Jurgen Klinsmann: Singing anthem a personal choice

Argentina’s Lionel Messi, left, celebrates after scoring against Uruguay during a 2018 World Cup qualifying match on Thursday night. Messi came back to the national team after saying he was retired from playing for Argentina.
Argentina’s Lionel Messi, left, celebrates after scoring against Uruguay during a 2018 World Cup qualifying match on Thursday night. Messi came back to the national team after saying he was retired from playing for Argentina. AP

Add Jurgen Klinsmann to the long list of people talking about sports and the national anthem this week.

The U.S. national soccer coach, who moved to the United States from Germany in 1998 and has an American wife, was asked his opinion on the topic in wake of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racism by sitting and kneeling during the anthem before games.

Klinsmann, speaking to reporters in advance of Friday’s World Cup qualifier at St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said he considers “The Star Spangled Banner” “the most beautiful [anthem] in the world,” and he belts it out proudly. But he would not penalize a player who chooses not to sing it.

“I understand everyone jumping into that discussion, and everyone has his own opinion, everyone has his own feelings when he listens to the national anthem,” he said. “I wouldn’t force any player to do whatever, but I kind of asked them to enjoy this moment, to sing the anthem, to be thoughtful about who you represent.”

Klinsmann has taken anthem-singing seriously since his days on the Germany national team.

“In Germany, if you wouldn’t sing the anthem you would be on the front cover the Bild Zeitung [a tabloid newspaper], which has 10 million copies every day and is probably read by 20 to 25 million people every day in an 80 million population. Because for them it shows your commitment. So we had that 20 years ago when we were playing. The public urged the athletes to sing the anthem, and slowly they grow into that feeling and say, ‘Yeah, it’s all right.’ Now everybody sings it.”

Because there are some dual-citizens on the team who did not grow up in America, Klinsmann has handed out the lyrics to the national anthem and urged players to learn it. He sometimes posts the anthem in the meal room on road trips.

“I respect everybody’s approach to it,” he said. “For me, I’ve said it many times, especially to the German media, I think the American anthem is the most beautiful in the world, really. There is so much in that anthem. I love to sing it. I really feel good about it, and I don’t have an American passport. I think it’s a very special anthem, but if an athlete decides [not to sing], that’s his decision. That’s fine, I’m not criticizing.”

▪ Messi’s baaaaack! Well, that was a quick retirement. Two months after announcing his retirement from the national team following a painful penalty shootout loss to Chile in the Copa America, Lionel Messi was back out on the field in his Argentina jersey scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Uruguay on Thursday.

The victory put Argentina in first place in the South American World Cup qualifying standings with 14 points. Uruguay is in second place with 13, followed by Colombia (13) and Ecuador (13). Brazil, which beat Ecuador 3-0, is in fifth place with 12 points. The top four earn automatic berths, and the fifth-place team enters a playoff against a team from Oceania.

“I am very grateful [to be back on the national team],” Messi told TV Publica. “But I did not deceive anybody when I retired — I felt that. We were very disappointed with what had happened, but after that I thought better. I had a conversation with the Paton [coach Edgardo Bauza] and the people as well accompanied me through it.”

Fans have forgiven him for his brief absence. One fan even ran onto the field and kissed Messi’s feet after the Uruguay game. But Messi might have to miss Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier on the road at Venezuela because of a groin injury.

“My groin hurts a lot, but I wanted to be here after all the chaos I created, but saying that I wouldn’t return and then saying I would,” he explained.

“I don’t know if I can be [in Venezuela]. I always want to play, but the truth is that the season is just starting and there are a lot of important matches ahead of us. I’ll see what the doctor says and go by how I feel.”

In other World Cup qualifiers, 19-year-old rising star Gabriel Jesus scored two goals in his debut for the Brazilian national team, and Neymar scored the other goal. Jesus is headed to Manchester City. Colombia beat Venezuela 2-0, as Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez had a goal and an assist. Bolivia defeated Peru 2-0, and Paraguay beat Chile 2-1.

▪ Teen goalkeeper for Italy: Gialuigi Donnarumma, the 17-year-old AC Milan phenom, became Italy’s youngest national goalkeeper when he replaced 38-year-old legend Gianluigi Buffon at halftime of Thursday’s 3-1 loss to France. Italy was down 2-1 when the 6-5 teenager stepped into the goal.

Donnarumma was born a year after Buffon made his international debut in October 1997.

“He’s a player with huge potential,” new Italy coach Giampiero Ventura said. “I wasn’t going to bring him with us just to sit on the bench.”

League standings

Major League Soccer: East — NYC (44), Toronto (43), NY, Philadelphia (40), Montreal (37). West — Dallas (48), Real Salt Lake, Colorado (43), LA (40), Kansas City (38).

NASL: Cosmos (26), Edmonton, Indy (20), Minnesota (17), Miami FC (16).

English Premier League: Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United (9), Everton (7), Hull City (6).

La Liga: Las Palmas, Barcelona, Real Madrid (6), Sevilla, Deportiva, Sporting, Leganes (4).