Klinsmann was thisclose to U.S. job
How close did
• that he had agreed on financial terms with U.S. Soccer. "Yeah," Klinsmann said. "That was the first thing we got off the table."
• that negotiations between him and U.S. Soccer lasted three to four weeks.
• that an agreement in principle was reached. "Verbally, it was done," Klinsmann said. "But then the paperwork started, and we couldn't get it done in the paperwork process."
• that the full control of the technical side that he wanted in writing from U.S. Soccer -- and which caused negotiations to break down -- was something he had received from the German federation when he coached the three-time World Cup champions from 2004 to '06, reaching the semifinals of World Cup '06.
So, yeah, Klinsmann came close to taking the U.S. job.
Yet no matter how many times I asked Klinsmann -- and I did so at least four different ways -- he refused to disclose the specific nature of the "control issues" that scuttled his negotiations with U.S. Soccer. What exactly would U.S. Soccer not agree to put into writing that he wanted?
"That goes too much into specifics," Klinsmann said. "I don't want to go that far. We couldn't get the deal done because of a couple of issues, and the main issue was we couldn't get it into a written format. And that's it."
Klinsmann's lack of complete candor is unfortunate, not least because U.S. Soccer president
And let's be clear: Whether in Klinsmann's first public comments on the U.S. job (on Sunday to Kansas City TV analyst
What was different about this negotiation than the one Klinsmann had with U.S. Soccer in 2006 (which also was unconsummated over "control issues")? What was the structure he wanted to implement in U.S. Soccer? Was it for youth development in addition to the senior team? Even if U.S. Soccer refused to give him those powers in writing, why did Klinsmann not think he would get them eventually in the course of the job? And how much did he really want the job if he had so many conditions?
"No, I would prefer to leave it," Klinsmann finally said after I kept pushing. "I know it's the most important topic for you. For me it's sad. It went that way, and the thing is done. So I really don't want to go any further [on those details]."
In the end, there appears to have been a lack of trust between Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer, specifically with Gulati and general secretary
Clearly, Klinsmann wanted powers that went beyond just coaching the U.S. senior team on the field.
"More and more coaches, if they have the position, try to be GM and coach in one person," Klinsmann said. "
This is purely speculation on my part, but if Klinsmann wanted the final say, in writing, over choosing the U.S.' opponents and venues for games, that would have put him in direct conflict with Flynn, who's in charge of the federation's business side as the de facto CEO, and who relies on friendlies as a significant revenue source.
(Flynn, a former executive with Anheuser-Busch, is U.S. Soccer's highest-paid official, having earned $646,066 in the most recent federation tax statement made available for public review, covering the dates between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009. Flynn earned more than U.S. coach
It's also possible that U.S. Soccer felt giving Klinsmann the final say in writing over some decisions in Flynn's purview -- including the selection of U.S. opponents and venues -- would be impossible given the language in the federation's current contracts, which include big-money deals with Nike and ESPN.
All that said, the current U.S. coach, Bradley, has significant input (along with Gulati and Flynn) over the scheduling of friendlies, which makes me wonder why Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer couldn't have found a way to make things work.
"It's always down to people," Klinsmann said. "It doesn't matter if the person you talk to is coming from a purely administrative side or if he comes from purely a business background like on an English Premier League team that has a structure like a corporation, basically. It is really down to individual people that you meet, and you talk through the process. It matches or it doesn't. You always negotiate things, and you always try to have all the tools available for yourself. You say I need these tools to get the job done, [because] I have to put out my head if things go wrong. [But] then at least I did it the way I thought was the right one."
And so the U.S. is left, again, with a giant
What if Klinsmann had gotten the job that Gulati and U.S. Soccer have now pursued him for twice? How would his U.S. teams have played?
"You can't really talk about what could have been because it's a working process," Klinsmann said. "Obviously, I'm a deep believer in an attacking style of soccer, there's no doubt about it. I admire a
"But every environment, whatever team you take over, you have to get people on board in believing what hopefully is the right direction. Whatever you do has to fit the people that you work with, and especially the players that you work with. So it is a process that can take years. I started that process with Bayern Munich, but I wasn't given the opportunity to finish it because the board wanted to go in a different direction. And that's O.K. Then it's better that you part ways.
"So you can't discuss today what would be. ... It is something that you discuss in detail with the people that are involved, and maybe along the way, as it happened with the German team, you have to make some changes, you know? Soccer is no different than the normal business world that you live in: You constantly have to adapt to new situations, to look for new things out there, if it's in sports science, psychology or scouting software. You can only hope that you share the same philosophy with the people around you, and then you go and move forward. The key issue is if you're the responsible person for that, and the head coach is the guy who puts out his head in case things go wrong, then you have to have the ultimate say in whoever follows you in that path."
Ultimately, reasonable people can disagree over whether Klinsmann was the right man for the U.S. job, or whether he has demonstrated enough in his short coaching career to issue the kind of demands he was making on U.S. Soccer. But the fact remains that the federation wanted to hire Klinsmann and went down the negotiation road with him for the second time in four years -- and couldn't reach an agreement. Where does that leave the principals? Let's break it down:
In the end, Bradley is the U.S. coach, even if it may be a marriage of convenience. But you can be certain there will be pressure on Bradley to lead the U.S. to the Gold Cup title in 2011. Whether the onus to win conflicts with the development of new U.S. national team players -- that back line isn't getting any younger -- may well determine the success or failure of Bradley's second term.
After Klinsmann expressed his respect for Gulati and U.S. Soccer "and especially for Bob," I asked him if this was the last time he would have negotiations for the U.S. job.
"In soccer, the doors always remain open," Klinsmann said. "You never know what happens tomorrow."