In the wake of the destruction that former Bayern Munich player and manager and Germany and USMNT coach Jürgen Klinsmann has left behind at Hertha Berlin, I find myself wondering why anyone would agree to hire him in the first place. A man who was axed by the United States on the back of an embarrassing 2018 World Cup qualification somehow wheedled his way into one of the footballing establishments of the German capital only to make a complete fool of himself — and them — when he left earlier this week.
And he thought he could stay on the board!
Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl summarizes Klinsmann’s time here best:
The closer you look at things, the more you realize than ever that Klinsmann is completely delusional at this point.
We saw it again this week.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) February 12, 2020
As a coach, Jurgen Klinsmann is a con man. pic.twitter.com/8Ue88FrE1x
The climax of Klinsmann’s indefensible behavior came just two days ago when he suddenly quit his job as manager of Hertha Berlin. The man was only in charge of the club for 76 days. During that time, he amassed a 3-3-4 record, scoring key wins against Freiburg and Bayer Leverkusen. However, following a 3-1 defeat against Mainz this weekend, coupled with being knocked out of the DFB Pokal, Klinsmann took to Facebook announcing he was leaving the managerial role.
In his post, he outlined some details as to why he left, claiming specifically that the board didn’t trust him:
But for this job, which is not done yet, as the head coach I need the trust of the acting persons. Especially in a relegation battle unity, team spirit and focus on the basics are the most important elements. If they are not guaranteed, I can’t live up to my potential as a head coach and fulfil my responsibility. That’s why, after long consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I will leave my post as the Hertha Berlin head coach and return to my initial long-term task as a member of the supervisory board.
That was obviously wishful thinking on his part. This morning, Hertha chose to completely sever ties with Klinsmann by removing him from his board position.
The club’s main investor, Lars Windhorst spoke at a press conference announcing the decision:
I regret that Jurgen Klinsmann left us abruptly. I talked to him on the phone, and he apologised for it. He’s very sorry. But, sadly, the way he left, he won’t be able to return to the supervisory board. The manner of his departure was unacceptable.
On Wednesday, Klinsmann took to Facebook again to speak his mind. His language suggested there was an internal power struggle between himself and Hertha sporting director Michael Preetz.
Klinsmann’s “English model”
Klinsmann has long been an advocate for what he calls the “English model” of managing, whereby the “manager” has near total control over transfers. After overseeing youth and player development with the U.S. Soccer Federation, Klinsmann hoped to bring his expertise to Berlin in a similar role.
Upon arriving to Hertha, Klinsmann wanted power beyond what his managerial role gave him. He wanted a say in transfers and in the youth academy. When Preetz, who has been Hertha’s general manager since 2009, told him that wasn’t happening. Klinsmann was frustrated.
But you can’t argue that the club didn’t try their best to help their new manager succeed. In the January transfer window, the club spent over €76 million on new young players like Leipzig’s Matheus Cunha and Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek. No other club spent as much this January, not in Germany, not in England, not in Spain. And yet Klinsmann had the audacity to claim that he didn’t feel supported by the club.
A pattern of dubious decisions
It’s not as if the warning signs weren’t there. Klinsmann’s record as a national team coach is far better than his time at the club level. When he took over for Ottmar Hitzfeld at Bayern Munich in 2008, there was a sense that Die Roten could go places. Following a tough Champions League campaign, the hope was that the team could refocus its efforts on the Bundesliga. But Klinsmann failed spectacularly and was subsequently sacked with five games to go, as Wolfsburg lifted the Meisterschale for the first time in their history.
Klinsmann’s tenure in Bavaria was so bad that Philipp Lahm, a player who hardly ever publicly rebukes anyone, called Klinsmann’s tenure a failure in his autobiography. He added that Klinsmann failed to provide tactical instructions to the point that the players themselves held meetings right before kickoff to decide how to play.
When Klinsmann took over as head of the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2011, he brought some success with him from Germany. The team was able to pick up wins against Italy and even against Mexico in the Estadio Azteca.
But in the buildup to the 2014 World Cup, Klinsmann made one of the most controversial choices in US Soccer history by leaving Landon Donovan off the roster for Brazil. Failing to include the best American soccer player in history stung the Yanks, who made it out of the Group of Death only to lose in extra time to Belgium. When asked about the decision, Klinsmann said it was a tough choice to leave Donovan out, but he thought other players were slightly ahead of him. But no doubt the U.S. missed Donovan’s scoring acumen in close games, and many probably would have preferred him over any other American striker out there...like Chris Wondolowski.
Instead of building momentum off of the high of making the knockout stages, Klinsmann failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. His poor choices and team performance issues in the Hex led to his firing midway through the last stage of qualification. However, his fingerprints were all over the team.
In the wake of his firing, Klinsmann was in a coaching limbo until Hertha came calling. But the signs of his delusions were still there. Late in 2019, he said that he could have taken the United States to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup, the very tournament his team failed to even qualify for. And now with his time at Hertha forever marred by this awful Irish exit of a departure, it remains to be seen whether any club will trust Klinsmann ever again.
Clubs: buyer beware
Perhaps Klinsmann can find some success at the international level with a team from Latin America or Eastern Europe. He has shown some ability to take underperforming teams (see Germany circa 2000 and the US circa 2011) and make something out of them. He was previously linked with the national team job in Ecuador, so it’s clear the demand for him is there, or was.
But if any club thinks that bringing Klinsmann into the fold is worth the time, energy, and resources, they will only set themselves up for failure. Klinsmann’s views on the managerial role are draconian, outdated, and ripe for absolute disaster if left unchecked. He should be relegated to the equivalent of a managerial “time out corner” alongside David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
If you need any further evidence, just ask the fans of Hertha Berlin, who are in the middle of a tough relegation battle. Klinsmann treated the club like a manipulative partner. They gave him support, devoted time and energy to him and even bought him expensive gifts. But, at the first sign of trouble, he left, burning everything in his wake and even blamed them for all of the problems he caused.
Hertha deserved better and Jürgen Klinsmann deserves all the vitriol he’s currently getting. No club should hire him ever again.