Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

'The Future Belongs to Berlin' - Jurgen Klinsmann's box-office return to management

Charismatic Klinsi takes charge of Hertha and is already commanding the headlines in Germany

Jurgen Klinsmann with Hertha Berlin's Marvin Plattenhardt during his first training session as manager in Berlin. AFP
Jurgen Klinsmann with Hertha Berlin's Marvin Plattenhardt during his first training session as manager in Berlin. AFP

Beneath the slogan ‘The Future Belongs to Berlin’, Jurgen Klinsmann set out his manifesto. He may have been away from club football for over a decade, but by the end of his presentation as Hertha Berlin’s new head coach the charismatic 'Klinsi' had left the impression of being the freshest, most fashionable thing to have happened to Germany’s capital since the Wall came down.

Klinsmann’s return to senior coaching, initially until May, as Hertha’s sherpa out of relegation danger, is the headline story of the Bundesliga season so far, even when Bayern Munich have already sacked a manager, and Borussia Dortmund teeter around a similar decision.

It was unexpected, yet once Klinsmann had articulately outlined the perfect fit between him, the esteemed icon, and what he calls “the sleeping giant” that is Hertha, he made it seem compellingly logical.

He explained, with genuine warmth, his schoolboy attachment to Hertha, how his grandfather, a Berliner, supported the club and passed on the affection to young Jurgen, growing up in Stuttgart. As a kid, he had a Hertha membership card – “the only club I had one for”, he pointed out – and kept it as his stellar career as a world-class striker took off, first at Stuttgart, then at Internazionale, Monaco, Tottenham Hotspur and Bayern Munich, not to mention over 100 caps, nearly 50 goals and a 1990 World Cup winners medal for his country.

The enduring bond with Hertha is not just a nice storyline. It will help deflect suspicions Klinsmann is merely dabbling with this role, that interests or ambitions elsewhere might dilute his commitment.

The scepticism may be unfair, but German football knows Klinsmann both as a national hero and also as a restless emigré.

His home address has been in California for more than 15 years, and when he was making his biggest mark as a manager, of Germany, it was as a frequent trans-Atlantic commuter.

He was a much-loved national coach, the Pied Piper of a resurgent Germany, guiding the national team to the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup they hosted.

Under Joachim Low, Klinsmann’s then assistant, Germany have since won the tournament, but the ‘Klinsi Revolution’ around a team that had flopped at the group stage of the previous European Championship captured the public imagination as powerfully as Low’s World Cup win.

Klinsmann spent two years in charge of Germany, returned to the US, and was called back by Bayern in 2008. “I am very grateful for the year I was at Bayern,” he said on Wednesday, with a decade of hindsight, “and I learned a lot”.

Which is about the most positive gloss that can be put on Klinsmann’s one experience as a senior club coach. It actually lasted less than a year because he was sacked five games before the end of the campaign with Bayern’s executives concerned they might finish outside the top four.

The episode tends to be remembered for Klinsmann’s eccentricities as much as the gung-ho football. He had statues of Buddhas placed around the training headquarters to stimulate the players. Many of them simply sniggered.

After that, another break, and then five years as head coach of the USA national team. He enjoyed some significant peaks, like progressing from a tough group into the knockout phase of the Brazil World Cup, and the spell also helped to define Klinsmann’s management style. He can be demanding of his employers, prickly if his powers are restricted.

At Hertha they should be extensive. He recently accepted a sporting-director role at the club at the request of their new major shareholder, businessman Lars Windhorst, and has been free to appoint an able set of deputies, led by Alexander Nouri – respected former head coach of Werder Bremen. “I want my coaches to be loud on the training pitch,” said Klinsmann, hinting at an awareness that his forte is motivation rather than detailed tactical drilling. “They will hear enough from me on matchdays.”

His enthusiasm and drive for the challenge seem absolute. Klinsmann had been impatient for a return to coaching – last month he was in extended talks about taking the reins of the Ecuador national team – and had watched, in the last few weeks, Bayern create a vacancy for head coach and fill it from within, and Spurs appoint Jose Mourinho. Once upon a time, an available Klinsmann would have been an outstanding candidate for both those jobs.

That time is past. The priority now is stopping Hertha’s freefall, four successive defeats having led to the dismissal of Ante Covic as coach and a perilous 15th place in the table. On Saturday, Dortmund come to Berlin, a box-office first fixture for Hertha’s superstar boss.

Updated: November 28, 2019 05:17 PM

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