As a former World Cup winner, Juergen Klinsmann knows what it takes to rule the world.
The US has similar ambitions, but have not come close to reaching their goals so have hired Klinsmann to teach them how.
In many ways, it looks like a perfect match. Klinsmann has the international experience and know-how, and the Americans have the money and the will to succeed.
But the German, who said he has developed an understanding of the American mind-set after spending the last 13 years in California and is married to an American, is also a realist.
“I can’t promise anything,” the former striker told reporters at a news conference on Monday. “There are a lot of difficult challenges ahead.”
With dozens of journalists, photographers and television crews crammed into the lobby of a Manhattan store, he was given the sort of reception normally reserved for a National Football League star quarterback changing teams, but there was no chest-beating or trash-talking, just a dose of reality about the challenges US soccer faces.
“I believe that soccer has to reflect the culture of the country,” Klinsmann said. “I’ve studied the US the last 13 years, and it’s going to be quite a challenge. There are a lot of opinions, a lot of ideas from youth soccer to college, which is a model different from anywhere in the world.”
Later, he said that winning the World Cup was not a realistic short-term goal for the US side, despite the team’s improved performance in recent years.
“It will take a tremendous amount of hours for the kids to play the game in order to one day break into the top four in the world and maybe contend, compete really, for the World Cup title,” he said. “It is really down to what comes through the youth ranks over the next years in order to see if you can ever compete for a World Cup final.”
“I think we’re still quite a long way away from that, but it should be your goal. It should be your goal to be where the girls [national women’s team] were a couple weeks ago in Frankfurt [Women’s World Cup Final], but it all starts on the grassroots level,” Klinsmann said.
Sunil Gulati, president of the US Soccer Federation, described Klinsmann’s appointment as the start of a new era for the sport in the US, but made no wild predictions either.
“We’re heading in the right -direction and we’re excited to have Juergen Klinsmann leading our team and technical program,” said Gulati, who announced last week that Bob Bradley had been fired as national coach.
Klinsmann, 47, had been linked with the job for two years, but Gulati said the decision to replace Bradley was made just recently, after the US was beaten by Mexico in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Klinsmann, who played on the German team that won the 1990 World Cup, said he was confident the US team already had the makings of a good side.
“There is nothing wrong with this team,” he said. “It lost to a very good Mexican team in the Gold Cup, a top 10 team in the world.”
“The US has been to each World Cup since 1994, MLS [Major League Soccer] now has 18 teams and the game is growing here. Soccer in the US has come a long way and has the opportunity to move further, but there’s still a long way to go,” he said.