Bayern's Julian Green stays even keel, patient with international choice
There are not many industries that heap as much expectation on the shoulders of youth as professional sports, where hopes, dreams and millions of dollars are entrusted in the physical and mental abilities of often very young men or women. And the pressure on 18-year-old Julian Green, who made his UEFA Champions League debut for Bayern Munich against CSKA Moscow last November, is perhaps greater than most.
As the majority of U.S. soccer fans know by now, Julian, the Tampa-born son of an American serviceman father and a German mother, moved to Germany with his mother and older brother when he was 2. Eligible to play for either Germany or the USA, he is being courted by both Jurgen Klinsmann and his German counterparts.
"Julian Green is a tremendous talent ... we believe we could help him grow into a special player," Klinsmann is on record as saying of the youngster, who has scored 15 goals in 18 games for Bayern's reserve team this season.
Green, who has represented Germany in an official competition at the U-19 level (he has also participated in one U.S. U-18 camp) and would need to file for a one-time FIFA international switch in order to play for the USA, shows no sign that he is feeling the pressure. In fact he sounds much like any other young soccer player, excited to be taking his first steps in the big time.
"The match against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League was an unbelievable experience," Green said of his senior team debut. "Now I want to keep improving, to try to impress the coach and show him that I can do it on a regular basis."
He speaks English with a distinct German accent, occasionally pausing to search for the right word. It is an obvious reminder that despite his birthplace under the Florida sun, this is in many ways a thoroughly German teenager.
"No, not really," he says, when asked if he was conscious of his American roots as a child. "I moved to Germany when I was 2, and I grew up like a German kid. The other kids knew I was American and German, but my German was always better than my English!"
There are a few moments when the American teenager in Green shines through. "I like the NHL and the NBA. I like Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Buccaneers too, but they are not so good at the moment," he laughs.
Green lists Lionel Messi ("the best player in the world") as one of his sporting heroes, but his list is more eclectic and sophisticated than one might expect from someone of such a young age. Interestingly, he includes tennis star Rafael Nadal ("he's strong and never wants to lose, and that's important in soccer too. I can learn a lot from him"), and he mentions former Bayern strikers Giovane Elber and Roy Makaay.
With the opportunities he currently faces for both club and country, the young Green has some major decisions to confront, though he maintains a focused sense of calm about what may lie ahead.
"It's an honor, I feel flattered," he says, about being wooed by the USA. "It's great to know that someone like Jurgen Klinsmann believes in me."
The USA has another important ally in The Battle for Julian Green: His father Jerry, who has said that he would love his son to represent the country of his birth.
"When I have time and there is no training I go to the USA," says Julian. "I go about once a year. And I talk to my Dad every day. We talk a lot about football. But he always says it's my decision who I play for."
So where will loyalties lie in the Green household on June 26, when Germany and the USA meet in the group stage of the World Cup in Brazil? Green offers a rather politically correct answer, not showing a preference for one country over the other.
"My dad and I will be hoping that both countries go through. It's a tough group for the USA, with Portugal and Ghana in there too," he acknowledges.
While Green is a unique player, his background is becoming less uncommon among the U.S. set-up. There are a number of German--American players in the U.S. national squad, such as Terrence Boyd, Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams and Timmy Chandler, though Green says he has not had much to do with them in his progression as a player.
"I don't really have much contact with them. But I talk to (Bayern players) Jerome Boateng and Shaqiri and Thiago, who all have dual citizenship," Green said. "They had to make the same decision as me, so we talk to each other about the subject."
It is clear that in a more globalized world, where the movement of people means national borders and identities become blurred, the question of race and nationality in football is becoming harder to define.
"It's a very complicated subject," he says, after a long pause for thought. "If your mum is from Germany and your dad is from America, you feel part of both countries."
As for Green's rapid rise with Bayern -- the treble-winning side that is fresh off a FIFA Club World Cup title and is aiming for a second-straight Champions League crown -- it is just as intriguing of a plot. Last year, Bayern and Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said that what impressed him about Julian was how he gave his all in training, every single day.
"If you play for Bayern Munich, one of the best teams in the world, you have to give everything you've got, every day. I love to play football and this is a great opportunity. You can't take it easy," Green said.
Green has begun to integrate himself among a talented group of players, many of whom will be starring on the world stage this summer in Brazil.
"All the players help me, whether it's [Bastian] Schweinsteiger or Neuer or [Franck] Ribery, or the younger players like Thiago and [Mario] Goetze and [David] Alaba. Everybody helps each other. I can learn from all of them," Green said.
As if his player colleagues weren't talented enough, Green is learning under the tutelage of manager Pep Guardiola, who is in his first season at Bayern after becoming an iconic figure as a player and manager at Barcelona.
"It's awesome, he helps the young players so much," Green said. "He doesn't talk a lot, but he knows exactly what to say. I think the big difference is his history. He won 14 titles at Barcelona. So the training and practice is the same as before, but as a person, his winning mentality makes a difference."
As for his anticipated international choice, Green has time, and patience, on his side, and he maintains an even keel regarding a potentially life-defining career decision.
"I haven't really thought about it too much," he says. "I have lots of time to make the decision. I want to focus on Bayern for now."
And when the time does come, it sounds as though he will, at least, make his decision for the right reasons.
"You have to listen to your heart, Thiago told me," he says.
It seems like good advice.
James Young is a Brazil-based contributor for SI.com. He can be followed on Twitter @seeadarkness.