IT WAS clear from the start yesterday that Jurgen Klinsmann wasn’t interested in taking his VW Beetle down memory lane as he previewed tonight’s international friendly between his United States team and Scotland.
His playing career was off limits. And no one even had to mention a thing about swallow dives. He could barely recall the 1-0 win against Scotland at Ibrox he helped Germany to achieve back in March 1993.
You remember the one. Duncan Ferguson. Overhead kick. Salmon pink strips. A Scotland team consisting entirely of home-based players. A back-header from skipper-for-the-night Craig Levein that failed to reach goalkeeper Nicky Walker and allowed Karl-Heinz Reidle to score the winning goal.
It was put to Klinsmann. “I don’t know. I don’t remember, to be honest,” he said. “I think we played in a friendly once here and we won 1-0. But I don’t live in the past and I am not thinking about old games,” he added, with considerable understatement.
The 49-year-old politely declined to answer one question about the part he played in Germany’s football evolution in the 1990s. As for looking forward to sampling Hampden Park for the first time, the fact he never played in the stadium during his career clearly hasn’t left a huge hole in his life. He shrugged his shoulders. There was no glow of reverence on his face, no mention of Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt and Zinedine Zidane and European Cup-winning goals, or the old square posts and a rumbling roar.
He only played in Scotland twice. Both times were in Glasgow, and neither time was at Hampden. Celtic Park was the venue for the other occasion, when Bayern Munich sent over a team for Peter Grant’s testimonial and Klinsmann scored twice in a 2-1 victory. But, since he could barely recall an international game in Scotland, it was unlikely he was going to open up about his memories of playing in a testimonial.
When he first stepped up to international management with Germany he was often portrayed as a Californian motivational guru, and it’s possible to understand why. The past is a foreign country to him. He was mostly interested in looking forward which, when you have a World Cup in Brazil to contemplate, is perhaps understandable.
The United States are on a roll just now, with 15 victories in their last 16 outings. And Scotland are just another team on the fixture planner. Next week they are in Austria and there will be annoying sports journalists asking Klinsmann about the significance of the Ernst Happel Stadion to him. Like a rock star, Klinsmann and his entourage move in and then move on again, with barely a “goodnight Glasgow”. The squad is drawn from a wide area. They are used to the itinerant lifestyle.
“I am very proud to be in a role right now where I can guide the US team to an exciting World Cup and our goal is to grow, to improve, to get everyone at a higher level,” Klinsmann noted. As has been said before, it was all very Californian, and hardly unexpected. After all, Klinsmann finished his playing career with an amateur team in the States, and now lives in Southern California. He has an American wife. Even when he managed Germany, he flew over from the States for games.
It is possible to form the impression that this has left him a bit detached from things. Of course, Scotland is far from the centre of the footballing world nowadays, and he displayed a decent working knowledge of events at Rangers, perhaps gleaned from players such as DaMarcus Beasley and Alejandro Bedoya, who are in the squad, and former skipper Carlos Bocanegra, who is not. They have also been training at Murray Park this week.
“Everyone in Europe is waiting for those two or three years when Rangers are back in the top flight,” said Klinsmann, with reference to their hosts. However, he was far from specific when asked what comes to mind when he thinks about Scottish football (which clearly doesn’t happen very often, and why should it?).
“Well, I mean big names, big players they had in the past,” he answered. “They are always 100 per cent full of passion, dedication to their team, tremendous work-rate, individual talent and always emotional. They give you everything they have, so therefore it’s a good benchmark for us tomorrow night.”
Hmmm. Now Gordon Strachan, he did recall. “I think he played for Coventry when I played for Spurs but I’m not living old games,” he said, again.
“I admire Gordon and I think he has done very well since he came on board. He’s always been a hard, hard-working person. He pulls his sleeves up and says ‘let’s get to work’ and you can see that already.
“He did tremendously as a player, he’s doing well as a coach and he has the right work ethic. On a personal level we don’t know each other too well, we’ll maybe get a chance for a chat tomorrow night. He deserves a huge compliment.”
He was also full of praise for the Scottish supporters, who he says are missed from the World Cup finals (the United States, by contrast, have qualified for the last seven). “It’s sad to see that they didn’t qualify because everybody wants to see Scotland at the World Cup because of their fantastic fans. They’re known worldwide,” he said. He was sympathetic about the circumstances surrounding Scotland’s last meeting with the United States, when they were thrashed 5-1 two summers ago. “Scotland did us the favour to come over after their season, to Florida, in 95 degrees and we knew that it was going to be very difficult for them to bring everything they have when their season was already done,” he said.
He expected a different game this evening at Hampden Park, where he was conspicuous by his very hands-on presence at a 90-minute training session last night.
It was good to see a genuine legend of the game finally leave his distinguished tread on the hallowed turf, even if the romance of it all was lost on the blond figure in the centre circle with a whistle around his neck.