Six days after a nightmarish World Cup draw, the USSF responded in somewhat curious fashion by giving head coach Jurgen Klinsmann a four-year contract extension and adding the powerful title of technical director to his name.
Normally, international coaching contracts and increases of influence are entirely dependent on results in major tournaments. Klinsmann has done well to exhibit clear improvement in the team since taking over in 2011, getting results both in qualifying and high-profile friendlies as well as winning the Gold Cup last summer, but the World Cup was always going to be the biggest test of his philosophy and command. Then the draw happened — dumping the USA in a group with Germany, Ghana and Portugal and giving them more distance to travel than any other team in the tournament — and now expectations have been recalibrated.
With this improved deal, the message from the USSF to Klinsmann seems to be: We have no delusions of grandeur here so let's keep building for more than just an individual tournament and treat any results in Brazil as an unexpected bonus.
Klinsmann's plan for revolutionizing the U.S. has always involved control over more than just the senior team. When he took over the German national team, he established a new style of play for a side coming off a disastrous Euro 2004. He asked the U-21 squad to implement it as well, so it could act as a better feeder, and had the federation pressure first and second division clubs to develop their academy systems.
As he explained in a 2010 column for the BBC, Klinsmann wanted even more sweeping changes to German football, but with only two years to build before the 2006 World Cup, he had to comprise. Despite this, he still led the team to a third-place finish on home soil before getting frustrated by the federation's reluctance to completely submit to his will. He declined to renew his contract and handed the team over to his assistant, Jogi Low, who has continued what Klinsmann established.
Now, the USSF is giving Klinsmann the control he needs to carry out his vision in full. They appear confident enough in the first two years of growth to write off the cruel hand they were dealt in next year's World Cup in the interest of giving this experiment a chance to reach its potential. And the fact that there have been rumors going around lately of Tottenham considering Klinsmann as a potential replacement for under-fire Andre Villas-Boas might have motivated them to type up his new contract a little faster.
''The role of technical director is a huge challenge and also a huge opportunity as we look to keep connecting the dots to the youth national teams, coaching education, the development academy and the grassroots efforts in this country," Klinsmann said, hinting at the ideas of consistency at all levels that he first formed in Germany.
The 2014 World Cup isn't a make or break event for the U.S. The popularity and growth of the sport within the country is steadily increasing regardless of what happens to the national team in Brazil and the benefits of following Klinsmann's lead now seem to outweigh the potential drawbacks. Plus, Mexico is currently giving the USSF all the evidence it needs to avoid constant managerial changes like the plague.
But in the end, there is one thing that anyone who doubts the decision to extend Klinsmann's deal right now should remind themselves of: That contracts were made to be broken.
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