U.S. Soccer negotiated with former Germany and Bayern Munich coach Jurgen Klinsmann before ultimately deciding to retain Bob Bradley for the 2014 World Cup run. In an interview, Klinsmann revealed details of the conversations, over three or four weeks. According to him the fundamental dispute that broke down negotiations was over “authority,” and U.S. Soccer’s willingness to guarantee that authority in writing.
From the interview.
“Verbally, we agreed on that the technical side is my side, and I should have 100 percent control of it. In written terms, they couldn’t commit to it, and at that point, I said, ‘Well, I can’t get the job done because I have to have the last say as a head coach for my entire staff, for all the players issues, for everything that happens with the team.’
U.S. Soccer would not comment on Klinsmann’s statement, leaving knowledge of the situation imperfect. This opacity creates problems.
We have Klinsmann’s version of events, with nothing to contradict them. It’s no guarantee Klinsmann would have been better than Bradley, but the story indicates that U.S. Soccer scared off a pedigreed international coach with interest in the position because they would not let him control the team adequately. Was this more stringent than his restrictions with Germany? Or, was he willing to accept fewer restrictions working for the United States?
U.S. Soccer is still an amateur organization. Modern professional soccer, at a modest level, has existed in this country for less than two decades. It would seem autocratic and insane for Sunil Gulati, a soccer-promoting economics professor, to insist on ultimate authority over team selection and technical decisions. Through the ubiquitous usage of “no comments,” cedes control of the debate. There’s no reason to disbelieve even the most insidious rumors.
Professional sports organizations earn trust by being proactive. If there is a controversy in the NFL or NBA, Roger Goddell and David Stern are out in front of the media immediately, giving a reasoned, articulate response and answering questions. They build credibility. They control the message through engagement. U.S. Soccer, at the slightest sign of controversy, retreats to an Ivory tower.
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