121312_klinsmannjurgen_isi_usmntbf02292012f228 Bernd Feil/isiphotos.com
Player Portrait

Being Jurgen Klinsmann: The Player Becomes Coach

The head of the United States national team used to be a pretty famous footballer. Ryan O'Hanlon wonders where the player ends and the coach begins, and if it's possible to separate the pair.
BY Ryan O'Hanlon Posted
December 13, 2012
7:45 AM
He’s lying there, blond hair, fair skin, exuberantly laid out. He’s on his side, legs stacked on top of each other, but there’s no pillow. So his head's on his left hand, and his left elbow’s stuck into the ground to help prop himself up. It’s suggestive, maybe? How he’s laying there, his head tilted a little bit—“seductive” is a better word. He’s seducing you, whoever you are. Or, he would be if this were a bedroom or a beach or a photo shoot on some boardwalk in the middle of the jungle. But it’s not. This is a soccer field in London, and he’s lying on some chalked-over grass in front of thousands of mostly-pasty 30-and-40-somethings spitting out pieces of prawn sandwiches and pork rolls because they’re either so happy or so angry.

Jurgen Klinsmann has just scored a goal for Tottenham, and he wants you to know how he feels about how you feel about him diving.

Two men—among the thousands of other men—look on. One of them is in a suit, or he’s in a jumpsuit. He might be wearing a puffy winter coat, but he’s expressionless because what are you going to do when there’s a grown man laid out like that in front of you and that grown man just scored a goal against the team you manage? And then the other man—dressed similarly, some mixture of the previously-outlined wardrobe options—is happy because his team just scored a goal and you win by scoring goals and therefore, ultimately, you keep your job by scoring goals. But he’s a manager and he can’t go crazy or slide down there with him. His mouth might break slightly into a smile, or it might not. He’s happy—but he just can’t show it because, again, he’s a manager and the manager has to be above all that.


We’re in Russia now. It’s pretty cold because we’re in Russia, and it’s the winter, and we’re in this place called Krasnodar, which might as well be the North Pole for the majority of humanity.

Things weren’t good. There was a quick free kick that his center midfielder played off the back of his striker’s heel that folded the team back in on itself and gave the Russians an easy, early goal. It happened less than eight minutes in, and that was bad. It didn’t get much better as they kept shooting and dribbling and passing and getting the ball too close to goal. Another ball in the net seemed like an inevitability. But then the two men he subbed on combined together to set up a perfect volley for the son of the man who used to be him. And he—the coach—jumped up and down in his dress pants and his zipped-up winter coat, but only for a few seconds because the game was still to finish.

They scored right after that, anyway, so there wasn’t much time to jump and smile because now they were winning. Back to standing on the sideline, back to wearing a jacket, back to not really doing all that much because you don’t have any strings and these players aren’t puppets anyway. But then he’s jumping around and screaming a minute before the final whistle because one of his young substitutions headed the ball to one of his other young substitutions, who padded the ball into the net.

Jurgen Klinsmann has just finished the 2012 calendar year with a 2-2 tie against Russia in Russia. Whether or not you want to know, he’s letting you know he’s happy.

After the game, the two men in jumpsuits or suit-suits or pants-and-parkas are calm. They walk toward each other and shake hands. They shake some other hands, and then they talk to the media, address their teams in the locker room, and then they talk to the media some more because they are managers and this is what they have to do. This is what Jurgen Klinsmann has to do.

Whether or not this is who he is, well, that’s a pretty important question.

Ryan O'Hanlon (@rwohan) is an ASN 100 panel member and an editor at Outside.

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