Jurgen Klinsmann, the one-time bookies’ favourite and many pundits’ choice for the England top job, finds himself hanging by a thread as coach of the USA.
The 52-year-old, who take charge of the US in July 2011, looks to be coming to the end of his tenure – and how things have changed since the summer when he looked a genuine contender to replace Roy Hodgson.
The Germany general manager, Oliver Bierhoff, claimed Klinsmann was in discussions with the Football Association over the vacant England head coach role and backed his pal to succeed. Whether or not the former Tottenham striker got an interview remains to be seen , but after five years across the Atlantic bossing USMNT, his time looks up.
USA captain Michael Bradley was as diplomatic as he could have been in the wake of two damaging World Cup qualifying defeats this week, but even then his feelings were evident.
A 2-1 reverse to Mexico in Columbus was followed up by a 4-0 mauling by Costa Rica to leave Jurgen’s men bottom of their qualifying hex.
All is not lost with four automatic qualifiers from the group and two of the hardest games down. USMNT are still fancied to reach Russia in 2018 but whether Klinsmann will still be at the helm is very unlikely.
Whether it was a 3-4-3, which Klinsmann claimed or a 3-5-2, the switch from the usual 4-4-2 left the USA vulnerable and it was no surprise when Mexico pinched the points at the death. The change – the first time Klinsmann has used a three-man defence in competitive action – in such a big game was a gamble that did not pay off and Bradley afterwards admitted that Mexico’s spacing gave the USA clear problems and made it difficult to defend.
“The way they space themselves out and do a few things tactically, means that you have to have clear ideas about how you’re going to go about dealing with it,” said Bradley.
“I thought in the second half we were able to, just by virtue of rearranging ourselves and a little bit more intensity, get after them a little bit more and really close things down and really tilt the bar in our favor.”
The USA’s switch back to a 4-4-2 in the second half, whether it was prompted by Bradley and co. or not, gave USA a footing back into the game, but afterwards Klinsmann made it clear where he thought the blame lay.
Klinsmann called out Bradley and Jermaine Jones for not playing well enough in the first half and the very fact that he has decided to point the blame at the players may well be his final call because his goose looks cooked.
The second-half performance in Tuesday’s 4-0 defeat by Costa Rica was described as a ‘chaotic, ragged performance’, by MLS Soccer and raises the question whether Bradley and the rest of the players have given up on the German coach.
It's time for Jurgen Klinsmann to go. https://t.co/hnB28IMBPo
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) November 16, 2016
There has been tension between Bradley and Klinsmann recently with Bradley keen to play as a defensive midfielder, while Klinsmann has preferred to use him as box-to-box No. 4. Regardless of the history between them his second-half showing – matched by many of the USA side – was gutless.
“On a night like this there is no point in trying to look at it any other way,” Bradley said after his team’s second straight loss. “We have to be big enough and strong enough to say we weren’t good enough.”
When asked why the US weren’t good enough, Bradley paused for another 15 seconds before claiming the team wasn’t ready for “what the game was going to be about”.
Again hardly a glowing tribute to the coach, who afterwards admitted it was the most painful defeat of his reign.
“This is the defeat that hurts the most in my five years here, there’s no doubt about it,” Klinsmann told reporters as he took full responsibility for his team’s inability to bounce back from the Mexico setback.
“We had some chances but I think they gave us a psychological knock with that goal right before halftime,” he added.
“There’s always things you look back on and think you should have done differently,” Klinsmann said when asked about his game plan. “It’s not about the system.
“It’s about the willingness to fight back, and after the second goal they didn’t have that power or that drive to get back into the game.”
Has the fight gone from Klinsmann? Those comments suggest exactly that and a coach that is unable to rally his players usually finds himself dumped and pretty quickly.
His mood after Mexico was downbeat but he managed to post a thank you to fans for their support. His mood after the loss to Costa Rica was darker and his Twitter account has been silent ever since.
— Jürgen Klinsmann (@J_Klinsmann) November 12, 2016
The trust and close bond between coach and the players looks to have disintegrated.
Asked whether time was up for Klinsmann, US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati would not be rushed into a decision.
“We won’t make any decisions right after games,” said Gulati inside the Estadio Nacional.
“We’ll think about what happened today and talk with Jurgen and look at the situation. Obviously it’s not a good start to the Hex, and today in particular was not a good performance.”
Unfortunately for Klinsmann though there doesn’t look being much of a decision to make; the media have also decided he must go, and Gulati’s decision has almost been made for him.
A version of the article first appeared on GoPlay Sports – a USA Sports Travel company.