Mike Slane: Klinsmann is getting serious

Klinsmann looks to humble his star players ahead of the U.S. team's Hexagonal opener next month in Honduras.
Jurgen Klinsmann was either in a really bad mood when he was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal or he is trying to send a strong message to all his U.S. national team players.

The coach took shots at the U.S. team's quarterfinal appearance in the 2002 World Cup ("Just because you won a game in the World Cup in the knockout stage, you haven't won anything"). He called out his star player ("[Clint Dempsey] hasn't made s---. You play for Fulham? Yeah, so?"). And he questioned Landon Donovan's future with the national squad ("The ultimate call is mine on whether he fits into my plans or doesn't fit into my plans").

For the first time since taking over for Bob Bradley 18 months ago, Klinsmann is no longer filling the role of the positive players' coach that we have become used to seeing. Let’s just say he is now sounding less like Tony Dungy and more like Bobby Knight.

Thing may have just gotten real.

While Klinsmann has often spoken about how consistent playing time on the club level was more important than the team or league in which they play for (Klinsmann advised Terrance Boyd to play in Austria and Freddy Adu to move to Major League Soccer rather than remain in bigger European leagues), he changed his tone during January's training camp in Carson, Calif. Klinsmann was pleased when Dempsey signed with Tottenham last summer, but now that's not good enough.

Tottenham isn't Barcelona, after all.

"Show me you can play for a Champions League team, and then you start on a Champions League team," Klinsmann told the WSJ. "There is always another level. If you one day reach the highest level then you've got to confirm it, every year."

At age 29, Dempsey may be running out of time to feature for a competitive Champions League team, but there is still hope. Spurs barely missed out on a Champions League spot last year and the club is currently sitting in fourth place in the Premier League, meaning that if the season were to end today they'd be all but a lock to play in Europe's top competition.

Donovan, 30, on the other hand, had publicly contemplated retirement after last year's MLS Cup. The LA Galaxy announced earlier this week that he will return to the club for another season. The good news for his national team career is that he's playing steady minutes on a club level. The bad news is he's playing for an MLS club with no move to Europe in sight. The even worse news is that he's late for the Galaxy's training camp in what LA coach Bruce Arena described as "an extended leave of absence.”

The new Klinsmann isn't pleased by Donovan's attitude. He told Donovan to stay home for this month's camp and next month's Hexagonal opener in Honduras. "It will be defined over the next year what his role with the national team is," Klinsmann told the newspaper. "But the ultimate call is mine on whether he fits into my plans or doesn't fit into my plans."

The timing of Klinsmann's criticism isn’t all too surprising. It was just over three months ago when the U.S. team lost to Jamaica and dropped to third in its World Cup qualifying group, causing many to question if the Americans even deserved a spot in the Hex. The stakes are much higher now, and his players should be humbled before their trip to Honduras on Feb. 6. The next 10 games decide if the United States qualifies for the World Cup.

Klinsmann says “there is a difference between arrogance and confidence.” He’s trying to keep his stars on earth, and rightfully so. What has the U.S. team won lately – or ever?

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