German standout Jurgen Klinsmann may be California bound
This is an article from the June 29, 1998 issue
After he scored one goal and assisted on the other in Germany's
2-0 whitewashing of the U.S. on June 15, 33-year-old striker
Jurgen Klinsmann was asked if he plans to come to America after
the World Cup. "Yes," came the smiling reply, "when I'm on
vacation." Klinsmann's coyness notwithstanding, MLS has mounted
a full-bore offensive to sign him for the 1999 season. Deputy
commissioner Sunil Gulati said last week that he had spoken with
Klinsmann's lawyer, Andy Gross, and that he and Gross planned to
meet this week at the site of Germany's second-round match,
either Montpellier or Toulouse. "We wouldn't announce an
agreement until after Germany has either won the World Cup or
has been eliminated," said Gulati, who negotiates all of the
league's player contracts.
If Klinsmann signs, MLS will have been aided by a felicitous set
of circumstances. Jurgen's wife, Debbie, is a California native,
and they and their infant son often visit the U.S. on vacation.
The Klinsmanns own a house in Santa Barbara, and, according to
Gulati, Jurgen has said he would be willing to play for either
the Los Angeles Galaxy or the San Jose Clash.
Although he made $1.6 million with the English club Tottenham
Hotspur last season, Klinsmann might agree to take the
precipitous pay cut that would come with a move to MLS, which
has a maximum annual salary of $276,500. "We could afford
Jurgen, because he's a free agent [meaning MLS wouldn't have to
pay a transfer fee] and because he's interested in being in the
U.S.," Gulati said.
There's hardly any other hot player at the World Cup whom MLS can
afford. Although the tournament has always been a bazaar for
clubs in search of emerging talent, the three-year-old MLS has
no plans to pursue any other foreign participant. "Anyone that
we identify as a good player has been identified by 12
[non-U.S.] teams that have more money," Gulati said. "So if,
say, an African player is playing well, [Italian clubs] AC Milan
and Lazio get in line, and that's when I get out of line."
As a result, Klinsmann aside, MLS is planted firmly on the
supply side of the World Cup market. According to Gulati, since
the start of the tournament European clubs have expressed
interest in four MLS players on the U.S. team, while a South
American club has contacted him about a fifth. Gulati refused to
identify any of the players, noting that they had no knowledge
of the inquiries. "I'm not going to distract any U.S. players
while the team is still in the World Cup," he said. "We'll deal
with this afterward."
The Terminator Lightens Up
Stunned Italian journalists clustered like gnats around
Christian Vieri on the night of June 17 at La Mosson stadium in
Montpellier. Minutes earlier Vieri had scored his second goal in
the Azzurri's 3-0 defeat of Cameroon, and for the first time in
anyone's memory he had celebrated wildly, sprinting to the
corner flag and posing like a caddie tending a pin. Was this the
Atletico Madrid striker whom Spaniards had dubbed the Stiff for
his dour demeanor?
"I don't know what came over me," Vieri said, voicing a
sentiment that others might have about his World Cup performance
in general. Since before the tournament began, the debate has
raged over which "skilled" forward should start for Italy--the
young star Alessandro Del Piero, 23, or the veteran Roberto
Baggio, 31. Yet at week's end the 24-year-old Vieri, whom
Italians had nicknamed the Terminator for his artless yet
bulldozer-strong playing style, had three goals and was tied
with Chile's Marcelo Salas and France's Thierry Henry as the
tournament's second leading scorer, after Argentina's Gabriel
The 6'1", 180-pound Vieri was born near Florence but spent
almost all of his first 14 years in Australia, where his father,
Roberto, played for the Sydney soccer club Marconi. Christian
grew up fancying cricket, but when the Vieris moved back to
Italy, he joined Turin's youth soccer club. Seven teams and 10
years later, Vieri has made his name in the Spanish league,
which he led last season with 26 goals, more than Ronaldo had
scored the year before at Barcelona. "Christian is a nightmare
to play against, because he's so strong and he's always in the
middle of things," says Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro. "He
also does a great job creating openings for teammates."
Yet amid all the excitement last week, Vieri reverted to form.
When one of the Italian scribes asked the Terminator to describe
his goals, he paused. "I saw an opening and hit the ball into
the net," he declared. His jaw was set. His face was blank. The
journalists nodded knowingly and began scribbling.
Let's Go to the Videotape
When Nigeria beat Bulgaria 1-0 last Friday, and underachieving
Spain tied Paraguay 0-0, Nigeria surprisingly became the third
team to clinch the top spot in its first-round group. (Brazil
was the first and France the second.) Much of the credit for the
Super Eagles' two victories should go to their eccentric coach,
Bora Milutinovic, who made light of pre-Cup rumors of his
impending dismissal by turning Nigeria's bickering contingent
into something out of European Vacation.
It all started with Milutinovic's omnipresent video camera,
which he uses to document what he calls "the life." Whenever
Nigeria takes the field for pregame warmups, Milutinovic whips
out the camera and films the scene like a touriste on the
Champs-Elysees. On the team bus he can be spotted filming
Nigeria's adoring crowds out the window, and he often concludes
interviews by turning his camera on journalists and asking them
"One day when I quit coaching, I want me and my family to
remember everything," says Milutinovic, who was the 1994 U.S.
World Cup coach. "This is the life."
Just before Nigeria's critical opening match against Spain,
Milutinovic showed his team a homemade videotape that included
personal messages from the players' friends and relatives. The
Super Eagles won the game and saved their coach's job, though
Milutinovic conceded last week that he had thought he would be
fired after Nigeria's three straight defeats in friendlies
before the Cup. Not so, countered Nigerian soccer federation
chairman Abdulmumini Aminu, whose appearance in a Bora film
would surely qualify as an homage to Fellini.
"I supported Bora all the time," Aminu said with a straight face
last week. "I think he's a great guy."
Q & A
Paraguayan goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert is a free-kick
specialist who dreams of becoming the first netminder to score a
goal in a World Cup. He just might do it, too. He missed by
inches in Paraguay's first game, a scoreless draw against
Bulgaria, and last Friday he took one free kick (and made
numerous dramatic saves in goal) in a 0-0 tie with Spain. SI
caught up with Chilavert last week in St. Etienne after a
practice in which he spent more time working on free kicks than
facing shots in goal.
Q: Why would a goalkeeper try so hard to score goals?
A: It's very simple. I want to do as much as possible for my
team to win, so I try to take advantage of all of my talents.
Q: You have said that you're the best goalkeeper in the world.
You're not very modest, are you?
A: You could say that I'm not known for my humility.
Q: I hear you like U.S. football. Given the chance, would you
rather play in MLS or the NFL?
A: The NFL. I would love to be a placekicker, if I could get a
Q: Tony Meola already tried that, with the New York Jets. It
A: I am not Tony Meola.
Q: So who's your favorite athlete?
A: Michael Jordan, of course. He's a model professional.
Q: Has anyone told you that you look like Henry Rollins, the
lead singer of the Rollins Band?
A: Yes, but I am better looking.