Now that his coaching career at Bayern Munich has been snuffed out, Juergen Klinsmann could return to the place that has been his home for many years.By Andrea Canales
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Sometimes, people who travel all over the world arrive in new places where somehow, all the intangible elements seem to meet in harmony with their personal philosophies and they realize they are very comfortable there. Against the logic of needing a past history somewhere to fit in, they feel at home.
Years ago, it was so for Juergen Klinsmann when he found his way to Southern California and settled there. In the days before cable systems made soccer games from around the world available to U.S. televisions, Klinsmann, one of the most famous players to ever kick a ball, found himself blissfully almost anonymous. He was considered simply a German tourist or businessman by many of his neighbors, who didn't recognize the World Cup star.
Yet the weather, mild and sunny for about 300 days of the year, allowed Klinsmann to still kick about almost any time he wanted. He still loved soccer, and now he could play without scrutiny and expectation.
As unaware as most Southern Californians were of Klinsmann's pedigree in the sport, soccer has been a popular recreational game there for decades. Klinsmann couldn't resist a cheeky undercover stint with one of the top squads in the area, Orange County Blue Star. At 39, the retired striker tried out for the team under the psuedonym of Jay Goppingen (his birthplace in Germany) and scored a number of goals for the squad.
Klinsmann didn't just bring his expertise to the field, however. It's long been a familiar story in the area that as the premier soccer stadium in Carson was being built in 2003, the one that would eventually become the Home Depot Center, that Klinsmann advised and consulted on the project. Supposedly it was he who insisted on the partial roof, despite some thinking that with the California weather, it wouldn't really be needed.
Anyone at the stadium can see now that Klinsmann, no doubt influenced by years of experience with stadiums in different countries, was right. The roof gives the grounds architectural heft and balance, and yet also serves a practical purpose of giving many fans relief from the sun during day games.
During this period, Klinsmann also worked quietly on gaining his U.S. coaching certification. As part of the coursework, he shadowed the U.S. national team coach at that time, Bruce Arena. He then joined the staff of the Los Angeles Galaxy under German-American Sigi Schmid, serving as the team's technical advisor. It was this association with the club that had Klinsmann on the field in a Galaxy Legends exhibition game, where he scored five goals to lead his side to victory.
Some believed, as the Galaxy rotated coaches in a peripatetic manner, that Klinsmann's name would eventually come to the top of the list, but he vaulted the MLS rung of the coaching ladder completely, going straight into the lion's den of national team coaching at the top level by taking the helm of Germany.
Despite the demands of the position, Klinsmann remained so connected to California that he remained living here most of his tenure as German coach. Though many skeptics doubted him, Klinsmann won the heart of his team and helped propel them to a third-place 2006 World Cup finish.
Obviously, his time at Bayern has not gone so well. The question now is whether the itch to continue coaching will propell Klinsmann to another club post in Germany. He might have had his fill of the politics and the egos that are sometimes involved in big clubs.
If Klinsmann returns to Southern California, yet still wishes to coach, that immediately puts two area coaches under slight pressure. Bruce Arena, at the Los Angeles Galaxy, is still winless on the season. Bob Bradley, who took the U.S. national team post that Klinsmann once spurned, has had commendable, but not steller results during his tenure.
However, Klinsmann could also transition seamlessly into another position without ousting anyone. U.S. Soccer has mulled over the idea of a technical director for some time, believing that the entire program needed more vision than just the game to game viewpoint most coaches concern themselves with.
On the other hand, Klinsmann could prefer to reconnect with his family, look after his business interests, and perhaps take a more advisory role in U.S. Soccer. One thing is certain, though, and I realized this after running into him on the grounds of the Home Depot Center for a number of events, draft combines, reserve games, Nike Friendlies, practices of foreign teams, is that Klinsmann loves soccer and will always stay involved in some capacity. He may or may not do what anyone expects, though.
Back in 2006, I asked Michael Ballack what he thought Klinsmann would do in the future. The German international smiled. "He'll do what he wants to do."
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com North America