: Better weekend? Dempsey? Or Altidore?

If the U.S. wants to meet Klinsmann’s goals, it’s worth noting that the Spains and Germanys of the world have rosters almost entirely full of players playing at the very top level. Places like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are not only more prestigious, they’re far a more competitive environments than Spurs’. While Klinsmann’s views may be excessively dismissive of somebody who has worked his way up from Furman University, the remarks are still a good reminder: There’s much more left to accomplish.

“Just because you won a game in the World Cup in the knockout stage, you haven’t won anything,” Klinsmann said, views on the States’ World Cup 2002 run that could easily be applied to 1994 and 2010. In each of those years, the U.S. advanced to the second round, but by the time they were shown out of the tournament, they’d still failed to win more games than they’d lost. Winning a second game at the World Cup has been a problem.

It’s a glass half-empty view, one that makes you wonder Why now? Why has Klinsmann picked now — as opposed to a year ago (or months into the future) — to send this message? He seems to want his players humbled before their trip to Honduras. Ahead of a tough trip to open qualifying, he doesn’t want any of his players thinking they’ve accomplished anything, yet.

One person that won’t be joining them in Honduras is Landon Donovan. The LA Galaxy star is still evaluating when to resume his career, but as Klinsmann tells it, that state left to an early decision Donovan would not take part in January camp or the U.S.’s first final round qualifier:

He made certain decisions throughout the last couple of years that are his decisions. I watch that. I evaluate that. I could have evaluated him a few times when he was with us, not that many times, but a few times. I will make the call at the end of the day if he fits into my plans or not. I told him in December he’s not part of the January camp, and I told him in December he’s not part of the Honduras game.

Klinsmann’s not closing any doors, and everything points to the coach wanting Donovan back. But he also doesn’t want to perpetuate an atmosphere defined by Donovan. For somebody for whom attitude and focus are paramount concerns, Donovan’s sojourn has to be confusing. At the same time, if you’re Jurgen Klinsmann, you see that, you make a decision, and (ultimately) you move on. You have no choice but to move on.

MORE: Donovan IS returning in 2013, just not yet

Contrast that with Bruce Arena’s attitude. It really illuminates the difference between the two coaches. While Klinsmann has elected to control what he can, momentarily crossing Donovan off the list for the sake of moving forward, Arena has let the game develop in front of him. He’s reacting to the world he’s given, and he will make the best of whatever he’s presented.

It’s the juxtaposition of an idealist and a pragmatist. Klinsmann’s been brought in to enact a vision. At this point, pragmatism leads to the type of short-term decisions that undermine that goal. Arena, be it now or in his time with the national team, has always reacted to his parts. He’s had favorites and preferences, but nothing was predetermined.

As today’s interviews show, Klinsmann’s predefined concepts demand much more of his players. The Clint Dempseys of the world still have work to do. And the team will not wait for its Landon Donovans.

MORE: Klinsmann talks Zusi, Bruin

More from the interview:

  • On the schedule: “In order to catch up with the rest of the world you need to have an 11-month calendar …”
  • On the region: “… when you go through CONCACAF … I see that as a huge learning opportunity. Inhale it, whatever the opportunity gives to you … If the conditions are bad, it’s the conditions for both teams. As a really good player you always find ways to solve it.”
  • On development: “… it would be great if our 18- or 19- or 20-year-olds would have an environment where they get pushed every day …”
  • On attitude: “There is a difference between arrogance and confidence.”
  • On style: “I can’t come with my German approach and say this is how I want to do it in the U.S., because in the U.S., it would fail.”
  • On what’s missing in U.S. soccer: “This is the problem we have because we are not socially so connected so deeply to soccer in the daily life.”
  • On the down points: “The inconsistency.”

Definitely go read more, both the long form interview and the accompanying piece.

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