Breaking news: Jurgen Klinsmann knows a little about soccer!

Yes, Jurgen Klinsmann is good with the press and charming with the public. But he DOES know how many guys to put on the soccer field.

Is anybody else tickled by this careening notion that Jurgen Klinsmann is some tactical nincompoop?

As the story goes, Klinsmann was a kind of inspirational cheerleader in his days with the German national team – a darn successful time, it must be said.  Accounts credit the German innovator with shaking up a rigid cultural order through bright, modern and clever techniques on the training ground and behind the scenes.  But when it comes to tactical maneuvering he frequently gets short shrift. Meanwhile German national team successor and assistant under Klinsmann, Joachim "Jogi" Löw, gets the high fives of praise.

Look, I’m no expert at Klinsmann’s days and nights in charge of the Die Mannschaft. But I damn sure know something about the media echo chamber. And this notion that Klinsmann doesn’t know his left from his right tactically is rattling around the media echo chamber like a bullet fired into a metal cargo hold.

I mean, to hear and read some guys talk about it now, left to his own devices Klinsmann might just throw the old W-M at ‘em!  (For you youngsters, that’s a relic of formation pretty much went out with Elvis Presley movies.) Or, he might just line up Carlos Bocanegra as an old-school sweeper and tell him that “it worked for Franz Beckenbauer, it’ll work for us!”

Here’s the deal: Klinsmann knows how many dudes to put on the field.   It may be true that Klinsmann formerly delegated the game-to-game tactical scheming to Löw, but that doesn’t mean the guy in charge can’t do a little scheming on his own. But a good manager (“manager” in the broader sense, that is, not just as in “coach”) delegates and then checks his urge to micro-manage. If a manager says, “I’ll set the basic ways and playing philosophies, but I want you to handle the game planning and the subsequent tactical adjustments,” then he has to trust his lieutenants to do just that.

Klinsmann did learn under some pretty bright types, ya know?


As a player he mentored under Arsene Wenger, Giovanni Trapattoni, Beckenbauer and Otto Rehhagel, among others. You couldn’t spend time under those guys without learning something of how to arrange the pieces. I mean, does anybody really believe someone as smart as Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t have his own ideas, strategic as well as tactical?

Besides all that, as myself and others always say, the game is about the players.  More than “tactics” per se, it’s about assessing talent and then assigning roles that make sense. It’s about preparation, expectations, accountability, etc.  The Xs and Os matter, but they are secondary in many ways.   

Tactics are only as good as the men doing the passing, trapping, defending and shooting.  Perhaps there are a few tactical savants out there, but nobody is re-inventing soccer.  Barcelona appears to be playing a different game right now, but that’s not about brainy or innovative tactics. They have Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Gerard Pique, David Villa, etc., for heaven’s sake!  This pressing game they play with such authority is lovely and staggeringly effective – but it’s really about the talent (and developing the talent) and it’s nothing new.

So, let’s just set aside this notion that Klinsmann struggles to remember how many guys to put on the field. He did, after all, make a couple of heady halftime adjustments in that recent debut against Mexico. His side looked far better after the break – although I suppose there is some small chance that Jogi Löw buzzed Klinsmann in the locker room to supply all the answers.

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