Michelle Kaufman: Good move by USSF keeping Jurgen Klinsmann

12/15/2013 12:01 AM

12/15/2013 1:17 AM

This column will eventually address Jurgen Klinsmann’s contract extension as U.S. national-team coach, but first, we cannot go more than a day without a mention of David Beckham’s quest to bring Major League Soccer to Miami.

South Florida fans are awaiting Tuesday’s county commission vote to authorize stadium negotiations. In the meantime, we hear that if this ambitious plan does materialize, Beckham aims to lure at least a few top South American and European players to his Miami team. He thinks South Florida’s Latin culture, warm weather, beaches and international cachè will be huge selling points for prospective big-name players who want to extend their fan base in the United States.

MLS has always viewed Miami as a gateway to Latin American markets, and what better way to attract attention than signing recognizable players? Its proximity to South America makes it desirable to players from Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.

A source who has spoken with Beckham’s associates said the soccer icon’s “wish list” for Designated Players would start with the same three players most any soccer fan would pick — Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Radamel Falcao. They are three of the best (if not the three best) players in the world, and though the Miami team doesn’t even exist yet, and any potential team is at least three years from taking the field, fans are welcome to dream, right?

Barcelona’s Argentine star Messi would be 29 in three years. Real Madrid’s Ronaldo would be 31 and AS Monaco’s Falcao, a Colombian superstar, would be 30. Any of the three would come at a steep price. The transfer fee for Ronaldo when he moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid was $130 million. Falcao’s was $90 million. Recent trade rumors involving Messi suggested Barcelona could command a transfer fee as high as $300 million.

And that doesn’t even include their salaries.

OK, back to reality.

The U.S. Soccer Federation announced Tuesday that Klinsmann signed a four-year contract extension that will keep him at the helm through the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He also was given the title of technical director, which formally puts him in charge of coaching education and youth development. The timing of the announcement seemed a bit curious, as most federations (including the United States in the past) wait to see World Cup results before they retain or fire coaches.

USSF president Sunil Gulati, who was in Miami for CONCACAF meetings, explained the decision on a conference call: “We’ve had a very good run and we want to show our support for Jurgen. But there are also pragmatic market considerations. After the World Cup, lots of things could happen. Jurgen may have other interests, we may have other interests. This is a way of making a long-term commitment to each other. Jurgen is a unique coach with unique opportunities.”

Translation: Klinsmann is a hot commodity, and they don’t want to lose him after the World Cup. His name already was linked to Tottenham and the Swiss national team. Gulati did not dispute those news reports came into play.

“We’ve obviously read some of those things,” he said. “We’re not oblivious to the fact that Jurgen over the last two years has had an extraordinary run with the national team and that would bring a lot of interest from the outside.”

Gulati said he is impressed not only with Klinsmann’s results, but with how the team is playing — with more confidence and aggression. He pointed out the Bosnia game, in which the United States rallied from down 2-0, and rather than sit on the tie, kept attacking and emerged with a 4-3 win. “We didn’t sit back. That’s a new mentality,” he said. “Our players had the confidence to continue to press forward against a good European team, in Europe.”

Gulati stressed that the deal was reached before the World Cup draw and both he and Klinsmann said it does not alter their approach heading into a daunting group in Brazil.

“It’s a good feeling to know you can now lay the foundation for more things after the World Cup in player development and other areas, but a coach will always be measured by his results,” Klinsmann said. “I’m a very ambitious person and I always have high expectations, so I’m not looking for any kind of comfort zone going into the World Cup. I would never take that approach because I expect us to do well and get through that very difficult group.

“There is no protection for anything. You guys are going to measure me on the results in Brazil, rightfully so.”

Thumbs up to Gulati and the USSF for making the long-term commitment and not basing everything on World Cup results, like so many other countries do. Klinsmann has so many ideas on how to raise the level of the game in this country, and he needs another four years.

About Michelle Kaufman

Michelle Kaufman

@kaufsports

Michelle Kaufman grew up in Miami and graduated from UM in 1987. She has worked at the St. Petersburg Times and the Detroit Free Press and has been with the Miami Herald since 1996. She has covered 13 Olympics and 6 World Cups.

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