It is almost exactly ten years since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as head coach of the German national team, having been handed a brief to shape the country’s footballing future. The former striker instilled an attack-minded philosophy into the side and guided them to third place at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil.
His right-hand man at that tournament was none other than Joachim Low, who has since taken the helm and steered Germany back among the world’s elite with his brand of creative and expansive football. Klinsmann has been in charge of USA’s national side since July 2011 and is aiming to gradually emulate his compatriots’ achievements, starting by making waves at this month's eagerly-anticipated World Cup in Brazil.
In one of the more intriguing subplots thrown up by the group stage draw, the 49-year-old will face his former protege on 26 June in Group G in Recife. Klinsmann chatted to FIFA.com about his objectives with USA, excitement ahead of the tournament and the emotions the fixture with Germany will awaken in him.
FIFA.com: In the group stage, USA will face Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Where would you rank your team among those four?
Jurgen Klinsmann: From our point of view it’s certainly a very tough group. Ghana are something of a bogey team because we’ve lost twice against them at the last two World Cups. Going up against Germany and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will be incredibly difficult, but we’ve been improving step by step and want to start rubbing shoulders with very best teams in the world. There’s nothing better than playing against those kinds of teams. We believe we can make it into the next round.
How special is it that the World Cup is being hosted in Brazil?
It couldn’t get any better for the players or for anyone else involved for that matter, including the coaching staff and the fans. It doesn’t get any bigger than playing a World Cup in a country that has won the title five times, with the Final to be held at the Maracana. It’s such a football-crazy nation and the people there live for the game around the clock. It’s fantastic.
What were your thoughts when USA were drawn against Germany?
I had an inkling it might happen but you still think ‘come on, did it have to be like that?’ You just have to take it in your stride though. We’ll give everything to give Germany a good game. We’re aiming to reach the next round, so if we need one point or three to achieve that then we’ll try to do it.
I had an inkling it might happen but you still think ‘come on, did it have to be like that?’.
You worked closely with Joachim Low for a long time. Surely you must know all of each other’s tricks?
Our friendship is based on respect. He’s done outstanding work in the last eight years and it’s great to see the development of the German team that is being supplied by a youth system that has produced so many young players. You only hope that a title will come along at some point, but they’re ready to win one. Of course it’ll be difficult to win the World Cup in Brazil because no European team has ever managed to do so in South America, but that’s the challenge Germany have set themselves given the superb crop of players they have. Jogi’s doing a great job and I couldn’t be happier for him, but I hope we’ll be able to cause them some problems when we meet.
To what extent is it still your team?
I’m happy that I was able to be part of building it up to what it is today. The two years leading up to the 2006 World Cup were very intense, as the tournament was being held in our own country and that put everything in a different light. Together with the whole backroom staff and the players, that sense of being pioneers was a lot of fun. But since then it has all been down to Jogi, Oliver Bierhoff and the players. We do get a little bit envious of the amount of young players being brought through each year in the German youth system, but that’s also why expectations are higher for them. Germany’s aim is to win the World Cup, whereas USA’s objective is to reach the knockout rounds.
Will you have divided loyalties in the fixture against Germany?
Of course I’ll look over to the German bench because I helped to shape the side into what it is, but as soon as the game kicks off I’ll only be rooting for my team. We want to compete well and to match them toe to toe. We’ve been closing the gap on the top teams and have produced decent results against some big names in the last two and a half years. We want to build on that at the World Cup. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who you play against, you need to be on your game when it matters.
And what about your family?
They’ll certainly be leaning more towards America. My wife is American and my children grew up in the USA so there’s more of a ‘Stars and Stripes’ pull there.