American soccer's missed opportunity

Martin Rogers

Juergen Klinsmann's decision to accept the head coaching role at Bayern Munich means many things to many people.

For Bayern, Germany's most famous club and a long-standing European powerhouse, it is a signal of intent that recent dips in performance and achievement will no longer be tolerated.

For Klinsmann, it is an opportunity to prove he is a capable club leader, since his only previous big-job experience came during his stint in charge of the German national team.

For newspaper scribes, mainly in the United Kingdom, it is the end of a tumultuous few months on the managerial merry-go-round which saw Klinsmann linked with several major positions, including the Liverpool, Chelsea and England jobs.

And for soccer in the United States? It is an opportunity lost.

Klinsmann has never hidden his love of North America, in particular the golden coastline of Orange County in Southern California, where he made his home at the end of his glittering playing career.

Obviously, enjoying a region's lifestyle is not an automatic precursor to being willing to take on the first employment option that arises there. But even though Klinsmann never came out and publicly stated he was interested in any position in American soccer, there was always the sense that he could have been persuaded if the job was right, if the time was right – and if someone wanted him badly enough.

Even in late September 2007, he was quoted as saying, "I'm eager to get back in. If the right opportunity comes along, a chance to work together with the right people in the right situation and for the right cause, then I'll be back."

Now there is no doubt that American soccer is a "cause," perhaps the biggest in the sport, because of the huge untapped potential in the United States. Unfortunately for U.S., it won't have Klinsmann around as a possible resource.

Sure, Klinsmann has no pedigree of any kind in running a club, particularly one with the history and prestige of Bayern. However, he has charisma, worldwide respect and an undeniable presence.

It is hard to shake away the sense that all he would have needed to have some kind of positive impact was a bit of time and a free reign, within reason.

There are so many ways in which Klinsmann could have been of assistance. Imagine him passing on advice to talented youngsters like Jozy Altidore. Or even acting as an ambassador to improve the worldwide reputation of American soccer.

Perhaps there were fears that national team coach Bob Bradley would feel undermined if Klinsmann occupied a senior hands-on role. However, while the current coach is a proud man, he has the interests of soccer in the U.S. at heart and he would surely have embraced rather than resisted the German's input provided it did not conflict with his ability to perform his job effectively.

Some will question why Klinsmann could have been such a positive influence. Some even suggest that leading Germany to third place in the 2006 World Cup was actually a failure.

Such ignorant nonsense fails to take into account the state of the German national team prior to that tournament, when there were genuine fears that the host nation would suffer an embarrassing collapse after having shown little to inspire hope the previous two years.

Yet Klinsmann came surging in, galvanizing the entire country and rallying it around his players – and making his charges believe in themselves, to spectacular effect.

He conjured typical German steeliness from a group of players derided as weak and incapable of matching their all-powerful forefathers. What is more, he added a dash of flair and impudence, which produced a previously unthinkable effect – Germany was suddenly a favorite of the neutral fan.

In the end, a semifinal defeat to Italy ended the World Cup dream, but pride had been well and truly restored. Now, Germany is getting its man back in the summer, when Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld stands down.

It is not really anyone's fault that Klinsmann didn't end up in a big position in the States, and there is no one who deserves to be yelled at or who can be justifiably berated. It just didn't happen. It is American soccer's loss, and that's unfortunate.