Jurgen Klinsmann is a grifter. This should be well-known by now.
He once made a World Cup semifinal thanks to the meticulous planning of assistant Jogi Löw and the heroic efforts of Michael Ballack, and he’s been stealing paychecks because of it ever since. Klinsmann has been heavily criticized for his poor management of Bayern Munich and the United States Men’s National Team, and on Monday, he quit his job at Hertha Berlin after less than three months in charge.
Legendary Bayern defender Philipp Lahm spelled out Klinsmann’s lack of aptitude in a 2011 book, and Klinsmann’s USMNT players did the same in interviews with Brian Straus in 2013. Tactical incompetence in a 2-1 loss to Mexico and 4-0 defeat to Costa Rica got him fired by the USMNT in 2016.
Despite regular links to high-profile jobs in the English-language press, Klinsmann remained unemployed for the next three years until Hertha came calling. After he was hired to manage the relegation-threatened Bundesliga club, an anonymous club official told German reporter Stefan Hermanns that Hertha sporting director Michael Preetz “will be sorry” for his decision. Klinsmann was gone 76 days later.
Back in his USMNT days, Klinsmann pulled off his best scam. Following qualification for the World Cup, he convinced his bosses he couldn’t do his job to the best of his abilities if he didn’t have a contract that ran beyond the tournament. He was handed a four-year contract extension. His team showed great spirit to get two results in the group stage and push Belgium to extra time in the Round of 16, but was arguably outplayed in all four matches. His tactical blunders were as mystifying then as they would be two years later, when his luck finally ran out. U.S. Soccer had to pay him seven figures to go away.
Klinsmann’s hiring was preceded by a five-year courting process, during which former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati tried to sell him on the job. The hangup came when Klinsmann asked for full control of the program, which Gulati and the federation’s board weren’t willing to give him. Those issues were resolved in 2011, then Klinsmann was briefly handed what he wanted in 2014. He was ultimately stripped of his technical director powers less than two years later.
He attempted to pull the same moves at Hertha in a shorter timeframe, which is what led to his untimely exit. Just two months into his job, Klinsmann told his supervisors that he needed a multiple-year contract extension that granted him more control over the team’s operations. Preetz was understandably unwilling to give up some of his own duties to a man with such a shaky track record.
In a Facebook Live Q&A with fans, Klinsmann said that he doesn’t like the model of German football in general. Contrary to the existing system in which decision making is divided up among several roles and is often collaborative, Klinsmann prefers a system in which the manager has final say on all big decisions. He simply wasn’t willing to work under Preetz.
Klinsmann’s departure has caused chaos at Hertha, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be sad to see him go. During his time at the club, Klinsmann had “no footballing idea,” Steffen Rohr writes in Kicker. “The noise has increased, but the quality of play has not.” In a callback to his downfall as USMNT boss, Klinsmann surprisingly switched to a back three system in an embarrassing home loss to Mainz during his final match. Though the system fit his personnel fine, his team looked poorly coached, like they had no idea how to do what the boss had asked of them.
All of this is not to say that Klinsmann is worthless, or has no good ideas. Plenty of people who have worked with him at all of his previous jobs have heaped praise on him for the work he’s done behind the scenes.
But as a first team head coach, he is a scam artist of the highest order. It took Hertha’s board 76 days too long, but they figured out they were being scammed before it was too late. After this ordeal, it seems unlikely that another team of Hertha’s stature will fall for Klinsmann’s grift anytime soon.