While Bradley coached university teams at the NCAA tournament, his replacement was busy winning World Cups, playing professionally for Bayern Munich and scoring goals in the Champions League. In short, Jurgen Klinsmann was always a star, Bob Bradley was never one.
Americans like stars. From the fifty embroidered onto their national flag, to the name of New York’s first Major League Soccer side, it is clear that there is something about the mystical bodies which enchants citizens of the US. They love sports stars too. As part of Major League Soccer’s attempt to popularize their product, they brought in stars, namely, Thierry Henry and David Beckham. In coaching too, the United States have sought stars; Ruud Gullit the prime example.
And now, for the first time, they have transmitted their love of stars to the national side. Mind you, it’s not the first time they’ve tried, Klinsmann had already turned down the job at least once in the years preceding yesterday’s announcement. Americans infatuation with stars has led them to convince themselves that they are what is needed to succeed and, in certain ways, they are right. The United States is unique in the fact that when it comes to football, the men in charge have a dual agenda. While nations like England only have to worry about hiring the best man for the job, US Soccer must make sure that the man they hire is both qualified, and capable of improving the soccer brand. Handsome, charming and talented as a player, Klinsmann is the perfect man to further US Soccer’s hidden goal. Bradley, bald and boring, just wasn’t.
From the beginning Sunil Gulati knew that Bob Bradley was only ever going to be a stopgap, a placeholder as US Soccer searched for a more suitable replacement. Sure he made mistakes; unable to prevent his team from giving up two goal leads on two separate occasions in major finals, and making a vital error in his starting line-up against Ghana. But he has had successes; organizing his team well to grind out a point against England, leading them through to a 2-0 victory over Spain and inspiring a team of youngsters to the 2009 Gold Cup final. However, whatever his achievements or lack thereof, an excuse to sack Bradley would always have been found. Gulati didn’t care what Bradley achieved, he only noticed the name, noticed that it was not Jurgen Klinsmann.
As Klinsmann prepares to start his third major coaching appointment, he is lucky in that the road ahead has plenty of room for error. Doubtless, the United States will reach World Cup 2014, and as the next continental tournament doesn’t decided Confederations Cup qualification, not until Brazil will the German really be tested. Klinsmann has proved in the past that he has what it takes to inspire a team at a World Cup, though his achievement in 2006 comes with the disclaimer of the competition’s location.
In taking over the United States’ national team, Klinsmann has taken on the responsibility not just of managing a consistent World Cup qualifier, but of learning about a new league and a new footballing culture. The organization of Major League Soccer disrespects international play, and Jurgen Klinsmann must learn to both accept and navigate around that obstacle.
Over the next three years, all eyes will be on Jurgen Klinsmann. He is the latest in a long line of sporting stars in America, what he does in the future will decide whether or not he retains that status.