Martin Vásquez (right) has been Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant dating back to his days at Bayern Munich. (Matt West/BPI/Icon SMI)
TEMPE, Ariz. — U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Martín Vásquez go back a long way, to the time in 2008-09 when Vásquez was Klinsmann’s top assistant at Bayern Munich. When Klinsmann took the U.S. job in 2011, along came Vásquez as his No. 2 again, and there he stayed, through a successful World Cup qualifying campaign and last year’s Gold Cup triumph, until Sunday night.
And then, just 74 days before the World Cup and in the fifth paragraph of a press release, Klinsmann’s right-hand man was cast aside from day-to-day duties with the senior men’s national team.
Former Germany coach Berti Vogts is in as a new adviser to the U.S. team, furthering the Germanification of the U.S. team at coach and player levels in a week when the debut of German-American Julian Green is the big new story on the field ahead of USA-Mexico on Wednesday.
But the forced departure of Vásquez is a fascinating and unexpected development. It’s fair to say that Klinsmann stuck with Vásquez at Bayern and with the U.S. for years despite many players’ unwillingness to accept Vásquez (who’s a very nice man) as a figure of gravitas on the coaching staff. So why drop him now so close to the World Cup?
“With Martín it’s simply a professional shift,” Klinsmann said here on Monday. “I have to make decisions with my staff to put them in the spots where I think they are the best in order to hopefully do well this summer in Brazil. And sometimes it’s a shift that doesn’t please everybody. But this is part of the coach’s role. You’re not there to please everybody. You are there to put people hopefully in the best positions to get a job done. And the job is getting out of the group stage this summer.”
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Vásquez will continue working for U.S. Soccer under his contract, but his new role has not been specified.
Asked about the timing of the move so close to the World Cup, Klinsmann said it wasn’t a concern. “It’s not about the timing,” he said. “It’s about doing what is best for us as an entire group moving forward. So if this comes a half-year before [the World Cup], a year before or two days before the first game, if you have to do something you have to do it, and it’s my job.”
Vogts (who was present on Monday but did not meet the media) coached Klinsmann’s Germany teams at the World Cups in 1994 and ’98, when the Germans went out in the quarterfinals both times. He is currently the coach of Azerbaijan, which meets the U.S. in a pre-World Cup friendly in late May. Vogts won’t leave his job with the Azeris.
“I had discussed [joining the U.S. staff] with Berti, so that’s not a decision made overnight,” said Klinsmann. “It goes almost 10 years back because I wanted him as a technical director in Germany when I coached Germany to the 2006 World Cup.”
Questions remain, though. Who will be Klinsmann’s No. 2 now? Vogts or Andi Herzog, the assistant who has been with Klinsmann for the past two years? How will the role of Tab Ramos change (if at all) inside the coaching staff? And what exactly caused Klinsmann to drop his old right-hand man so close to the World Cup?
Perhaps we’ll learn all those answers soon. Perhaps not. But don’t let anyone ever say that Klinsmann isn’t afraid to make a ruthless decision. That’s exactly what happened here on Sunday.