NOTE: This is the fourth part of an interview with Jürgen Klinsmann conducted by Ohio Wesleyan University men's soccer coach Jay Martin. The interview took place in Munich in March of 2009. Due to its length Red White and Blue Army have broken it up over four days.
Q: How do you discipline players at this level? If you have to deal with an off the field issue, or even an on the field issue?
A: I think when you have a multi-cultural team, where every one of these guys take criticism in a completely different way. Some have no problem when they are criticized in front of the team, some have a major problem with getting criticized like that, because in their culture that’s simply not the way to do it. Depending on what kind of guy does it, I react differently. If I have the feeling that he needs a little slap in his face (figuratively) in front of the guys, he gets that. I don’t like to do it, because I want the guys to realize themselves that they made a mistake. The first thing I always tell them right away, this was wrong. Then they see what he is doing with that, and now depending on the personality I’ll say it to everyone, I might just keep it between us, or I might make a comment in front of the team that doesn’t directly mention that guy, or if I think that now it’s really necessary to make it clear for all of us, then I say that this was bad. I don’t believe in fines, that kind of stuff, because they’re making so much money that it’s not relevant to them. Young people who are making millions and millions of dollars, they get a fine of ten thousand, twenty thousand, you know, they don’t even know how to take that, because they don’t even know how to handle the entire money issue themselves because it’s far too much, and still they get it because the market is that way, and it’s okay, but I’m not the guy that comes in and hands out fines.
Q: Do you have a lot of rules?
A: They had rules last year, and they had big issues there, on the discipline side, they made many rules. If there are some disrespectful players, then you need to make it clear that this is not allowed at Bayern Munich. You represent one of the biggest teams in the world, and if this is not what you want, then come to us and use the door. It’s a simple discussion like that. But they, I think they really understand that this is something that is special. We had some issues at the beginning of the season, some bad games, because they thought the Bundesliga would be won by itself, that we will win it no matter what, who cares, that what we really want is the Champions League. We talked and talked and talked and yet they just couldn’t quite pull it up in the Bundesliga. We’d play at 80%, 90%, which in reality is a whole lot of effort, but we were missing that extra 10%, and every opponent that plays us gives 110%, and then they fall apart afterwards. So I thought about it and I realized that I need to make things clearer. So I got nasty, and then they were kind of getting really anxious and I was telling the guys that if you aren’t in for this then I will call five guys from the amateur team because they are hungry. They realized, okay now the coach is getting really serious, and that’s when we started going in the right direction. I think every coach needs to read his environment and his players, see what is right there and what is wrong, an overall catalog of rules. This might be helpful just to set the tone, but it is more that you have to remind them on a daily basis, let’s clean up the locker room, because otherwise the equipment guy has to clean out all of that dirty stuff, is that fair to him? He already has to wash it, now you’re making him pick it up as well? So we had some issues, and now you come in and it’s pretty clean, it won’t ever be 100%, but you know if you get to 80% it’s great. It’s a generation now that gets anything they want because of the standards that they enjoy in society, they probably don’t even have to pay at the restaurant. That’s the reality and it comes also from the U.S., from the big sports, all of that from the NBA and the NFL, and especially baseball. Soccer is just as problematic here as well.
Q: How about the USA? Where are we in soccer?
A: I think there’s tremendous, tremendous appreciation for the situation in the U.S. It’s come a long way, and it still obviously has a long way to go, but the pace is tremendous, if you look at the MLS, how they built the infrastructure in only a few years, they’re now trying to connect somehow to the developmental system, to the youth system, some have farm teams. I mean, obviously it’s biggest challenge is how big the United States is, and how many interests are involved in it, all of the different youth federations, two educational systems for coaches, but it’s going in a good direction. It will never be perfect, but not even Germany is perfect, or England, or Italy in its system. Even here you have very similar challenges to the U.S., depending on the content you teach, whether it’s the right stuff, depending on the situation of the coaches, the standing of the coaches, depending on where the talent comes through. I think the biggest challenge for the U.S is to get the pyramid back to their A’s. I think the pyramid is so upside down because it’s a pay-to-play system in the youth development, and this is the biggest enemy of U.S. soccer. The biggest enemy. And if they could somehow get it more reasonable, get it down to where everybody could afford to play, it’s not a scholarship driven society anymore, then that is the biggest challenge. But it’s a cultural challenge, it’s not a soccer-specific challenge. And for people it’s a big thing, for people in Europe, that you have to pay quite a lot of money for your child to play for a good youth team in the U.S., they don’t believe that. They don’t believe that the youth coaches are paid coaches, and that you get scholarships for that at universities. It’s impossible for Europe and South America to understand the American system, so I think the system itself is its biggest enemy, and still it’s progressing, still it’s growing and getting better and better. You have now, I don’t know how many first division players in Europe from the U.S. Amazingly good goalkeepers, a generation of goalkeepers that is outstanding, with Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, it’s just amazing. You have now good field players too, and hopefully the next generation improves as well. So it’s moving, it’s taking a lot of work to get done, but it’s baffling, because I’ve lived there for ten years, and I think there is so much potential, so much still to get done. It will be great someday.