Sunday, July 31, 2011

Change of Heart

Local beat reporter Scott French made the trip up to Vancouver to cover the Galaxy and was rewarded with Landon Donovan's first quotes on the USA coaching change. Kudos to French, a long-time veteran of the soccer scene, for the scoop. 

Donovan's positive reaction to Jurgen Klinsmann's hire didn't surprise me, although he didn't always think so highly of the German coach, however. 

Granted, that story I wrote was back in 2006, but I still remember it clearly as one of the few times I wanted to turn my recorder off and argue with a player. Usually reporters aim to be a fly on the wall, letting players vent, but I was indignant and disappointed with LD's attitude. 

"Seriously?" I wanted to ask him. "You're a forward and an attacking player who has a chance to be coached by one of the greatest scoring threats in the game. He has immersed himself in the American game so much he plays for teams here anonymously, coaches local youth clubs, and talks seriously about how to improve the development pipeline. He's the only German guy I know who seemed to be pulling for the USA to defeat Germany in 2002. His criticisms of USA soccer seem to be incisive, including those of you, by the way."

Donovan's point wasn't really so anti-Klinsmann as it was anti-change, though, but that still seems weak. Change is often difficult, but it's also energizing. The status quo needs to be shaken up at times. S.O.P, or standard operating procedure, can get soggy, old and predictable.

But Donovan's attitude toward Klinsmann changed a lot in 2009, when Klinsmann went out of his way to give Donovan a chance in Europe with one of the greatest teams on the Continent - Bayern Munich. Donovan played pretty well during his short loan, but the Bayern board didn't budge on Klinsmann's request to offer LD a contract. The whole incident contributed to the dismissal of Klinsmann later than season.

Bottom line, a coach who is willing to risk his job over a player believes in that person's potential, and Donovan probably realized that. Plus, he got a chance to play under Klinsmann's coaching at Bayern to to get comfortable with his approach to things. Donovan's praised Klinsmann ever since.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to say good things about the new coach.

To a certain extent, Klinsmann comes into the job during a transition period, one that hasn't been shaping up well for the USA. Donovan and Dempsey, the USA's top players, are older, so the future of the team lies elsewhere. But where?  I'm watching other squads participate in the U20 World Cup, but the USA didn't make that tournament, which is a great stage for young players to prove their mettle. Klinsmann's going to have to find another way to discover and mold the new generation.

1 comment:

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