October 21, 2005

Klinsmann under attack for California lifestyle

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - The California home address of Germany soccer coach Juergen Klinsmann has turned into such a heated issue that even Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder felt the need to voice his opinion.

Taking aim at critics of Klinsmann's long-distance commute, the German leader went out of his way to defend the 41-year-old coach, whose team have struggled in the last two months after an unexpectedly successful first year.

Germany is hosting the 2006 World Cup and pressure is growing for a fourth title after success in 1954, 1974 and 1990.

Germany's attractive high-scoring style since Klinsmann took over had initially silenced his critics but the team have won just two of their last five matches since finishing a strong third in the Confederations Cup in June behind Brazil and Argentina.

"That's so typical German," Schroeder said. "They'll sing 'hallelujah' as long as it's going well, and there's no doubt things were going very well. But then they crucify him very, very fast as soon as things aren't going so well.

"Juergen Klinsmann and his assistants don't deserve the treatment they've been getting," he said. "What they have earned is for people to have more faith in them. So I urge those crucifying them: back off, because you can't do it any better."

The unexpected intervention on Wednesday by the outgoing chancellor was the latest chapter in a remarkable saga that is only ostensibly about Klinsmann's decision to maintain his home in a Southern California beach town and commute long-distance.

Bundesliga critics of Klinsmann, whose previous lack of head coach experience irritated many, have long been more bothered by new ideas on training, fitness and job competition that Klinsmann brought to Germany from his adopted home in the United States.

That a world soccer power could possibly learn anything from upstarts in America is seen as heresy in Germany by many of the retired world and European champions now working as Bundesliga coaches, executives, columnists and television commentators.


Klinsmann's sunny optimism, even in the face of his many critics, also seems to have upset the pessimists in Germany. German newspapers have published pictures of a smiling Klinsmann jogging along the beach in California.

"He should stop his dancing around in California while leaving us to deal with all the crap here," said Bayern Munich's sporting director Uli Hoeness, one of Klinsmann's sharpest critics, in a startling outburst on Premiere network last week.

"The team is in the same catastrophic condition as the whole country," added Hoeness, whose views are shared by Schalke 04 sporting director Rudi Assauer. "A lot of things bother me, for example, where he lives. In my view it's obvious that a coach also makes sacrifices when he demands them from others."

Klinsmann, who said this week he plans to spend more time in Germany next year but will not resettle here, will meet German club leaders on Tuesday, national team manager Oliver Bierhoff said on Thursday. The main issue will be his California address.

Kicker magazine reported that league officials will try to persuade Klinsmann to move with his family to Germany in 2006.

"That's not something anyone can demand of him," Bierhoff said. "The important thing is that Juergen's work is effective."

Klinsmann moved to California, where he lives with his American wife and two children, long before he took the Germany job in July 2004. He has been flying the 20,000-km round trip about twice a month to work in Germany ever since.

In California, he rises before dawn to communicate with his assistants, players and Bundesliga coaches in Germany via e-mail and phone calls. He says living abroad helps him to stay in tune with international competition.


Others have said the distance from the critical media in Germany is also beneficial and noted that Japan's Brazilian coach Zico and Greece's German coach Otto Rehhagel also have long-distance relationships with their teams.

Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has the opposite problem -- most of his team play with European clubs.

"At the end of the day the only thing that matters is the quality of the work you deliver," Klinsmann said in an interview with Reuters earlier this year from his sun-baked California hometown on the shores of the Pacific ocean.

"I see only advantages to this set-up. The world has changed with modern communications so it doesn't matter where you are physically. What difference does it make if I phone a player from California or Frankfurt?"

Hoeness and others reject Klinsmann's arguments.

"I don't think e-mails from America are any good," said Hoeness. "To resolve problems you've got to be in the middle of the action. I hope Juergen will realize that as well soon."

The German Football Association (DFB) has firmly backed Klinsmann and Theo Zwangziger, a DFB co-leader, has repeatedly offered Klinsmann a contract extension beyond 2006.

Klinsmann has politely avoided any promises and said he wants to be judged on his team's performance at the World Cup next year.