English football needs to take a risk - Jurgen Klinsmann

By Jamie GavinBBC Sport
England are a powerhouse - Jurgen Klinsmann

Jurgen Klinsmann is a man who knows what it means to take a risk.

Whether it is setting off a fraction of a second early to beat the offside trap, or risking his reputation as an all-time great to embark on a wholesale reform of the Germany national team - he is a man who has never been afraid to take a chance.

And Klinsmann says the future of the English game depends on Football Association chairman Greg Dyke and the FA commission doing the same.

"I'm a strong believer that if things don't work, then you've got to go a different way and take the risk," explains Klinsmann.

"If you keep on doing what you did before, you will never have the success that you wish to have. It needs a lot of strength from the people in charge to say 'it's going to be different'.

"That's the question for England: are they ready for a change, in terms of approaching things right from the very early age groups?

"It basically needs a change of culture, because if you don't change the culture then you will never know the end result."

The FA commission met for the first time this month, with the aim of improving the England national team following a series of underwhelming displays at major tournaments.

It is a position in which Klinsmann found his own country, when he was asked to pick up the reins less than a decade ago - a position almost unrecognisable from the much-fancied Germany side that will walk out to face England at Wembley on Tuesday.

Having not won a game at the 2004 European Championship in Portugal - a "disaster", as Klinsmann described it - German football was in need of a serious shake-up when he and assistant Joachim Low, now the head coach, took over.

Criticised for a lack of creativity, an ageing squad, and a tired, one-dimensional style of football (sound familiar?), the German Football Association decided to start again.

Klinsmann and his team quickly set about overseeing a period of rapid, unprecedented change - the results of which will still be on show at Wembley on Tuesday.

As well as deciding on a new, high-tempo style of play for the national team, he was able to work with German league clubs to get them to adopt his principles in their own first teams and academies.

He attempted to rebuild German football "from the bottom up".

"What they've done in the last 10 years is just fantastic," remarks Klinsmann. "Germany has so many talented players coming through the pipeline it's not even funny.

"The creation of the youth development centre, the academies from all the professional teams - it's now made a big difference.

"A lot of people laughed at us and made jokes, or criticised us. We appointed physiologists, fitness coaches, [and had] new different ways of approaching it - to take risks, play an attacking style of football, to speed up things, to play at a higher pace.

"The many, many elements that we introduced and were criticised for; they're now normal."

Germany reached the semi-finals of the World Cup on home soil in 2006, after which Klinsmann handed responsibilities over to Low - who in turn reached the final of Euro 2008, before semi-final appearances at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and Euro 2012.

All this in less than a decade since Klinsmann took over - a pace of change which makes Dyke's aim for 2022 World Cup glory seem more tangible.

"I think it demands open-mindedness," describes Klinsmann. "You're going to get moved out of your comfort zone - I think that's what Germany did starting in the early 2000s and now it's paying off.

"You don't know beforehand if that's the right way, but if you don't try to do it in a different way then you will never see different results - you will never get the proof that it actually could work.

"It demands patience, tolerance and demands everybody to be on the same page."

It is the last point Klinsmann makes which may prove to be the most crucial, and the most contentious for the commission.

Trying to rebuild a national team and being on the "same page" as the multi-million-pound business that is the Premier League - with its own aims and interests - could be one of the most challenging barriers to change.

Current Germany coach and former assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann, Joachim Low (left) and Klinsmann (right)
Low (with his arm around Klinsmann) was Klinsmann's assistant when he was in charge of Germany

"You won't ever get 100% support from everybody," says Klinsmann. "But you need to start from the inside; the national team programme.

"If you go that route and produce the talent - and trust in the talent - eventually other people will start to buy into it.

"It needs people to say: 'Maybe we [need to] take some risks, maybe we [need to] go with a younger generation and give them the trust and belief, because we tried it for so many years with the other generation and it didn't work.'"

Klinsmann has taken brave new steps of his own in recent years. Now coach of the United States national team, he has enjoyed an impressive tenure since his appointment in July 2011.

Qualification for the World Cup with two games to spare, victories over Mexico, Germany and Italy, and a run of 12 straight wins are among his accomplishments so far.

And now he is again looking ambitiously to the next generation as he spells out his aims for his adopted nation, where he has lived for the last 15 years.

"I thoroughly enjoy the work with the United States because it's exciting to help at all different levels of the game," Klinsmann explains. "Especially when you see what talent is coming through in the next couple of years.

"Football in America is just growing, getting bigger and bigger - more and more kids play the game at all levels. Teams and clubs across the country are picking up on youth development.

"We could see over the last five to 10 years that things were improving. Our big goal is to be in the top 10 of the world and face them eye to eye."

Ambitious plans indeed, but Klinsmann might just be willing to take the chance that would make it become a reality.

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