If Jurgen Klinsmann didn't exist, no one would make him up. A footballer who speaks four languages fluently? You must be joking. One of the world's best-known players, yet he has no agent and doesn't charge for interviews?
Pull the other. Drives a 1967 Beetle and gives money to Greenpeace? Give over. Has no laddish tendencies, is pleasant to everyone, and is so nice he makes Gary Lineker look two-faced? Wash your mouth out. So what is he, then?
Some sort of saint?
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that three months ago he chose Tottenham. Fresh from the World Cup with Germany, where he scored five goals, he could have gone anywhere. No need to go into Spurs' present problems. Let's just say they haven't exactly got mega pulling power.
They were amazed in Germany that one of their stars should end up in England, of all places, a country which didn't even make the World Cup. They were amazed in England that a blond German should opt for a club with a strong Jewish tradition. Rival fans turned up to jeer at his first match, wearing scuba diving masks and humming the Dambusters theme. (Very complicated, this joke, but it refers to his perceived habit of 'diving', ie feigning death when tackled.) That has now stopped, thanks to his own good-humoured responses, such as asking at his first press conference where the nearest diving school was, and thanks to his continued good form, scoring goals galore, entertaining crowds all over the country and practically doubling Spurs' shares and shirt sales. He's this season's hero, admired by small boys everywhere and their mums, a perfect example of the fair-playing, good-living sportsman England once gave to the world; now we have to import them. He even talks about the other 'chaps' in the team, which is not due to some dated language manual but was probably picked up from his manager, Ossie Ardiles, another of nature's Englishmen, this time from Argentina.
A rainy day at Spurs' Mill Hill training ground. Girls and boys bunking off, hoping for autographs. Old men with dogs, getting a free show. Sponsors waiting with contracts. Youth players waiting for life to move on and make them famous. TV people from several nations, waiting for Jurgen. First to grab him was Ian St John and an ITV crew, working on a series for young boys about football skills. 'You probably speak better English than me, ha ha,' said The Saint in his broad Scottish. The director couldn't get over the fact that Jurgen wasn't asking for one penny, yet he'd agreed to a half-hour interview, passing on his wisdom on how to head the ball, turn, trap, volley and shoot. Jurgen got the idea at once, giving his replies in perfect sentences and clear English, apart from some 'v's coming out as 'w's so that volley sounded like wally. 'It is fun, hitting wallies.' How true.
He gave a long answer to one question about boyhood heroes. Did he have any?
Yes, but he changed them every day, giving his nicest smile. Which ones exactly?, they said, hoping for a neat list. He then started musing philosophically on heroes, about how bad it is to follow people slavishly, how you can abdicate your own responsibilities, look what happens in politics. I bet they don't use any of that.
He is aged 30, even thinner off the pitch than on, nice public school hair, a winning smile but a rather pasty complexion. He comes from Stuttgart where his father has a little bakery business - mum on the front counter, dad in the back, baking away. He has three brothers, one of whom was a good runner, but there are no professional footballers in the family.
At eight or nine he realised he had football gifts - at least, people told him he had, before he himself was aware of it. He left middle school at 16 when a local club, Stuttgart Kickers, then in the second division, offered him professional forms. Any regrets? 'I suppose I could have stayed on and gone to university. A lot of my friends did. I missed out on student life but I have had other experiences they have not had. I did continue at college for two years after I became a footballer, and got a diploma in baking. It was an insurance policy and to please my father.'
At 18, he went to Florida, playing for Stuttgart, and liked it so much he went back on holiday, travelling round on his own. He had several other vacations, touring the States and across Southern Africa. That was really how he learnt his English, forcing himself into situations where he had to speak it.
We'll skip his German football career, his 65 caps, Player of the Year in 1988, World Cup winner in 1990, and jump to Internazionale, of Milan, his first foreign team. 'The money was one attraction. In 1989, they offered me three times what I was getting in Germany. It meant I could be financially secure for life. The other reason was the challenge to learn a new language and understand another mentality.'
