Jurgen Klinsmann has been head coach of the U.S. national team for a little more than two and a half years, but the journey that led Klinsmann to the job lasted significantly longer than that.
Klinsmann’s path to the U.S. job started back in 2006, when he was leading Germany to a third-place finish at the World Cup. Bruce Arena’s eight-year run as U.S. head coach was coming to an end and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati had one clear-cut preference for the position. None other than Klinsmann.
The German legend had the name recognition, the charisma and an impressive run at the 2006 World Cup to make him an appealing candidate to take charge of the American team, and having lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, it just made too much sense.
Things didn’t quite work out that smoothly.
Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer couldn’t agree on just how much control Klinsmann would be given, and their negotiations fell apart, leaving Gulati to eventually hire Bob Bradley, who guided the team through the 2010 World Cup cycle.
After a Round of 16 exit in the 2010 World Cup, Gulati reached out to Klinsmann yet again, making one more hard push to hire the coach he wanted four years earlier. They failed to reach an agreement yet again, and Gulati gave Bradley a new contract.
When it came to Gulati’s pursuit of Klinsmann, the third time proved to be the charm. After firing Bradley following the 2011 Gold Cup, Gulati hired Klinsmann in August of 2011.
So far, Klinsmann has proved to be worth the wait. He helped the U.S. team finish first in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title, and guided the team to its first victories against Italy and in Mexico. All the while incorporating new faces into the national team setup.
For all his success with the U.S. team to date, Klinsmann’s real job begins in June at the 2014 World Cup. The Americans have finished first in CONCACAF qualifying before, and also won Gold Cups before. What Klinsmann was hired to do was help the U.S. team reach new heights at the World Cup.
Improving on the Round of 16 finish of 2010 won’t be easy though. Not with the Group of Death awaiting. That won’t matter when it comes to Klinsmann and determining whether he is a success or not. Klinsmann’s legacy will be molded by three tough matches against Ghana, Portugal and Germany, and if he can help the Americans advance out of that difficult group, then the lengthy courtship to bring him on, and decision to finally hire him, will look to have been worth it.