“For us talking about winning a World Cup… it’s just not realistic.”
It was the comment heard round the world.
In a recent interview, Jürgen Klinsmann, the German-born coach of the US men’s soccer team, seemed to be completely discounting his team’s chance of capturing the World Cup before the tournament even started. It flew in the face of everything we’re used to hearing from coaches in the States about teams having “as good a chance as anyone,” even when they don’t. It was shocking, and the sports (and mainstream) media had an absolute field day.
What is he thinking?
He’s demoralizing his own team!
How dare he speak realistically about the team’s chances!
The cries of anger were heard and read everywhere from reporters, writers, and talk show hosts who were quick to jump on everything from Klinsmann’s nationality (he’s the first foreigner to lead the team in 16 years) to his “reckless” methodologies.
I have to admit, I too was taken aback at how candid he was. Yes, it’s true that the odds of the US team winning are, in fact, very low, but to come right out and say it? That was strange.
And yet, I couldn’t help but think that maybe we were reacting a little too hastily to his comments, and that maybe there was more to them. Then when I heard a pair of radio hosts contrast his style with that of Rex Ryan, an NFL coach who constantly inflates the egos of his players and exaggerates their chances — in statements that are nothing short of ridiculous — I knew I had to do some digging.
What I learned is that Klinsmann’s strategy isn’t about reverse psychology or using criticism to motivate his players. Instead, he was just being honest — brutally honest. He believes the US men’s soccer program needs some serious improvement, and he’s putting a plan in place to do just that.
First, Klinsmann wants to focus on recruiting Americans who play soccer in Europe. The competition is much stronger than the US leagues where talent is largely drawn from, according to a NY Times piece on the controversial coach. He’s also started building a larger support staff, investing in a training camp, and incorporating yoga into workout routines.
And that’s not all. He wants control over operations. He wants the ball. He isn’t afraid to do things like cut Landon Donovan, who many regard as the face of American soccer, in favor of younger talent. Although the move was met with a great deal of criticism, it hasn’t slowed down Klinsmann one bit. He simply isn’t concerned with outside opinions when it comes to his team.
Frankly, I don’t think he’s concerned with any opinions… period. And so it’s easy to see why he has caused a firestorm. But like him or not, he’s a leader who’s willing to make the tough decisions that he believes can help his team win. And isn’t that what he’s supposed to do?
Now, as to whether his strategy will work, it’s too early to tell. But if the American soccer program is ever going to take that next step, it might just require an “unorthodox” leader.