Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Jurgen Klinsmann


Permit me to be a bit abstract for a moment to describe why so much of the Internet clatter re: Herr Klinsmann's 1-3-1 start as the Nats' big wig is frustrating me. I know, I know... don't feed the trolls. Well here's a chum bucket you ugly buggers. I need to get this off my chest.

Imagine for a moment that I, Will Parchman, am a business mogul who's made his career as an up-and-coming entrepreneur. A stretch, yes, but bear with me. A company loses its CEO -- lets go with Apple for now for the sake of demonstration -- and I am the replacement czar. I know only of Apple what I know through the media and through the devices I own. That is to say, I have a working knowledge of the company, its ideals and its fundamentals, but I know nothing of the guts of the thing -- what really makes it work behind the curtain. So if I'm honest with myself, and many CEOs (*cough*COACHES*cough*) are not, I don't know a whole hell of a lot.

So I spend the first few months of my reign assessing the previous modus operandi, getting to know what makes Apple tick and generally understanding the people I work with. The majority of life is spent on the interpersonal level, after all, and what am I to my company if I don't understand it? I tour facilities, I glad-hand employees on every level and I dive face-first into the numbers left over by my predecessor. What worked? More importantly, what did not? I interface with my war room to fix these problems, but here's the kicker: I can't fix these issues if I don't know what they are. Without a transition period where I genuinely attempt to correct the company's faults -- and this oft-underestimated task is incredibly difficult because otherwise they would've been fixed by now -- how would I get anything done? It is one thing to sit on the sideline in safety sniping at Bob Bradley with nothing to lose. It is quite another to be in those shoes devoting your life, health and general sanity to fixing a unique systemic problem that no other country on the planet has to deal with in such supply. And you can't do it without games. Lots of games.

The one crack in my analogy is obvious: Apple is much more successful in its field than the Nats are in theirs by a large margin. But running a lucrative business always starts the same way. I would merely have far fewer alterations to make than does Klinsmann. Which would seem to indicate that this feeling-out process is all the more necessary.

I commend Jurgen for taking a measured approach in a field that long ago dumped the idea of gradual assessment. He's seeing for himself what works with this side and what doesn't, what Bradley really had right and what actually needed correction. Was it really just his over-reliance on the empty bucket? Can the US ever field the current world standard 4-3-3? Can Edgar Castillo work? What about Jose Torres? What if I put Dempsey here, or if I leave Jozy up there? The message boards have been alight on the myriad issues for years, but until Klinsmann pulled taut the rubber gloves and shoved in his arms up to the elbow, how could he know? There is a limit -- there is always a limit -- but he has not reached it yet. It has always been about expectation with this team, which brings me to...

*Side rant*
To me, this team is what you make of it, and we made far too much of it after Spain. It was an exceptional 90 minutes and it was an anomaly. Nothing that's happened over the last four years has either surprised me or caused my interest to wane. Mexico was a better team in '09 and they're better now. Brazil was worlds better in 2009 and they clipped us. Should we have held a 2-0 lead? Probably. When it's Brazil, whatever. The worst player to ever make their national team in their country's history could probably dribble circles around the best player we've ever produced. There were lapses in the WC related to our skill level and we overcame them to win our group. We lost to a Ghana team that is technically better, a tough pill for the average fan to swallow but an accepted fact for anybody who knows anything about their roster. Injuries can't be helped. They hit everybody, we're just not very deep.
I love this team because I am invested in its success. I love soccer and I love riding out the ebb and flow of where the ride takes us. Simply put, if you thought we were better than this, we are not, and we never were. If that upsets you, it's your own fault for allowing your expectations to exceed the growth rate of our team.
*Side rant over*

There are plenty of tactical nuances to digest as there always are. If you come at me with those digs at this point they're still fairly easy to swat away. It takes time, something we are loathe to grant our sports figures because we want it now because we need it now. We should not and we do not. And lets be honest: this team plays some really genuinely attractive soccer in spurts. As results go, I honestly could care less what happens in these friendlies. They're interesting to watch and take in because I enjoy that sort of thing. But if this is what it takes, this sort of learning period where Klinsmann can see which players work for his system -- nobody else's -- and which do not, and that leads to results when the USMNT needs them, then these results are only fodder for criticism from those among us who desire controversy more than substance. These answers are only available in hindsight.

