World Cup 2014: Jurgen Klinsmann trusts in German imports

United States manager follows Jack Charlton’s example by looking beyond birthplace to boost squad

When he was a player, Jürgen Klinsmann drove a Volkswagen Beetle on which was a sticker of Snoopy in a rowing boat with the caption: “Is it much further to America?” When they take on Portugal by the banks of the Amazon, he will discover just how far the United States have come under his management.

LIVE: Follow the latest news from Day 11, including  Russia v Belgium, South Korea v Algeria and USA v Portugal

Portugal’s last encounter with the US was in Suwon a dozen years ago – a disastrous match in a disastrous World Cup. Luis Figo then occupied the place that Cristiano Ronaldo does in this team. His marker, Frankie Hejduk, took matters into his own hands after being nutmegged by Figo. Portugal’s  captain was roughed up, forced to swap wings and saw his team go  3-0 down.

The tactics Klinsmann will  employ in Manaus this evening will be very different – an attempt to replicate, however roughly, the swift, precise counter-attacking that took Germany to the semi-finals in 2006. However, many of the men he will employ to do it have a similar background.

In 2002, Hejduk was contracted to Bayer Leverkusen, and five members of Klinsmann’s squad in Brazil have been brought up in the Bundesliga. All but one have similar backgrounds. Their fathers were US servicemen who had married German women. Timmy Chandler, a defender with Eintracht Frankfurt, was born in Florida, like German-based Julian Green, but moved to Germany when he was a toddler.


John Brooks, who scored the winner in their opening group game against Ghana, has never lived in the country he represents. Jermaine Jones, whose father was imprisoned for drug trafficking when his son was five, has spent all his life in Europe.

Of the five, it is likely that only  Fabian Johnson, who plays right-back for Hoffenheim and won the European Under-21 title with a Germany side that contained Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil, would be with Joachim Löw in Brazil. Jones opted for the US when it became clear he was unlikely to break into the lithe midfield Löw was assembling.

There is a slight sense of embarrassment that despite all the resources lavished on Major League Soccer – the US captain, Clint Dempsey, earns a $6.5m (£3.8m) salary from Seattle Sounders – only four of its members started in the Natal game against Ghana. Klinsmann’s pursuit of German talent has echoes of Jack Charlton’s recruitment of English footballers who were unlikely to get a game for Bobby Robson but could claim some Irish ancestry – or, in Tony Cascarino’s case, no ancestry at all. One of Klinsmann’s principal targets is  Arsenal’s 17-year-old midfielder  Gedion Zelatem, who has Ethiopian parents, was largely brought up in Germany but spent six years of his life in Washington. Under US law, Zelatem is eligible for American citizenship.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated Klinsmann (left) said: “He was in the same under-15 soccer camp as my son and they spoke German  together. We are constantly in touch with him and watch his games with the Arsenal Under-19 side. Our  interest in him is huge.”

It is fitting that these players should come to the fore in Brazil, where the United States achieved their greatest moment in a World Cup, the defeat of England in Belo Horizonte in 1950.

The winner was scored by Joe Gaetjens, who was born in Haiti to a German father and was never an American citizen. He remained in Port-au-Prince until 1964 when he was taken from his dry-cleaning business by two members of Papa Doc Duvalier’s  notorious Tontons Macoutes, bundled into the back of a car, and was never seen again.

England’s defeat in 1950 had far-reaching consequences. Alf Ramsey, then a player, was so enraged by the Football Association’s disastrous lack of planning – they moved out of hotels because “they were too expensive” while Stan Mortensen injured himself running into a pothole – that he vowed, if he ever became England manager, he would have total control.

It is this kind of hold that Klinsmann has. He may walk around in canvas shoes, he may live in  southern California but he is unquestionably ruthless. His decision to drop Landon Donovan came with a comment that “playing in  the MLS had hurt him – he was  playing at 70-80 per cent and that doesn’t help anyone”. Garth Lagerway, the general manager of Real  Salt Lake, retorted by accusing  Klinsmann of trying to drive players from the MLS into Europe, preferably Germany.

Klinsmann’s statement that the US could not win the trophy, fell  flat in some quarters. Americans, bred on the Miracle of Lake Placid, when an amateur, college-based  ice-hockey team beat the Soviet Union to win Olympic gold in 1980, were not used to being told to  aim lower. But though Klinsmann may no longer drive a Volkswagen Beetle the same question pertains about  America: how much further?

USA v Portugal is live on BBC1 Sunday, kick-off 11pm