It was meant to be the appointment to herald a new dawn for American soccer, but the sun only flirted with emergence and earlier this month Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge of the U.S. Men’s national team came to a lamentable end.
The German coach was charged with fulfilling the desire naturally latent within everything American: to be the best. He was supposed to lead a new generation of players, revolutionise the youth system and lead U.S. Soccer to unprecedented heights. Set against the backdrop of naïve ambition to engender a national team that could compete with the best, Klinsmann will inevitably be viewed as a failure.
He led the U.S.M.N.T to the knock-outs of the World Cup in 2014 and the semi-finals of the 2016 Copa America, whilst overseeing impressive friendly victories against Italy and the Netherlands. He has brought through exciting youngsters, such as Christian Pulisic of Borussia Dortmund and attempted, at least, to introduce a new way of playing.
However, his legacy in U.S. football will be forever tainted by this failed project, despite doing considerable good for a country trying to establish itself on the international scene.
U.S. Soccer, the equivalent of the F.A., had this to say on Klinsmann: “He challenged everyone in the US Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organisation and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come”.
Implicit within this managerial obituary is Klinsmann’s true legacy. Although he achieved little immediate progress, his work behind the scenes in urging U.S. Soccer to adopt different approaches to the game will benefit future generations.
He demanded an American identity, but establishing a unique and ubiquitous style of play is something that even the best managers fail to do. Perhaps his emphasis on possession-based football will be evident in a decade or so, when players fostered in the American youth teams under this mantra of possession enter the adult game, but for now, the national team appear disorientated and confused.
Ultimately he failed to deliver instant impact in a culture that demands everything now. He promised much, and delivered little.
In fitting with American soccer’s need for the now, let’s turn our attention to the man succeeding Klinsmann. Bruce Arena will take charge of the national team, though it has not be stated whether he is a temporary or permanent choice. Having managed the national side before, leading them to a semi-final in the 2002 World Cup, Arena is a safe choice; an appointment that illustrates U.S. Soccer’s desperation to reach Russia in 2018.
Arena is pragmatic and will deliver results, results being what the Americans need most. The return to the past presents a certain symbolism, too: evoking an image of a failed new order returning to the old ways with its tail behind its legs.
A FAILED NEW ORDER returning to the old ways with its tail behind its legs
But, Arena’s appointment, whilst the obvious choice, has sparked questions surrounding the future of the national team. There are fears over the progression of soccer, in terms of quality and popularity and concerns over the ambition of U.S. Soccer in reaching an elite level status.
With MLS steadily growing an audience and beginning to earn the respect of the footballing world, America has an opportunity to turn promise into reality. Klinsmann has laid a foundation, an intangible, one in terms of the senior team, but a ground from which to build upon nonetheless.
It is U.S. Soccer’s responsibility to ensure the five years under Klinsmann were not a complete waste; they must appoint a progressive and enthusiastic coach ready to embrace this enormous task.
The future of the U.S.M.N.T. depends on savvy recruitment and sage council. There will be a temptation to rip up the blue-print designed by Klinsmann, but this urge has to be ignored. Fundamentally, Klinsmann was beneficial for the national side. His desires to cultivate an identity should be applauded, but also developed – countries win tournaments by implementing a dedicated philosophy.
Portugal won this year’s EUROs through hard-work and organisation. Germany’s World Cup success stemmed from a footballing identity pervasive within German culture. Spain’s dominance pre-2014 was the product of an omnipresent demand for possession and high intensity.
If U.S. Soccer is to begin to think about competing with the best in international football they most model themselves on consistency and ideology; they must engender a style instantly recognised by the world, and more importantly, by their own players.
It started with Klinsmann, and it must continue.