Finally, it is perhaps easiest to criticize his squad choices. I do find myself doing this from time to time, and the 23 he chooses does occasionally leave me vexed. I see nothing fundamentally wrong with some good natured debate. But I continually remind myself that this is a big company with a lot of moving parts and even more variables, and the CEO is still hiring and firing. I'm not expecting a Fortune 500 team overnight.

- Will Parchman

18 comments:

Jamie said...

Hear! Hear! Well put!

SPA2TACU5 said...

So now you've decided to stop producing ipod classics and start with the production of the modern ipod touch. But instead of having your chinese slaves build touch screens, you've commanded them to produce more click wheels.

Fail.

I don't think Apple is a fitting analogy. It's starting to look like HP what Klinsmann is doing.

-D said...

HOOORAY FOR WILL PARCHMAN!

I'm a patient investor, so I'm in for the long-haul. I just hope we're consistently able to get the best players on the field as der Chef's team and vision come together. Right now it seems that a system is being formulated that doesn't fit around the players we have...

Will Parchman said...

@ -D: I think that's the beauty of Klinsmann's project. He'd like to fit the players into the 4-3-3 but as we've seen in these last few friendlies, he's more than willing to move players into different roles to reach essentially the same place. The disillusionment with the 4-4-2 was real and Klinsmann did something. His tactical shift is producing coherent play and at least 4-5 solid scoring chances per game. Klinsmann can't put it in the net for them.

LReszetar said...

Good column, though the analogy to Klinsi putting on rubber gloves and getting up to his elows was a bit over the top. I live in Minnesota and the only time I've seen that done is during the birth of a calf. They don't use a glove, they use a bag that covers the entire arm.

I think the unique nature of international soccer is part of the reason Americans over-analyze these friendlies. We know the NFL pre-season is meaningless, as is spring training and the hockey and basketball preseasons. Those seasons are marketed as exhibitions, a chance to see the team gel and witness the emergence of the next generation rather than as must-win games. We get to see development on a more consistent basis and we are conditioned to accept that as part of the process.
On the other hand, there are maybe 5-6 games a year for the USMNT that have any meaning. The rest are "preseason," but the USSF can't market the games as such. Also, player development doesn't occur during a season of national team competition, but rather in club competition largely overseas. Thus, soccer fans (and casual observers of soccer) tend to overemphasize these games.
I think the real question is whether it would be better to have a coach win 50% of the games, including friendlies, but be in the third spot for WC qualifying; or win 30% of the games, lose or tie all the friendlies, and finish in the top two for qualifying.

Patrick said...

Most USMNT fans watch the games on TV. TV is great for watching the games, but pathetic for actual analysis. The camera turns on in the studio and three guys get 15 sec. each to 'analyze' the game, national program, everything. What are you going to say? The easy, lazy way out is to focus on the obvious, "more goals; especially, more than the opponent". It is lazy, ESPN is lazy. People focusing on won-loss in meaningless exhibition games are simply lazy.

The 11 on the field last night (first half) were arguably better than the 11 on the field for the Gold Cup Final. Chandler, Shea, Williams are all credited to Klinsman and they are what he is here for. The emergence of those three, who were not playing for Bradley, is more important than results in exhibitions.

If I have to watch the Fiscals, Castillos, Agudelos, et al. to get a Chandler, ok. That is why you play exhibitions and have periodic camps.

The first 11 controlled the game, while in there, and had all the scoring chances (Ecuador had zero shots on goal at halftime). Scoring will come; you build from the back.

The USMNT did not give up a goal in the first 20 minutes of either friendly this week. While that seems to be a short bar to set, it is not if you have watched the team the last 8 years.

Mark said...

since when andwhere is 4-3-3 world standard other than the dutch?

Will Parchman said...

The 4-3-3 is in vogue anywhere it can be run competently. Just off the top, Argentina, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Australia and Japan have all favored the system at some point in the last WC cycle, and I can dredge up more if I look. It's a popular system and for good reason.

