HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif (Reuters) - Juergen Klinsmann is determined to carry off a style revolution for the U.S. national team while urging patience from the country’s fans.
In an interview with Reuters, the former Germany coach and striker said it could still be a long journey before Americans saw the desired results.
”We’d like to take the team from a reactive style to playing with a more proactive style. It’s a huge change because in the past they were always used to reacting to whatever the big teams played against them.
“This transition will take time,” he said near his home town in California before a three-week training camp with players who not involved in European club play.
Klinsmann, 47, who replaced Bob Bradley as head coach in late July, said it could be tough to explain the need for time to success-hungry fans.
“To tell the general American public that this is a long-time process is very difficult because Americans, like Germans, are impatient at times and they want to see results,” said Klinsmann, whose team have won two matches, lost four and drawn one.
“So while always working with the players in changing their mindset, you’ve got to provide some results. It’s a tricky one. You want to have the results while going through changes.”
The former Inter Milan and Tottenham forward is convinced his players are capable of taking on the new approach.
“Americans are not reactive types of people - it’s not in their DNA. So why do you play a style that is not your culture?”
“We may never be able to play a truly controlling type of soccer against countries like Spain or Germany or Brazil. But we want to get closer to playing with them instead of just defending and hoping for a counter - that’s not my philosophy and that’s not the American philosophy.”
Klinsmann says he is working hard to build new bridges between the disparate hotbeds of the sport in youth organizations and universities to newly created academies and the increasingly important professional league, Major League Soccer (MLS).
“It’s still a bit of the ‘Wild West’ here because U.S. soccer is disconnected from college soccer and college soccer is disconnected from pro soccer,” he said. “Maybe we’ll never be able to connect it all perfectly. But a lot is happening. Our goal is to connect the dots everywhere we can.”
He said American players had made tremendous strides in the past decade, with most of his first team now starters in top flight European leagues. A decade ago most of the Americans playing in Europe were bench warmers. The next step, he said, would be for more U.S. players to be on clubs competing in the Champions League.
“It’s difficult because there isn’t the same mindset here the way European nations or big football nations have in terms of the social pressure they get wherever they go,” he said.
Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup as a player and is fourth on Germany’s scoring list with 47 goals, said it was also a challenge for Americans to think more globally about soccer.
”We have to tell the people in the U.S. we’re not competing in a domestic situation,“ he said. ”Americans are used to the competition being within America - the NBA, the NFL, the NHL.
“It’s all so American-driven and all the top players in the world that play that sport want to be part of the NBA, the NFL or the NHL. So it’s not always easy for the Americans to understand that soccer is the other way around, that soccer is a globally driven sport. Your competitors are global and your way of working has to be global.”
Klinsmann, long an avid user of technology and the modern tools of communication, coached Germany for two years while commuting back and forth across the Atlantic. Now he is keeping his eyes on developments around the world with many of those same tools and a growing worldwide network of assistant coaches.
He can watch any important soccer match anywhere in the world on TV in the United States. He also has an assistant coach based in Europe, former Austria striker Andreas Herzog, staying in touch with players and coaches as well as another focused on Latin America, Martin Vasquez.
“I don’t use the best practice found in the United States - I use the best practice from around the world,” said Klinsmann, who first ran into some media criticism in Germany for borrowing U.S. ideas on fitness and mental trainers.
“If I see something in Australia or China or Europe that is extremely good I put my nose it and want to learn about it,” said Klinsmann, who speaks Italian, French and Spanish as well as English and German. “Last month I was in Brazil for a coaching symposium and there’s interesting stuff you can pick up.”
He dismisses, though, any notion he favors European-based players.
”No, I‘m straight-forward with everyone involved here: The only preference is quality and performance,“ he said. ”It’s all performance based. I watch MLS games as much as I watch European games. Obviously the level of play is growing here and getting better but it’s not where the Bundesliga and the Premier League are and everyone who is realistic knows that.
“So all I‘m interested in is evaluating players based on their quality and performance. If the players are more in Europe, they’re in Europe. If they’re here, they’re here.”
“I brought in players who were not even on the radar screen playing MLS,” said Klinsmann. “There were players in Mexico who were not on the radar; they were kind of ignored. I brought them into the picture.”
Editing by Simon Evans and John Mehaffey