For fans in Germany and beyond, Jurgen Klinsmann’s name will always be closely linked with the summer of 2006. As Germany head coach, Klinsmann led the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ hosts to the semi-finals as the nation erupted in a hitherto unseen wave of euphoria.
Images of the colourful fan festivals and vast crowds at Public Viewing events were beamed around the globe as German football found a new hero in Klinsi, an instant hit in his very first coaching role. However, the former striker chose to follow the principle of quitting while you are ahead and stepped down immediately after the tournament.
He resurfaced in July 2008 at the Bayern Munich helm, but his spell with Germany’s most successful club would only last ten months. In his playing career, the 45-year-old earned 108 international caps, lifting the FIFA World Cup in 1990 and the UEFA EURO in 1996. He played his club football for a host of top names including Bayern, Inter and Tottenham Hotspur.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively with Klinsmann, who is set to move back to California with his family after his spell in Munich, regarding his views on the group line-up, the list of favourites, and the role Germany can be expected to play at South Africa 2010.
FIFA.com: The Final Draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup took place some three weeks ago. Did you follow the show in Cape Town and, if so, what did you think of the event?
Jurgen Klinsmann: I watched the draw on TV. It was a fabulous way to kick off the 2010 World Cup and I was really pleased about that. The successful Final Draw ceremony meant the South African hosts confidently passed another milestone. I’m really impressed with the job they’re doing.
What do you think of hosts South Africa? What can we expect next summer?
I’m expecting a fantastic World Cup. You shouldn’t compare it with previous World Cups, because it’s literally incomparable, so to speak. It's the first event of its type on African soil, and I feel we’re all duty bound to play our part in making it a truly wonderful World Cup.
Turning to the details of the draw, what is your assessment of the composition of the groups?
There are groups comprising three exceptionally strong teams and one underdog, and there are groups where I’d say all four teams are evenly matched. But predicting anything is hard on this occasion, because nearly all the teams are going to encounter basically unfamiliar conditions: playing at altitude, the South African winter, and so on. It could be a World Cup full of surprises.
What is your take on the favourites: the likes of Brazil, England, Argentina and, of course, hosts South Africa?
There can hardly ever have been a World Cup with so many potential favourites, in my opinion. At least eight of the teams are good enough to win it – and every one of them has convincing arguments in their favour. It’ll be a very evenly-matched World Cup. And let’s not forget there are still six months to go. A lot can happen in that time.
Who are your favourites for the trophy?
All eight seeded teams rank among the favourites, but you’ve also got to include a couple of the unseeded teams this time. I’m thinking chiefly of France and Portugal. And then you’ve got a host of dark horses, Côte d’Ivoire or Chile for example, who were outstanding in qualifying.
Which players are destined to make a mark on the tournament or, put another way, which players have the ability to do so?
Without the backing of his team, no single individual is in any position to stamp his authority on such a demanding tournament on his own. Obviously, the likes of [Lionel] Messi, Kaka, [Didier] Drogba or Cristiano Ronaldo can shape and define the finals, but their team-mates will have to be in equally good form.
Turning to Germany’s group, what do you make of Australia, Serbia and Ghana?
It’s neither good nor bad. Obviously it could have been worse for Germany, but it could have been easier, too. Serbia will be very challenging, and I’m interested to see how far Australia’s fighting spirit takes them. They could have beaten the Italians back in 2006. But the most intriguing aspect will be seeing how the African teams fare - Ghana, for example.
How far can Joachim Low and his team go next year?
A nation like Germany will always go to the World Cup aiming to win it – and they can, with the necessary slice of good fortune. Germany have made the semis or better in the last two major tournaments. But at the end of the day, the tiniest things make the difference. In footballing terms, Germany have definitely improved with the addition of new players such as Mesut Ozil.
Did you feel any sense of regret when you were watching the draw? You were a national coach at the time of the previous Final Draw.
Regret is the wrong word. I’m looking forward to the World Cup, and to my assignment as a TV expert.
Do you regret stepping down as national coach when you did?
I never dwell on the past. I had no other choice in the circumstances anyway. My family simply took priority.
You have mentioned that you will be at next year’s finals as a colour commentator for TV. Could you imagine keeping that going after the tournament?
I’m asking myself the same question. I’m approaching it in a completely relaxed frame of mind. I’m just hoping I can convey the joy and exuberance of it all to the viewers. As to whether I’ll go back into football straight afterwards, I honestly can’t say.
You have repeatedly been linked with club jobs recently. When might we see you back in the dugout?
There are always going to be rumours, but I’m very unlikely to take on anything new until after the World Cup next summer. It’s totally up in the air as to what I might do next.