LReszetar said...

I thought the most insightful comment was when Jorge Ramos said that if these few games represent the talent pool from which Klinsi has to pick a team, there are greater issues than formations and coaching ability.
That isn't news to many of us, but was still refreshing to hear. Bob and Klinsi were, are and will be held responsible, but they can only do so much.

Greg Seltzer said...

@ LReszetar:

Small problem with that notion... Klinsi has barely even scraped his whole pool. There are scads of guys who have had no look at all, or one barely worth mentioning. Plus, we have some key absences right now.

Unknown said...

The US bossed Ghana in the second half and were unlucky (or not) to not have bagged the winner in regulation.

I understand lapses or errors occurred which caused the loss, just looking at the match as a whole, I didn't see Ghana as a far superior team technically or otherwise.

Erik said...

+ 1 with you Will. I think there's a real skew in expectations with the US fans. We are a competitive with most of the world, but we are not dominant. That means that an injury here, a bad day there, we can lose as easily as win. Until we have the player pool to match the dominant teams, there's only so much we can do.

What we are getting under Klinsi, IMHO, is an overdue update in tactics, style that a big part of our recent decline. The last WC cycle or two has seen a shift in style of play at the top level, with more and more teams moving towards a possession/passing style, we were falling further and further out of step. Coming in at this time, Klinsi has a chance to use the best of the old guard (Donovan, Dempsey) while orienting the next generation (from Bradley to Shea and younger) towards this style. The devil will be in how well those with one foot in the old system can bridge the transition while we wait for the new generation to gain it's footing.

LReszetar said...

@Greg

That isn't a small problem with my notion - that blows it up. :)

My comment wasn't limited to this set of friendlies, but frankly to friendlies and the GC from the past year. Who are the folks you think are waiting to be summoned? It always feels like our real player pool is closer to 20 than 30.

Love the site.

Jay said...

@LReszetar -- Greg spent 11 posts over the last few weeks describing exactly who he thought should be in the depth chart were he the manager. It'd be worth taking a look through the archives, and answers exactly what you're asking.

@Will -- An amazing amount of loyalty has been garnered for the USMNT over the last decade, and I think it contrasts very strongly with the loyalty garnered for club teams in MLS. Namely, there are lots of fans for whom the USMNT *is* their club team. They want to see wins, and they want to see them in every match, and don't much care that a game is a friendly. A lot of that can be chalked up to the way the team has been marketed by USSF and ESPN.

I caught the Honduras match at a bar near me with about 20 other random fans. The guy behind me, decked out in his new red Dempsey jersey, kept yelling out "that shit is unacceptable!" whenever we didn't make a spectacular play. That's the level of fan we're dealing with. They're completely ignorant of process, and only concerned with being Teh Most Awesomest.

Will Parchman said...

An astute observation, Jay. It's been clear to me for a long time that USMNT fan does not necessarily mean MLS fan, and that's a strange prospect to wrap your head around. I know some Liverpool fans who would sooner urinate on the St. George's Cross than cheer for a team that starts Wayne Rooney or Frank Lampard. That's not a sentiment that has translated here. Not that that's a bad thing necessarily, but there are Chivas fans (and bitter San Jose fans for that matter) that have divorced the club Donovan with international Donovan.

That's good for USMNT support, obviously, but it generally breeds some dumb fans. I'd wager that an alarming percentage of our fan base wouldn't be able to tell you what a short corner actually was.

josh said...

I think you are giving USMNT far too little credit. I think most fans get wrapped up during the game, but then after it's over can take a step back and see progress is being made. Just because a person isn't happy with every moment (or result even) doesn't mean they aren't happy with the direction the team is going.

www.totalsoccershow.com

Jacob Klinger said...

The average USMNT fan (not the astute readers of NSC) is not too different from the average American sports fan: "win now!" and of course the idea of a friendly is mind-boggling. We've always played them for keeps and Klinsmann does not and with good reason.

Grayson said...

Congratulations on actually using "myriad" correctly! Most people incorrectly say "he scored a myriad of goals" instead of "he scored myriad goals".

I tip my hat to you, sir :)