On American Soccer: Klinsmann deal seems forced

With the World Cup yet to take place, Jurgen Klinsmann's recent contract extension makes it appear U.S. Soccer can't say no to its coach.
There aren’t many jobs in this world where you can receive a big bonus and promotion before actually accomplishing the main goal you were originally hired for, but such is life for Jurgen Klinsmann.

The U.S. national team head coach hasn’t led the Americans in a World Cup yet - let alone led them to World Cup success - but Klinsmann still managed to score a four-year contract extension and added the title of technical director before a Brazuca was ever kicked in Brazil at the World Cup.

The move seemed forced and needless when first announced, but U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati was quick to defend it as a necessary maneuver to lock up a coach who has done such great work for the U.S. national team during the past two years.

The reaction to Klinsmann’s new contract was one of indifference among U.S. fans because, well, it was tough to be outraged about extending the contract of a coach who has done so well.

So why not a more clearly positive reaction to the new deal? Simply put, it just seemed strange and isn’t something you see very often.

National team coaches at major powers don’t generally receive such assurances before a World Cup, though European national team coaches can sometimes receive deals that extend into the European championships, two years past the World Cup. But for a coach like Klinsmann to be handed a deal through the 2018 World Cup, it just felt unnecessary.

Gulati was quick to point out that, along with wanting to reward Klinsmann’s recent success, there was also the matter of other national teams and clubs potentially courting Klinsmann away from the USA. That concern seemed to be highlighted after the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas by Tottenham, a club Klinsmann played for and has been linked to as a managerial candidate in the past.

Was it really a concern of U.S. Soccer’s that Klinsmann would leave before the 2014 World Cup? Not likely. It was a case of wanting him tied up after the World Cup, because it is safe to say the line of suitors will be a lengthy one if Klinsmann can lead the U.S. to success in Brazil this summer, particularly given the brutally tough group the Americans are placed in.

From that standpoint, you could understand the prudence in securing Klinsmann’s services long term, but it still felt very much like the move of a federation still learning how to play the off-the-field game of international soccer. After all, would teams like Spain, Italy or Brazil feel the need to make such a move? Can you think of a high-profile coach who was able to squeeze such a concession out of a federation before a World Cup?

Ultimately, the deal felt like a case of U.S. Soccer president Gulati being so afraid of losing the coach he spent six years chasing, that he is willing to give Klinsmann everything he asks for just to keep him around, like an overmatched boyfriend giving in to every whim his girlfriend has because he knows he’s hitting above his weight.

And what of Klinsmann, who talks so much of wanting to put pressure on his players and nobody’s spot being assured? As much as his new deal doesn’t really seem to fall in line with that doctrine, you can’t really blame him for taking what he can get. Klinsmann is beholden only to himself and his family, so why would anybody begrudge him the right to negotiate the best possible deal for himself?

No, you don’t blame Klinsmann for taking what he can get. You instead look at a federation that gave more than it needed to to a coach who already had plenty of power and influence at U.S. Soccer.

The reality is U.S. Soccer didn’t need to give Klinsmann the new deal, but couldn’t say no when pushed for one. If the fear was of losing Klinsmann after a strong World Cup, what about the idea that the U.S. job would be an extremely attractive one for coaches around the world if the Americans performed well in 2014?

After all, Klinsmann’s work in guiding the U.S. through a transition period has the national team poised for long-term success, with a good collection of young talent coming up the pipe. If Klinsmann were to walk away from that after a strong 2014 World Cup, would U.S. Soccer really be struggling for candidates willing to take on the challenge of continuing Klinsmann’s work?

And perhaps more importantly, if Klinsmann did succeed at the World Cup, and did lead the U.S. team to glory, would he have really walked away from all that? Would he have left his work unfinished and moved on? The fact he was willing to sign on through 2018 suggests it’s not something he would have done easily.

Now, we will never know. We are instead left with a coach sitting on a lengthy contract spanning two World Cups and two job titles, and a 2014 World Cup that, if it goes poorly, will only serve to magnify the questions about a decision that just doesn’t feel like it needed to be made.

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