Klinsmann a fan of England's finishing school

He lives in California, manages Germany, and recommends the Premier League for young players. In an exclusive interview, Paul Newman talks to a truly international coach
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The Independent Football

It says everything about Jürgen Klinsmann's admiration for English football that one of the key players in his plans for the German national team cannot win a regular place in the Premiership. Robert Huth, who has started just two games for Chelsea this season, has been called up regularly by Klinsmann since he took charge of Germany last summer and will be with the squad again tonight as next year's World Cup hosts meet Slovenia in a friendly in Celje.

It says everything about Jürgen Klinsmann's admiration for English football that one of the key players in his plans for the German national team cannot win a regular place in the Premiership. Robert Huth, who has started just two games for Chelsea this season, has been called up regularly by Klinsmann since he took charge of Germany last summer and will be with the squad again tonight as next year's World Cup hosts meet Slovenia in a friendly in Celje.

The competition from John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and William Gallas has proved tough for Huth, who may eventually need to move elsewhere in order to progress, but Klinsmann knows that the 20-year-old central defender could not have had a better football education. Throughout the season Klinsmann has been monitoring the progress of Huth and two other German youngsters making their way in the English game, Aston Villa's Thomas Hitzlsperger and Fulham's Moritz Volz.

Hitzlsperger made his full debut in last month's high-profile friendly against Argentina, filling a problem position at left-back, and will be in Celje tonight, while Germany's head coach decided that Volz should go to Hull for last night's European Under-21 Championship qualifier against England.

With the Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann also central to his thinking, it has been no surprise to see 40-year-old Klinsmann at Premiership matches this winter as he tackles arguably the most challenging job in international football, that of reviving the dipping fortunes of next year's World Cup hosts.

On the basis of his own experiences in two spells with Tottenham Hotspur in the 1990s, Klinsmann believes that any German player in the Premiership deserves his attention. "I have a lot of respect for the Premier League, especially having played in it myself," he said. "I like the style of play that's developed in the Premier League over the last 10 or 12 years. It's been influenced a lot by top players from all around the world. England really opened itself up. It started, I suppose, with my generation and people like Gullit, Vialli and other great players. In Germany we like the way Premier League football is based on speed.

"We also like the overall attitude. If a young player has the chance to go through an educational process with a Premier League team then it can only be to their advantage. The development of the player on the field is important, whether you're playing in Germany, England, Italy or wherever, but so is the personal development off the field.

"If players like Moritz Voltz or Robert Huth or Thomas Hitzlsperger are forced to adapt to life in another country at a very early stage, speaking another language and adapting to another culture, automatically becoming more tolerant because they're living in another country, those are experiences that can only help them to perform better on the field." Klinsmann, a multilingual environmentalist and supporter of numerous charities, was always one of football's more rounded characters and the promising early months of his reign as national coach, with only one defeat in eight matches, have been marked by both a willingness to take on new ideas and a desire to surround himself with similarly broad-minded individuals.

His attitudes were reinforced by the break he took from the game after finishing his playing career: Klinsmann was working as a sports business consultant in the United States when his country came calling last summer following the resignation of Rudi Völler after the poor showing at Euro 2004.

"We have a coaching staff here now which consists wholly of people who have worked abroad," Klinsmann said. "My assistant coach is Joachim Löw, who coached in Austria, Switzerland and Turkey with very good teams. Oliver Bierhoff [the general manager] obviously played very successfully in Italy for many years. Andreas Köpke [the goalkeeping coach] played for Marseilles. So maybe we've come in with a different perspective.

"I had a clear picture that I needed to bring in high-quality people around me who would be very strong in specific areas. For example, I felt that because I'd had no coaching experience I needed an assistant who is very strong in that area, so I went for Joachim Löw. He's a very experienced coach, very good on the training ground, very focused, very good at explaining things quickly. Oliver Bierhoff's role as general manager is extremely important for us. He works with the media, the sponsors and the federation. He deals with all those day-to-day matters that can overload a coach."

Bierhoff and Klinsmann were in the German side that triumphed at Euro '96 and they could soon be reunited with that team's coach, Berti Vogts, following his departure from Scotland. "If we had the chance to bring him in it would be very positive," Klinsmann said. "He has know-how and technical knowledge and is an expert on world football."

It is not just international football nous that the new coach has introduced into the national set-up. "We have fitness specialists, people who bring a different perspective, partly from America," Klinsmann said. "We've brought in a sports psychologist to deal with the mental side. Several Bundesliga teams use sports psychologists, but the national team had never used one before.

"He's not only there for players, he's there for the coaching staff as well. He can tell me: 'Your team talk with the players had too much tension in it - or maybe not enough.' Or maybe he'll tell me about my energy levels or my body language.

"These are all things which these guys have a very good eye for. It's fascinating and we're learning on a daily basis, but at the end of the day it will only pay out if we do well in the World Cup." Ah yes, Germany and the World Cup. Not that the challenge fazes Klinsmann, who is well aware of the country's expectations. On the day before last month's match against Argentina in Düsseldorf, several thousand spectators braved a bitterly cold evening to cheer enthusiastically at the national team's final training session.

