To say that Jurgen Klinsmann was a good player is an understatement. Jurgen was extremely gifted, and his playing record proves it: FIFA World Champion (1990), European Champion (1996), Olympic bronze medallist (1988), twice Uefa Cup Champion (1991 with Internazionale and 1996 with Bayern Munchen), German champion (1997 with Bayern Munchen), 108 caps and 47 goals for Germany.
There is more: Footballer of the Year in Germany (1988 and 1994), Footballer of the Year in England (1995), European Footballer of the Year runner-up (1995), and goals galore in the top leagues of Germany, Italy, France and England.
As the leader of the German national team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, he will try to satisfy the aspirations of his countrymen and capture football's ultimate prize. Despite the heavy burden, he carries his responsibilities with impressive dignity, focus and style. The man in the sharply defined spotlight is Jurgen Klinsmann.
When you were a player, were you already thinking about a coaching career?
No not at all. As a player you focus on giving your best for the team and try to be the best you can be. In England, where they sometimes go for the player/manager solution it was an option, but this does not happen anywhere else, and I never really thought about becoming a coach or manager. There are some players who already show the characteristics for becoming a coach when they are playing or training, but I was not one of them.
For you, what are the biggest differences between coaching and playing?
As a coach, you realise that your influence on the game is minimal once the action begins. The emphasis as a coach is on the preparation, the tactics, and communication with the players; but once the game starts it becomes mainly a game for players. From the technical area you can have an influence through tactical moves or substitutions, but you really have to let go a little once the action starts. As a player, you can take responsibility because you have the power to make things happen. As a coach, you have fewer possibilities to make an impact once the game is in progress.
What has changed around the national team since you were a player?
Things are always changing. For example, the media attention now is far greater than it was ten or 15 years ago. The professional environment has changed and in many ways has improved. Different aspects have developed: like the professionalism of scouting, the analysis systems and the medical side, which continues to reach new levels of expertise. You are always looking for ways to make a difference. The new generation of players has grown up in a different environment from my day. The work has become more individual, whereas in my day everything was team-orientated. Now we have small groups or we work with individual players. It is a fascinating evolution and you try to do the best you can for every single player. Money, of course, has had an effect - it is not easy for young players to deal with large amounts of money, but that has always been the case. It is clear that the education of players will become even more important in the future. You need to develop people, not just football players. You need to help the players with their technical work to make them better players and you must offer them assistance to help them become stronger personalities. Players will become more conscious about their careers - they will plan their careers better and will invest in their own development, which was not the case before. In US sport, the athletes take part in preparation programmes to make sure they are ready for the pre-season training with their teams. Areas like sports science and psychology have become more significant in recent years. But we must remember that it is in the games and the tournaments that your work will be measured and the players will be judged.
How would you describe your style as a manager/coach?
I see myself as the leader of a team -I am a team player. I have a big staff and I discuss everything with them. Of course, I have to make the final decisions if we do not have an agreement. So far we have always had a solution before the decision is made and that makes me feel very comfortable. I was used to making my own decisions as a player, I did not have an agent and I negotiated my own contracts. There will be times when it will be difficult, especially when you need to say no to people. I can make the difficult decisions even though it is not pleasant. I deal with everyone on a personal basis when I am communicating my decisions.
Who have been the biggest influences on you as a player and as a coach?
I was very lucky. For almost 18 years as a professional player, I worked with people like Franz Beckenbauer and Berti Vogts, both World Cup winners and successful coaches. I also worked with Otto Rehhagel, Giovanni Trapattoni, Ossie Ardiles, Cesar Luis Menotti, Arsene Wenger - an amazing number of high-profile coaches. And I picked up something from them all I learned a lot from Arie Haan during my time in Stuttgart, and with Arsene Wenger at Monaco, such as the way to handle people and to be respectful because the person comes first. I am very thankful for the opportunities I have had. Each coach had his own style and I learned from them that it is much more than just thinking about the result at the end of the week. If I think back to my time in the national team, I was impressed by Franz Becken-Bauer's easy way of handling things and how he was always positive. Above all, he was incredibly charismatic. Berti Vogts was such a detailed worker - he was extremely well prepared for every training session. Arie Haan was very influential in my early years, but all the others gave me something. The way Arsene Wenger developed players was very impressive - at the time in Monaco, I often wondered why he did certain things but then later I would see the positive results of his work with particular players.
What are the main difficulties you have faced since becoming Germany's national coach?
Firstly, it was important to analyse the problems I was facing. How to build the 'team behind the team'. Deciding who was responsible for what. You need to put a group of people together that you feel comfortable with and who are extremely competent in their roles. I had to learn quickly to deal with the players' side and also the environment I was facing. Certain questions took priority. For example: What type of football would we like to play with the German national team? What will we stand for? What is our identity? I had to learn fast to understand the various mentalities I faced in my new role. The media were critical and curious -my lack of coaching experience was a factor, as was the residence issue with my commitment to commute between the United States and Germany. Although the media would like to have you available 24/7, not being there actually helps me to focus on our priorities. I don't get caught up in the day-to-day domestic issues. The Confederations Cup helped us a lot - it was a big step. The people saw that we were doing a good job and working very hard, and it has developed from there.
What are your priorities when preparing the German national team?
My priority is to get the team behind the team working together to produce the right chemistry in the squad. To make sure that the fitness is right and that our young players have the confidence to perform. It is also important to keep the environment around the team as relaxed as possible - this is very important especially as we are playing a World Cup in our own country and the pressure, especially through the media, might get too high. I want all of us to feel relaxed but very focused. Our goal is to win the World Cup, and we have declared that early so that the players learn to deal with that expectation. When top countries like England or Italy play a tournament in their own country, people dream about winning it. In Germany, the expectations are there and the players must handle that.
To be continued
This article was first published in The Technician supplement of UEFA Direct and is reproduced with their permission.