“I always stressed that I didn’t have coaching experience, but that I did have a deadline: June 9.”– Jürgen Klinsmann
When four days before his fortieth birthday Jürgen Klinsmann succeeded his former strike partner Rudi Völler as Nationaltrainer, the news would be met with enthusiasm by some and a deep scepticism by others.
Klinsmann was seen by many as something of a maverick, his apparent remoteness and in particular his decision to base himself in the United States being seen by many as a clear lack of commitment to the German squad. This was an issue that continued to crop up whenever things went awry – which often was the case in what was something of a rollercoaster of a two-year coaching career.
The ninth coach of the German national team, Göppingen-born Klinsmann was like his predecessor and former front-line partner Rudi Völler a goalscoring legend. When he retired after the FIFA World Cup in 1998 he had joined Völler in joint second place on the top goalscorers’ list with forty-seven, though with not as good a strike rate as he had earned a total of 108 international caps as opposed to Völler’s ninety. Klinsmann had become the first man to score three times or more in successive FIFA World Cups (1990, 1994 and 1998) and had skippered the side during their successful European Championship campaign in 1996.
Having started his career at local club Stuttgarter Kickers in the 2. Bundesliga, Klinsmann moved to neighbours VfB where he forged his reputation as a tireless runner with a sharp eye for goal. After five successful seasons at VfB he embarked on something of a European tour: after the successful 1990 World Cup campaign he spent three years in Italy with Internazionale before spending two years in France with AS Monaco and then a season in the Premiership with Tottenham Hotspur. He then returned to Germany for a successful two years with Bayern München, breaking the individual UEFA Cup goalscoring record as Bayern went on to lift the trophy in 1996. As his career came to a close, another short spell in Italy with Sampdoria was followed by a return to England and another spell at Spurs. In a professional club career spanning some seventeen seasons, Klinsmann scored a total of 227 goals in 506 matches.
The man popularly known in Germany “the Golden Bomber” or simply “Klinsi” was a far cry from the identikit modern footballer; eschewing the glitz, glamour and fast lifestyle, he was often seen driving to training in his old VW Beetle. An urbane and educated individual who spoke four languages, the baker’s son from Baden-Württemberg lived a quiet family life; for him a spell at a foreign club was not about chasing the media, falling out of nightclubs or appearances in tacky magazines, but immersing himself in that country’s culture while doing his job – scoring goals. Klinsmann also was blessed with a self-deprecating and leftfield sense of humour: having often been accused of play-acting by the English media, in his first press conference on signing for Tottenham he asked if there were any diving schools in London. This was followed by his now famous celebratory “dive” in front of the home fans after scoring his first goal. Before long, Klinsmann had overhauled tennis star and three-time Wimbledon winner Boris Becker as England’s favourite German.
When Klinsmann took the helm as Nationaltrainer from Rudi Völler in 2004, his remit was the complete revamp of the national team – though the first thing he chose to tackle was the structure and makeup of the management itself. Whereas previously the coaching setup had involved the Teamchef and an otherwise anonymous assistant, Klinsmann employed Euro 1996 winner Oliver Bierhoff as his public relations expert and former Stuttgart coach Joachim Löw as a more hands-on tactical advisor. He also applied a number of principles he had learned whilst working in the United States, supplementing his training staff with a raft of health and fitness gurus, motivational experts and sports psychologists.
Klinsmann’s determinedly unorthodox approach to management left many in the German footballing establishment and media somewhat perplexed; they didn’t really know what to make of this managerial upstart who had simply waltzed in and taken apart a system that had worked for decades. When it came to issues on the pitch, many felt that too much emphasis had been placed on attacking football – with Franz Beckenbauer in particular being one of Klinsmann’s harshest critics. What Beckenbauer and Co. hadn’t accounted for however was the fact that behind the happy face and affable demeanour Klinsmann had steeled himself with the task of dragging German football out of the doldrums and into the twenty-first century, and had been willing to risk his own career and even ridicule in doing so.
While his predecessor Rudi Völler had made the first concerted effort to involve younger and arguably less experienced players in the national setup, Klinsmann and his assistant Löw simply ramped this up. While the selection of younger players was nothing new – after all, the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Uwe Seeler had made their international debuts before they were out of their teens – it had always been the exception rather than the norm. Under Klinsmann however, this was to be the default setting: when a player got injured, the policy was now to look towards the future rather than the past in selecting a replacement.
To get into the German squad in the 1980s, you would have had to have had at least three years of solid top-level experience. The key difference was that in the 1970s and 1980s there had been a wealth of top-class players to choose from; I am sure any German fan can name at least half a dozen players that might have been considered unlucky not to have played for the Mannschaft. Between 1998 and 2004 on the other hand, it appeared that anyone and his Hund could get into the squad – with journeymen like Michael Preetz, Olaf Marschall, Horst Heldt, Thomas Brdaric and the truly awful Paulo Rink getting to wear the Schwarz und Weiß.
