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Klinsmann living the American Dream as he prepares to face homeland

Mikey Stafford reports from Recife as the USMNT boss talks football in German with a US accent.

United States' head coach Jurgen Klinsmann attends a press conference before a training session in Recife last night.
United States' head coach Jurgen Klinsmann attends a press conference before a training session in Recife last night.
Image: Julio Cortez

Mikey Stafford reports from Recife

STAFF AT A certain branch of Starbucks in Newport Beach, California might be confused this afternoon if the customer they know as Jonathan appears on their television accompanied by a caption identifying him as Jürgen Klinsmann, head coach of the United States national team.

Using his American son’s name when ordering his coffee is just one conscious way in which Klinsmann is giving himself over to the country he has called home since 1998, but it is the countless subconscious concessions that suggest there will be no conflict when his unlikely Group G co-leaders take on Germany in Arena Pernambuco.

The man who led his native country to third place in their home World Cup in 2006 and won World Cups and European Championships as a player is comfortable in his new role as Technical Director for US Soccer, a position he was rewarded with after three years as head coach, which saw him guide the country to their seventh straight World Cup.

“Do I feel American or European? I guess I feel both,” he has been reported as saying and that duality shone through at moments during yesterday’s pre-match press conference.

To be running 15 minutes late is a trait one does not associate with either Germans or Americans and when he arrived Kilinsmann looked tired and ratty. He left his Nike boots (not Adidas like his playing days) near the door and took his seat in front of a sizeable gathering of journalists.

The smile was soon dominant however as he said complimentary things about soggy Recife, where it has been raining on and off for three days, before declaring he and his team “can’t wait to get this thing started”.

Outside of the use of one German phrase to describe how the evergreen full-back DaMarcus Beasley is “in his fourth spring” this was an all-American pre-game performance. Close your eyes and it could have been Arnold Schwarzenegger explaining the rationale behind his attacking full-backs and saying nice things about his friend Joachim Löw, the assistant who succeeded him as Germany head coach.

There were a couple of answers in his native tongue too, but people with an ear for it say even his German is delivered with an American accent.

None of these are bad things, of course. After almost 20 years in a country only a Trappist monk would have failed to pick up some of the traits of the natives, but Klinsmann must be careful his football DNA is not altered.

US Soccer has handed him a four-year contract and shelled out for mid-winter training camps in São Paulo because they believe they have found the man to inject some European class into their organisation. In six straight World Cups up to this one they have advanced to the quarter-finals only once, at the expense of local rivals Mexico.

Having woken up to soccer in recent years the world’s third most-populated country expects better.

Klinsmann’s job is to spread the gospel to the masses while instilling a hard edge at the elite level. On both fronts he is having a good World Cup.

The 2-2 draw with Portugal in Manaus drew an average television audience of more than 18 million, surpassing the 1999 Women’s World Cup final win over China as the most watched football match in US history.

Last night Klinsmann was tweeting a draft letter signed in his name for his 550,000 followers to print off and present to their bosses in an effort to get the afternoon off to watch the match. He embraces the proselytising that comes with the job of US Soccer’s figurehead.

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“I’m extremely proud to have this role of leading the US into this World Cup and into the future,” he said yesterday. “It is great times for soccer in the United States. Everywhere the game is growing and in every corner of the country the game is growing.”

But he must also bring his European sensibilities to bear in his role as high performance manager and no one could say he has been shirking this element of the job either. The baker’s son from Botnang has not been shy about making unpopular decisions.

He dropped US Soccer’s ageing poster boy Landon Donovan from his squad, managing to slag off LA Lakers basketball demi-god Kobi Bryant in the process by questioning American sport’s habit of rewarding superstars for past glories rather than future potential.

The message was clear: Donovan, a veteran of three World Cups, was the past. German-born Bayern Munich reserve Julian Green and his ilk are the future.

One of Klinsmann’s gripes with Donovan was the fact America’s most talented player was happy to see out his career in the MLS. The German will not have been impressed with the big money returns to their native league of star performers Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, but he must hope that an injection of class will raise standards in a competition from which he will still likely draw five starters this afternoon.

America’s stars in their opening two games were German-born Borussia Mönchengladbach full-back Fabian Johnson and Seattle Sounders forward Dempsey.

It appears that in his team, as in his life, Klinsmann has managed to strike a balance between where he is coming from and where he is going.

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Mikey Stafford

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