'We still have a house near Lake Como, so that is one possibility, although I could also be playing in England or Spain, or just about anywhere. It depends on how I feel at the end of the season'

Despite speculation following Tuesday's news that he is leaving Bayern Munich, Jurgen Klinsmann tells Ian Stafford that his footballing future is far from settled
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The Independent Online
Jurgen Klinsmann can never be accused of being ordinary. Not on the pitch, and most certainly not off it either. He is happy, if in the mood, to talk at length about any subject, and it does not need to be football-related.

On the day we met at Bayern Munich's training headquarters, the man who held aloft the European Championship trophy last summer at Wembley had just returned from a visit to Israel on international duty with Germany. Never mind the fact that he was clearly mulling over his eventual decision to announce on Tuesday that he would be leaving Bayern Munich at the end of the season, he was keen to get across his emotions on such a provocative occasion.

"The players and I asked if we could visit the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem," he revealed within moments of greeting me. "Even though we were based in Tel Aviv, our manager, Bertie Vogts, who's very open-minded, agreed. We have a lot of players in the German team right now who have many interests outside football, and we may never get another chance to play in Israel again.

"We wanted to get an idea of how things are seen in Israel," he continues. "It was a very emotional experience for us all. We were shown the most horrific pictures, and it was explained to us what took place. It was horrible to see, and I felt pretty bad afterwards. I grew up in Germany, and this happened because of my nation."

For a couple of hours, then, Klinsmann and company were not footballers mindful of the big game ahead, but ordinary people paying their respects? "Oh, totally," he replies. "Of course my generation in Germany are not responsible for what happened 50 years ago, but we are responsible to make sure that it never happens again."

As I said, Jurgen Klinsmann is no ordinary footballer. He and his American wife, Debbie, are expecting their first child this June and it seems apparent that when he finally hangs up his boots - internationally after the 1998 World Cup, and at club level a year or two later - Klinsmann will not be running a pub.

"I will take a big step away from the game and study a couple of courses," he says. "I want to become good at computers, and also improve my languages." Any in particular? "My French," he says, before adding: "My Italian too, and I think my English still needs to improve. Yes, I will study all three.

"Then, after a year, I will discover whether I want to explore new interests, or whether I can't live without football. At the moment I am in the centre of the game, but it would be good to stand back for a year and look at the whole business from a distance."

It is his more immediate future that has had everyone speculating, especially after his latest announcement. Even before Tuesday's confirmation, stories have been appearing that Klinsmann wants to leave Germany, preferably returning to the Premiership where he made such an impact at Spurs.

He admits his time at Bayern has been far from settled. "By December last year I had reached the end of my tether," he says. "Although we won the Uefa Cup last season, we had also thrown away the championship. I was not happy about the way we were playing at all.

"Everything was a slow build-up, and I had problems just getting hold of the ball. The club seemed to be more concerned about the business side than the game itself, and I didn't like this aspect at all. I'm a straight- forward person, and I told the club officials what I thought. They all agreed with me, and then did nothing. Meanwhile, I seemed to get the blame for the way we were playing from the German media and even from the club.

"In the end I had enough. I went public on German television and told the people how I felt. I said that I would only take so much, and then I would leave. I was asked if I could imagine playing elsewhere, and I said yes, because you never know what's going to happen next in football.

"The next thing I knew the club had leaked the details of my contract to the press, I was very interested to read all about my personal details in the newspapers. I have a clause which allows me to leave whenever I like. It gives me my independence. I can do whatever I want to. After this, things had to improve. For a while, they did. The team was playing less defensively, and I was scoring goals again, but it is clear I still do not fit in here."

This stand has provoked a storm in a country not used to such resistance. It has even hit the German press. "I have a case in court at the moment with Bild, our big, and only tabloid newspaper," Klinsmann adds. "They wrote something very wrong about me during the European Championship. I told them that they can donate a few thousand marks to a children's charity, or I would take them to court. They've never really had these kind of problems before from a footballer, so I've ended up taking them to court." He shrugs his shoulders and smiles. "Now they are learning a little more about me."

Prior to his latest announcement, Blackburn were supposed to have nearly signed him. Not so, according to the man himself. "I've never had a call from Blackburn, and I've never spoken to anyone from the club," he insists. But you were supposed to be seen in the town the other week, weren't you? "No, I am afraid not."

The truth is that not even Klinsmann knows where he will be next season. With his freedom of contract, he can choose where he likes. "My future depended on what happened at Bayern," he says. "Things have not improved here sufficiently since December. We were top of the league, but now find ourselves in second place. I've never won a league championship with any team I've ever played for, so it's very important to me.

"I definitely won't play for another German team. Bayern is the No 1 club here. It's the highest level you can reach in Germany. But I could end up playing in Italy again. I liked my time in Italy, and we still have a house near Lake Como, so that is one possibility, although I could also be playing in England or Spain, or just about anywhere. It depends on how I feel at the end of the season."

He has no qualms about returning to England then, even if he left Spurs under a cloud? "I don't have any problems with Alan Sugar, if that's what you mean," he says. "I understand why he was upset when I left, but it was definitely the right decision for me to leave. I could see it would take Spurs a few years to have a team capable of winning a championship. They have seven or eight quality players, but that is not enough to win a league. A championship is often decided on the bench, but they did not want to invest in more players. Now they have some injuries this season, and do not have the players good enough to replace the likes of Teddy Sheringham, Darren Anderton and Gary Mabbutt. That is why they have struggled.

"Suddenly I had this big opportunity to play here in Munich, for one of the biggest clubs in the world. I don't have too long left in the game, and I want to win a championship. But I am still in constant touch with people like Teddy, Gary, and even Gerry Francis. We are all friends."

His affection for the English game remains. Suggest to him that the Premiership and the international standard is below other European levels and Klinsmann launches a staunch defence of the English.

"Maybe a couple of years ago the Premiership was behind Serie A, the Bundesliga and the Spanish League, but not anymore," he insists. "The English have changed their mentality, and by introducing all the good foreign players they have learned quickly.

"The only people who don't seem to respect English football are the English themselves. They have no idea how high their reputation is abroad. People think they are only coming good now, but don't forget Germany were very lucky to beat them in the World Cup semi-final seven years ago. Even back then England had very talented and technical players.

"Your problem is that as soon as you lose a game your confidence disappears. You are far too critical of yourselves. England could easily have beaten Italy, there was no difference between the two sides at all."

With this, Klinsmann has to leave for training. Everybody at the club, from a waiter to a track-suited, middle-aged member of the management, nods at him appreciatively as he makes his way out on to the pitch. Whatever their differences, the club will be sorry to lose him.

I wish Klinsmann good luck for the remainder of the season, and for his forthcoming fatherhood. "Thanks," he shouts back. "Have a nice day!" He is a free spirit, that's for sure. And not even he knows quite what is going to take place next in his extraordinary career.

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