While it could be argued Völler’s arm had been twisted slightly in picking inexperienced youngsters, this was not an issue for Klinsmann and Löw – whose entire ethos had been based on youth. Players that had been on the fringe almost overnight became integral parts of what was being moulded into a dynamic squad, and were now mainstays of a side geared towards the future. The team started to play with a more open and expressive style, but at the same time were more likely to leave holes in defence – something that continued to fuel Klinsmann’s critics. The coach never seemed to be get a break: when things were going well he was national hero no. 1, but when an experiment went wrong he was suddenly this guy who had been spending too much time in America. When Germany was beaten by Italy 4-1 in March 2006, Klinsmann’s head was once more on the block.
As far as the press were concerned the coach had one last chance to redeem himself – the next friendly in Dortmund against the United States. In good time, things had started to click. With a 4-1 defeat of the US the Klinsmann’s side had finally started to grow in confidence. Apart from a slightly jittery 2-2 draw with Japan where they found themselves having to come back from two goals down, the team had clearly picked up a momentum that they then took into the World Cup.
An entertaining 4-2 win against Costa Rica. A gripping last-minute triumph against Poland. A 3-0 stroll over Ecuador. An easy 2-0 win over Sweden. A dramatic penalty shootout win against old foes and tournament favourites Argentina. Suddenly, everyone in Germany was caught up in the enthusiastic fervour sparked by Jürgen’s Jungs.
By the time things hit the solid blue brick wall that was Italy, the coach’s battle had been won – all of Germany was now proud of this young side that had truly exorcised the trauma of Rotterdam, with Klinsmann now a national hero. Even arch-critic Franz Beckenbauer was on side and waxing lyrical about this attacking side that played beautiful football. Rather than wallow in the disappointment of the semi-final defeat, the team went out and demolished Portugal in the third-place game in Stuttgart, with Klinsmann just as enthusiastic on the touchline as he would have been had his side reached the final itself.
The Sommermärchen of 2006, and the role of Jürgen Klinsmann in particular, helped change the face of German football. The process had begun painfully, but it proved to be a gamble that had truly paid off. German football still had discipline and structure, but it could no more be described as one-dimensional. Suddenly, German players could score goals like the Argentinians and skip past opponents like the Brazilians. It was as if all the doors and windows had been opened. Better still, there now appeared to be armies of young players knocking on the door – no longer afraid of having to wait five years before even being considered for the national team.
Jürgen Klinsmann had always planned to resign from the post after 2006; in spite of loud calls both from the DFB and the German public for him to continue, he stuck to his guns. He had, in his own words, done what he had set out to do – it was now up to his successor to pick up the baton and follow things through. Klinsmann had not only restored Germany’s reputation as a top footballing nation, but he had reinvigorated its spirit. When his time as Nationaltrainer ended on July 12th 2006, the one demand he did make was that his assistant Joachim Löw be appointed his successor – a request that was carried out immediately. In doing this, continuity had happily been restored.
Having resigned as coach of the Nationalmannschaft on the crest of a wave, Klinsmann took a few years out of football before returning to coaching in 2008 with former club FC Bayern München. The club as always were hungry for success, and much had been expected of the former national coach who brought with him an army of fitness specialists, sports psychologists and advisors. Unfortunately Klinsmann’s performance did not match the hype that accompanied his appointment, and he failed to make it through to the end of his first season in charge.
After another two-year hiatus and much media speculation, Jürgen Klinsmann was appointed head coach of the United States national team in July 2011.
International Career Record as Player (1987-1998)
Total matches: 108
Total goals: 47
Tournament Record as Player
UEFA European Championship Germany 1988 – Semi-finalists (1 goal)
FIFA World Cup Italy 1990 – Champions (3 goals)
UEFA European Championship Sweden 1992 – Runners-up (1 goal)
US Cup 1993 – Champions (4 goals)
FIFA World Cup United States 1994 – Quarter-finalists (5 goals)
UEFA European Championship England 1996 – Champions (3 goals)
FIFA World Cup France 1998 – Quarter-finalists (3 goals)
Career Record as Coach
First match as coach: 18.08.2004 3-1 (1-1) v Austria, Wien (Kurányi 2., 61., 73. / Amerhauser 10.)
Last match as coach: 08.07.2006 3-1 (0-0) v Portugal, Stuttgart (Schweinsteiger 56., 78., Petit og 61. / Nuno Gomez 88.)
Total matches: 34
Wins: 21* (61.8%)
Draws: 7 (20.6%)
Defeats: 6 (17.6%)
Goals For (goals scored per game): 81 (2.38)
Goals Against (goals conceded per game): 43 (1.26)
Competitive matches: 12
Wins: 9* (75%)
Draws: 1 (8.3%)
Defeats: 2 (16.7%)
Goals For (goals scored per game): 29 (2.42)
Goals Against (goals conceded per game): 17 (1.42)
Friendly matches: 22
Wins: 12 (54.5%)
Draws: 6 (27.3%)
Defeats: 4 (18.2%)
Goals For (goals scored per game): 52 (2.36)
Goals Against (goals conceded per game): 26 (1.18)
Results Breakdown by Year
*matches listed as wins include the penalty shootout victory against Argentina (World Cup 2006)
Tournament Record as Coach