Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Jürgen Klinsmann on the Hot Seat

First-time U.S. Men's National Team soccer coach Jürgen Klinsmann, a former German National Team player, seems to have made his personnel decisions very personal.

Klinsmann recently made the inexplicable decision to not only bench the face of U.S. Men's soccer, Landon Donovan, but to leave him off the U.S. roster for the upcoming World Cup tournament in Rio de Janeiro altogether.  In NFL terms, he's tried to avoid a quarterback controversy by shooting the charismatic incumbent.

We can reasonably conclude that the Donovan decision took on the dimensions of a ego-supremacy battle for Klinsmann.  In the immediate aftermath of the roster decision, his teenaged son crowed at Donovan on Twitter, an immature and classless act but one that also suggests the promulgation of a "Him vs. Us" mentality around the dinner table.  It would appear Daddy has been taking his work home with him.

The Donovan episode reminds me of another battle of wills: German engineers vs. American test pilots in the early days of NASA, as depicted in Tom Wolfe's book and the subsequent movie "The Right Stuff".  The control-minded engineers had designed a faceless, windowless capsule, and barely bothered to disguise their contempt for the pilots, viewing them essentially as laboratory animals; whereupon the daredevil astronauts-in-training rebelled, demanded windows and aircraft controls, and insisted their vessel be recharacterized as a human-piloted spacecraft.

Even if Klinsmann is technically right about Donovan's late-career decline, the roster snub is a crude attempt to squelch the essentially American character of the U.S. team by eliminating its signature player, the one individual whom history suggests can save their bacon in stoppage time. It's a hostile and contemptuous act by an insecure leader.

Landon Donovan's place in U.S. soccer history is secure, with or without Rio.  All he's done since Jürgen Klinsmann's roster debacle is surpass the all-time MLS goals record.  Meanwhile, as the result of one blinkered decision, Klinsmann's tenure in the Western Hemisphere may be over almost before it's begun.

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