While Germany's recent performances have shown promise - Argentina escaped with a 2-2 draw thanks only to a moment of late brilliance from Hernan Crespo - Klinsmann knows he has much ground to make up. The fact that Germany were runners-up in the 2002 World Cup, having made the most of a comparatively easy route to the final and Oliver Kahn's brilliant goalkeeping, cannot hide a dreadful recent record against top-quality opposition.

Since beating England in the last match at Wembley five years ago, Germany have failed to win one of 11 subsequent games against opposition that could be termed world-class. Indeed, they have won only three of nine World Cup matches against European or South American opponents since 1990 and have not won a single game at a European Championship finals since 1996.

With the notable exception of Bayern Munich's Michael Ballack, who has a remarkable record of 22 goals from 50 matches in the national team's midfield, Germany look short of high-quality attacking players. Qualifying automatically as host nation, they will also go into the World Cup having not played a competitive match, other than this summer's Confederations Cup, for two years.

Klinsmann, however, accentuates the positive. "Qualifying for the World Cup is over by October or November at the latest anyway," he said. "Then everyone has six or seven months prior to the World Cup based on friendlies. So I don't think it makes a huge difference.

"We look on it almost as an advantage, a chance to look at young players from the Under-21 team and decide whether they are mature enough to secure themselves a place in the senior team. We have purposely gone through a period where we would like to see how advanced these players are.

"We've told some of the established players that from time to time they'll have to sit back for the moment. It doesn't mean that they're not part of the team any more, but we've said we'll leave them out for some games now just so that we can look at the young players. Didi Hamann, for example, is still a very important part of this team, but for the moment we're not going to bring him over for matches."

The combination of a new coach and thrusting young players - Klinsmann also appears to have preserved the hunger of two of his older statesmen, the rival goalkeepers Kahn and Lehmann - seems to have made up for the loss of competitive matches. Under Klinsmann Germany have played attacking football at a higher tempo and with a more aggressive approach. Austria, Japan, Iran, Thailand and Cameroon have all been well beaten, Brazil and Argentina have been held to draws. Only South Korea have beaten them. Some testing games are on the horizon: Argentina, Australia and Tunisia are in Germany's group in the Confederations Cup, which they host in June, while friendlies have been organised against, among others, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Russia.

Although Klinsmann has had a professional coaching licence for several years, this is his first job in football management. "After I finished playing I went into the business side of the game," he explained. "I went to the United States and went back to university. Then I started to work with two partners in a sports consultancy business. We were based in Los Angeles but we worked across the whole of the United States. We had a lot of big clients, companies like adidas. I learned many things there. I also did my coaching licence and I stayed in touch with the game."

There were offers to coach at club level, but Klinsmann turned them down because they would not have fitted in with his lifestyle. After six years living in the States he did not want to disrupt the lives of his Californian wife, Debbie, and their two young children on the Pacific coast south of Los Angeles. His early starts - Klinsmann gets up at 5.30 each morning to minimise the time difference with Europe and has conference calls with his assistants every other day - are clearly a small price to pay for doing a job for which he was reportedly third choice after Ottmar Hitzfeld and Otto Rehhagel, who both turned it down.

"The way it works now suits me perfectly," he said. "I have the chance to fly back and forth between California and Europe, so my family can continue to live a normal life and my two kids can continue to grow up in the environment they know. Maybe one day when the kids have grown up and have their own lives anything could happen. But with the way things are now, the only coaching job I could envisage taking on was a national team coach.

"I come over to Europe about a week or six days prior to a game. Then I put in another time window of four or five days to take care of organisational and business issues with the team. So I do two overseas flights a month - which for other business people is nothing."

Is he enjoying his new role? "Absolutely. I'm obviously learning. It's a learning process for me as much as it is for the players. But I feel confident and comfortable because I have an outstanding team of people around me."

He reveals that his appointment has also pleased another former Tottenham player. "The one person who always said to me that I would end up in coaching was Ossie Ardiles," Klinsmann said. "I saw him in Tokyo in December and he said: 'I told you that you'd be a coach. I always knew you would do it if that was what you wanted'."

Life and times of a German globetrotter

Playing Career

1984 Begins Bundesliga career at VfB Stuttgart.

1988 Bundesliga top scorer and German Footballer of the Year. Transfers to Internazionale in 1989.

1990 Wins World Cup.

1992 Leaves Italy for French club Monaco, teaming up with Arsène Wenger (above).

1994 Signs for Spurs, becoming an instant idol with his ironic "diving" goal celebration (below).

1996 While at Bayern Munich, he captains Germany to victory in the European Championship (right).

1998 After brief spells at Sampdoria and Spurs, retires aged 34 and moves to the United States.

Managerial Career

Klinsmann was appointed as coach of Germany in July 2004 after his former team-mate, Rudi Völler, had failed to take them past the group stages in Euro 2004. In his first coaching job, Klinsmann has an impressive record of only one defeat in his first eight games.

18 Aug 04 Austria 1 Germany 3

8 Sep Germany 1 Brazil 1

9 Oct Iran 0 Germany 2

17 Nov Germany 3 Cameroon 0

16 Dec Japan 0 Germany 3

19 Dec S Korea 3 Germany 1

21 Dec Thailand 1 Germany 5

9 Feb 05 Germany 2 Argentina 2

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