Yes, it’s come to that.
Your old ways aren’t working. Try as you might, it's become too difficult to dislodge your traditional footballing practices. Far too many little comfort zones have developed in all the tributaries that feed the Three Lions. It’s high time for venturing a little further out into the big, scary world of fresh ideas.
You require concerted dislodging from the stodgy concepts and convictions. Which brings us to a man who specialises in just that: Jurgen Klinsmann.
You remember him, surely, from bright days and big doings at White Hart Lane. Klinsmann was always a different cat, back then and now. Which makes him perfect in overseeing a national team programme too set in its ways. He’s a guy who rails against convention – the ideal man for your gig.
If you don’t remember his days in north London, then surely you remember what he accomplished in Germany, taking that raggedy old deflated ball of a setup, pumping it full of enthusiasm and kicking the DFB all way to third place at Germany 2006.
Klinsmann accepted the German job in 2004 when nobody else wanted it, and promptly took a baseball bat to all of Die Mannschaft’s old ways. In came the new coaches and fresh player rotations. Klinsmann also sought alteration of the very German football personality, clawing away at the longtime player prototype: a muscular, robotic sort, heavy on once-useful repetitive patterns but light on any substantial capacity for creativity.
Strategically, he needed to shift thinking away from caution, toward playing further up the field. To accomplish it all, he introduced sports psychologists, motivational speakers, nutritionists to modernise dietary approach and an American fitness instructor more in tune with modern concepts on the human machine. It was no small task, kicking away at the establishment so.
Striving for better
Klinsmann took the German job in 2004 when nobody else wanted it, and promptly took a baseball bat to all of Die Mannschaft’s old ways
But it worked. Better than it has in the United States, it must be said, where Klinsmann has similarly sought to unseat a national team programme that reached a sticking point. But in truth, the job in England looks far more similar to Germany than the United States.
From his U.S. Soccer office in sunny southern California, Klinsmann focused from Day One on improving the American talent pool, something that really is unique about this particular assignment. He saw good athletes from a land of plenty, but didn’t see the kind of discontent that drives professionals. He found diligence; he sought passion. He needed men who loved the game, lived for the game and would bleed to be better at the game.
What was missing, he quickly assessed, was daily, omnipresent pressure from every corner of the community to be more and achieve more.
He’s got that in England, where passion and love for the game runs irrefutably high.
Now, there is a big caveat here: Klinsmann needs a right-hand man with some good tactical sense, a feel for the modern game, for the pre-game scheming and then all the in-game switches that need quick attention in real time.
It’s just not Klinsmann’s strong suit; he does better in the big picture – he’s not as adept at fussing over the details.
Hire Klinsmann, and then ask him to find that man. (Actually, make it a requirement; he likes to have total control, from meals to hotels to friendlies to, well, selection of all his staff.)
Where this writer lives, the sense is that Klinsmann has underachieved. More to misdemeanour level than serious crime level, but still. The primary complaints: he deploys too many men out of position, and his player selection methodology seems haphazard.
Lands beyond tend to see things differently. They see a player pool with a lot of “average”. The top centre-back, Geoff Cameron, starts at Stoke. That’s not bad, but no one is confusing the Bet365 Stadium (formerly the Britannia, of course) with the Bernabeu. Half of Klinsmann’s U.S. team is from MLS, which is probably on par with the Championship. Again, that’s not awful, but it’s not a player pool that will make France, Germany, Argentina or quite a few others drool with jealousy.
Give him a better player selection (England have that), then let him steer you away from your treasured ways, out of your comfort zones in all the little avenues of player development and usages.
Or, hell, go ahead and hire Sam Allardyce. Or Harry Redknapp, or Alan Pardew – or anyone else dressed up in the same old suit, who will take the same old ideas, repackage and rearrange them, and then lead you right back here to this same conversation in two years. At least you’ll be comfortable in your misery along the way.