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Jurgen Klinsmann talks USMNT’s Wayne Rooney his World Cup pick

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More than five years after the end of Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as coach of the United States Men’s National Team, the German legend remains a fixture in American football circles.

As a player, Klinsmann won the 1990 World Cup. As a coach, he led Germany to third place in 2006. He then pulled the United States out of a tough group in the Cup World Cup 2014 and all the way to the 2016 Copa América semi-finals. Known for his unconventional tactics, fitness demands and roster choices, he was let go at the start of a qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup which ended with the absence of the Americans during a trip to Russia.

Klinsmann returned to the German Bundesliga – where he coached Bayern Munich from 2008 to 2009 – to manage Hertha Berlin in November 2019, but resigned the following February, citing a lack of confidence on the part of the club. The 57-year-old, however, sees himself back on the sidelines, despite having only spent 10 weeks in coaching since November 2016.

“I will definitely return to coaching when the right opportunity arises, be it a national team or a club team,” Klinsmann said in an interview. “But I’m in no rush because I’m happy with other things I’m doing at the moment. I will be in Qatar [at the World Cup] working for the BBC, working for FIFA, so I’ll be seeing a lot of games, and hopefully by then covid will be completely gone, and then maybe it’ll be a good time to get back to it.

Speaking on Wednesday in Washington, where he traveled for Bayern’s win over DC United, Klinsmann offered his expertise on the upcoming Bundesliga campaign, United’s appointment of Wayne Rooney as coach, the state of the American team and their choice to win the World Cup this fall. Cup.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: Let’s start with the next Bundesliga season, Bayern having just won their 10th consecutive title. What does this kind of sustained dominance mean for the league?

A: In Germany, we wish Bayern the best. It’s probably the biggest club in the world in terms of financial resources, in terms of independence, because it has no debt. So they deserve all the compliments in the world for the way they do business and how they got all these titles. Now, on the other hand, every football fan in Germany wants a more dramatic title race. Even if Bayern in the end win it, at least [have it] be two or three or four points, no more. Make it dramatic until the very end. So that’s our great hope, because otherwise it’s too boring.

Q: As a striker-turned-manager, what do you think of United’s decision to hire Rooney as a manager?

A: I think it’s a fantastic situation and I admire DC United for coming back to Wayne. I mean he had two great, great years as a player [in MLS]. It gives a lot of energy to the team to have him there. I’m sure they’re trying to put the pieces together so there’s a good support system for Wayne in areas where he doesn’t have experience yet. And if they put a good group of people around Wayne, then I think they can do well. I really like this movement.

Wayne Rooney is a megastar. More importantly, he wants to coach.

Q: You have brought the American team to this region several times as a coach. What was your reaction to the Washington-Baltimore bid excluded from 2026 World Cup?

A: My first thought is that it’s kind of sad that Washington isn’t one of the host cities. But on the other hand, I mean, you’re still on the East Coast. You can just drive down the road and watch the games in New York. Watching a World Cup game, as a fan you don’t mind driving a few hours or taking a train or maybe even flying somewhere.

Q: As an American coach, you have been keen to encourage players to test themselves at the highest level. Today, myriad Americans play for top clubs in the UEFA Champions League. What do you think of this progress?

A: Well, I’ve always said if you get the chance, give it a try. And if it doesn’t work as you hoped, you take a case like Ricardo Pepi [a forward struggling to score for Germany’s Augsburg] – there’s nothing wrong with coming back and playing in MLS. But the fact that these players, like Christian [Pulisic] Where [Weston] McKennie or Tyler Adams are playing in Champions League teams, that’s never been the case before, and it’s because of their courage to try, to try and break through and rise through the ranks there. It gives them so much confidence, ultimately, to come back to the national team and show everything they’ve learned.

Q: As the World Cup approaches, which American players are you watching most closely?

A: There are quite a few exciting players in there, but I just wish it was a very, very good World Cup for Christian Pulisic because the kid suffered a lot not being able to play in Russia. This big, big disappointment, it really hurts him inside. And he worked his way through the system in Europe. He threw himself into the freezing water and began to swim [Germany’s] Dortmund. Then he made the move to [English power] Chelsea without any guarantees, because you go to Chelsea and there are 20 national team players stealing places from each other. But he did so well overall. I just hope he uses this World Cup as his stage, that he says: “Okay, it hurts enough to watch the World Cup in Russia on TV – now it’s my turn.”

Q: Another player you brought into Team USA was defender John Brooks, who was knocked out under Gregg Berhalter while still getting regular minutes in the Bundesliga. What do you think of his absence?

A: Obviously, it’s up to Gregg how he puts the puzzle together, how he builds his roster, and how he wants to play. But the only thing that [Brooks] might have what other players might not have is that he knows how to play with different opponents, different countries, different mentalities, different cultural backgrounds. The international draw is a very important point of the World Cup. It’s not a national competition at all, so you really need to be aware of what’s going on in other countries. I think John has all those kinds of cards in his pocket, but obviously the choice is up to Gregg and his preferences. But I hope the door is still a little open for John to jump on the bandwagon.

Q: To discuss the World Cup more broadly, who is your choice to win it?

A: I think a lot of big European nations, like Spain, are in a bit of a transition. It’s a disaster that Italy didn’t qualify, because Italy would have been among the favorites right away. So you obviously have France around [Kylian] Mbappe, but historically whoever won the last World Cup won’t win the next one, so I’m counting them [laughs]. Then Germany, we have so many question marks around this generation of players. They have the quality to go far. Are they hungry? Do they have the will? It’s all to see. For me personally, looking closely at the South American qualifiers, I would rank Brazil first and Argentina second.

A: Argentina are extremely, extremely hungry for this World Cup because it could be Messi’s last – it probably is. This team will do everything in their power to give this trophy to Messi. But the quality that in the last two years Brazil has developed, they have matured a lot and they have kept the same coach [Tite, in charge since 2016], so there was no more turbulence on the steering side. They look very sharp.

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