Ghana test to check Jurgen Klinsmann’s outsourced model for US football
The Jurgen Klinsmann Experiment arrives at the coastal city of Natal on Monday, where his United States side meet Ghana with, perhaps, the future of American football on the line .
In a group that includes Germany and Portugal, this always has looked like a match the US must win to entertain hopes of reaching the last 16, the threshold of a successful World Cup for most of global football.
Ghana are no pushovers, as the US know from experience.
A 2-1 victory by the Africans in the final group match at Germany 2006 sent the US home. Four years later, Asamoah Gyan’s goal in extra time meant it was Ghana and not the US advancing to the quarter-finals in South Africa.
In his previous turn as a World Cup coach, Klinsmann took Germany to the semi-finals in 2006. But he has been lowering expectations in the US, ahead of this tournament, saying the Americans have no chance of winning the World Cup.
That could be said of another 20 sides in Brazil, but their coaches tend not to verbalise it.
Klinsmann is a divisive figure in US football.
Sunil Gulati, the US Soccer Federation president, recruited the former German international to revolutionise the American game, handing him a contract through the 2018 World Cup.
Klinsmann’s ideas of building up the American game seem to demand he first destroy it.
Rare is the foreign coach who takes over a national side, especially one routinely ranked in the world top 20, and make clear that everything that country has done on the pitch is wrong.
Klinsmann’s omnipresent smile does not hide his contempt for US football’s quirky development. He has no respect for Major League Soccer.
He believes college soccer, a bridge to professionalism in the US, is an abomination that unforgivably delays the transfer to daily training with a club side.
He has little use for the players he found in the national team in 2011. He went to Brazil without Landon Donovan – the face of US football since 2002, the country’s top scorer and owner of five World Cup goals – in part because Donovan is the epitome of the suburban US footballer Klinsmann seems to loath.
He also has been critical of Clint Dempsey, the other pillar of the US attack, and has made clear he believes Michael Bradley’s move from Roma to the Toronto MLS club is a mistake.
In Klinsmann’s world, every useful player must play in Europe, preferably Germany, and he has taken controversial steps to acquire those players.
The side include five German-Americans, who were raised in Germany, nurtured by Bundesliga sides and are each veterans of some level of the German national team.
For good measure, he has an Icelandic-American and Norwegian-American, bringing to seven the players at this World Cup who were not eligible to play for the US at the last World Cup and who, at that point, had not expressed a desire to.
Some American fans and pundits wonder why their ‘soccer’ model needs blowing up.
In a country where football is, at best, the fourth-most-popular team sport, the US had World Cup last-16 performances in 1994 and 2010, and a quarter-final run in 2002.
Bruce Arena, Donovan’s coach at LA Galaxy and the man who led the US to the last eight in 2002, wonders why the future of US football has been outsourced.
‘I believe an American should be coaching the national team,’ Arena told the New York Times.
‘I think the majority of the national team should come out of Major League Soccer. The people that run our governing body think we need to copy what everyone else does when, in reality, our solutions will ultimately come from our culture.
‘Come on, we can’t copy what Brazil does or Germany does or England does. When we get it right, it’s going to be because the solutions are right here.’
Klinsmann believes otherwise and he also seems to think he is bulletproof, perhaps because of the multiyear contract, at US$2.5 million (Dh9.2m), a big enough deal that US Soccer would blanche at eating it.
If Klinsmann and his German-Americans have a poor tournament, beginning with defeat at the hands of Ghana today, the US football family may be emboldened to push for his removal and perhaps Gulati’s, too. A victory probably ensures Klinsmann survives and the Yanks continue to ape European football.
Germany Lite? Or a return to the college-to-MLS model? The shape of the US game hangs in the balance.
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