American media and fans alike are going gaga over the teenager who chose USA over Germany – but there are cautious hopes. Sulaiman Folarin chats with the Bayern Munich prospect who can usurp USA expectations for once…
It’s a hot day in Palo Alto, Northern California, on the campus of Stanford University. The press gathers as usual, while fans seek autographs and 'selfies' with the new darling of American football.
His name is Julian Green, and he is having the time of his life at the sunny World Cup camp – although jokingly, he admits the weather is something he could do without.
Green is a long way from home in Munich, where the training ground has a Biergarten (translated predictably) but the intensity is still the same as in California. Everyone in Jurgen Klinsmann's 30-man squad, including the precocious 18-year-old, is fighting for their seat – window or isle – on the plane to Brazil in a few weeks.
For Germany he would be a long shot with the array of talent on display, but the Americans have made his teenage dreams realistic.
“It was a great feeling, one where you first think 'is this really true? Is this really happening?'” Green says, on his invitation to the World Cup camp. “I can’t imagine it, there is nothing more I would like to do than go to Brazil; it’s my goal.”
USA boss Klinsmann convinced the teenage German prospect, who has played in the youth ranks of both countries (Germany U16, 17 and 19; USA U18), to shun the European giants and play for a team that dominates their region, but has never won a title in the men’s game at any FIFA level.
“To play the World Cup with Germany?” he smiles, “right now I chose the USA and it was the best decision. I don’t think about what could have happened.
“I’m excited, I think about the possibility every second of the day and it’s great.”
Despite being exhausted after training, he soon eases into the interview to discuss his early beginnings playing football in Munich. A year after settling into his second youth club, aged 12, Green played for a county select team that showcased the best players in Bavaria. Bayern Munich came to watch and liked what they saw, although his journey to “FC Hollywood” wouldn't start quite that early.
“I started playing football at the age of four at a small club near Munich in my hometown of Miesbach,” he says. “When I was 11, I joined another club very close to the first one called Hausham.
“My career at Bayern Munich started two years later with the under-15s – I was 14 by then.”
He didn’t get promoted to the first team until last year when a certain Spaniard with an eye for talent arrived. Green's speed was noticed; so was his positioning, technique and goalscoring prowess.
“It was Pep Guardiola who promoted me to the first team,” the 18-year-old recalls. “I have a very good relationship with Pep. I always have good conversations with him, and he talks to me a lot. He’s a great coach.”
Much Adu about nothing
In America, like everywhere else, it's common to quickly label a potential teenager as the next big thing – and Stateside media are certainly excited about Green. It helps with the narrative that he chose USA over Germany, although others are cautious.
Why? Because Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo were teenagers at some point, and all were overhyped before being allowed to develop at their own pace.
Green's case is different, because no one expects the Florida-born starlet to carry the team in 2014. He lives in Germany most of the time, so as one of the 'Jurgen-Americans' – a term coined for the group of players with African-American fathers and German mothers on Klinsmann’s team – he can focus on football with no pressure.
“Pressure is normal, but I don’t think there is any and I don’t feel it,” says Green on the need to be the next best thing.
The teenager is also accustomed to rubbing shoulders with football’s top players at his club. In training, it could be Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben in front of him, David Alaba to his left, Thiago on the right and Jerome Boateng behind.
“I train all the time with the first team, but I play with the second team,” Green reveals. “I’m close with [David] Alaba, Thiago, Jerome Boateng. They are my close friends and I learn a lot from them. I talk to them a lot.”
With Team USA, he likes the decision he made. He gets along well with his room-mate DeAndre Yedlin (of Seattle Sounders), and enjoys the jokes of team comedians Altidore and Terrence Boyd (Rapid Wien).
It was the trip from Munich to Frankfurt in March that changed everything for Green. About four hours by road made up Green's life-changing trip to meet his new national team-mates.
“It was the two days in Frankfurt with the team; they were very important for me,” says the Bayern youngster. “Clint Dempsey [USA’s captain] gave me a USA shirt with my name on it, everybody told me they want me and it was a good feeling. After that I was sure to pick USA.”
It didn’t end there, though. Klinsmann was constantly on the phone talking as quickly as his feet used to move on the pitch, to convince the impressionable teen to make his decision. “I talked a lot to him and he texted me a lot too,” Green admits. “I had good conversations with the coach and that made me give it a shot.”
Though he played third-tier football last season, when Green returns to Germany he hopes to be a part of Bayern’s first team. “We'll see what will happen at Bayern after [the World Cup camp],” he says, cautiously. “I want to stay there and give my best.”
Green is back in the team hotel by this point of our interview, and cannot wait to report via text to his mother back in Germany, his dad in Florida and his representatives in Munich; it's part of his daily routine. “Yeah, I’m texting my mum and dad at the moment. Everything is good,” he beams.
Even though he admits there were butterflies on his debut against Mexico, it looks almost certain that he can handle himself in the friendly confines of Team USA. After all, he has already proved he can fit in with a European giant.