He doesn't think he is particularly gifted as a linguist. The club provided a tutor, then it was just a matter of application, sitting down and studying. Most Germans who go abroad do learn the language, he says. Unlike most Brits? He wouldn't comment on that. Such a diplomat.
The Italian mentality was a bit of a shock. 'I am used as a German to being organised, always arriving on time, but in Italy I had to become very tolerant. Something goes wrong in my kitchen, so I ring a workman, who says he'll come at three tomorrow, but he never does and I get very upset, not understanding what is going on. In the end, Italy taught me to be tolerant of other people. That was good for me.'
Other culture shocks in Italy included drinking, or the lack of it. 'In Germany, if you have a few beers then say no thanks, I've had enough, they will make fun of you. In Italy, that never happens. They are very sensible about alcohol. In a crowd of 90,000 at the San Siro stadium, you won't find one drunk.'
He found the Italians very creative, very sociable, very friendly. 'I like being able to go into a cafe, have an espresso, and talk easily to complete strangers.' And the football? 'Oh, I never had problems playing football. It was the best in Europe, when I was there, while the German league had not been as good. Now I think it has balanced out. The standard of football in Germany, Italy, Spain, France and England is much the same.'
In 1992, he moved on to Monaco. The culture shock was not too great as half the locals spoke Italian, but none the less he settled down to learn French from scratch, enrolling at a language school. 'What was totally different about living in Monaco was that their main thing in life is not football, unlike Italy or Britain. Monaco get low gates and most peole are more interested in international business than in football. That made life very interesting, observing a different mentality.'
His success in last year's World Cup attracted offers from all over the world, especially when it emerged he was not going back to Monaco. 'My contract there was for two years. I could have stayed longer, but I wanted to move. That's the sort of person I am. I am a traveller. I like new experiences.'
He had arranged his own contract with Monaco, giving himself an escape clause. 'Why do I need an agent? All I need is the services of a good lawyer and a good tax adviser. These people are a help, if you work in different countries as I do.'
Genoa were very keen, but he'd had his Italian experience. Atletico Madrid was very tempting, as he had never played or lived in Spain, but in the end he plumped for Spurs. A famous club, yes, one which he had enjoyed watching on TV as a boy in the Seventies, but then he had also liked watching Manchester United and Liverpool. There were other British clubs interested, but what seems to have played a vital part was the thought of living in London, a city he had only visited once, playing for Germany at Wembley. 'I know nothing about the English lifestyle so I said to myself, let's go there.'
About the first thing he did, on arrival in July, was take an open-top tourist bus ride round the sights. He still can't get over the cosmopolitan nature of London, the different faces and races, the different cultures and communities. 'I drive round on my days off and find that each little area has its own character.' Most London- based players live well out, on mock-Georgian new estates. Jurgen has taken a flat in inner London, not far from Regent's Park. He is not married but lives with an American girl, so it is said. 'I never talk about my private life.'
The club provided him with the latest, smartest BMW, which rather embarrassed him at first, thinking he was being given special treatment. But it turned out to be a sponsorship deal, available to all the first team.
However, he hardly uses it and is thinking of giving it back, now that he's brought over his old but beloved VW Beetle from France. He bought it second hand, 10 years ago. It looked strange in the first team car park, amid the glitter. But then so does he, dressed in his faded jeans and floppy windcheater jacket, compared with the flash suits that most star players wear. He usually looks as if he is off backpacking, rather than to Tramps.
Why didn't he charge for that TV interview? They expected it, and will no doubt promote it using his name. 'I agree to very few things, but when I do, and they are no trouble to me, I never ask for money. If it is a bother, such as last night, when I had to go to a TV studio across London to do a German broadcast, then I will ask them to make a contribution to charity.
Last night I said pay a cancer organisation. No, I don't know how much. I leave it to them, but I don't think I get taken for a ride. I know what the rate should be.'
Why not keep the money? 'The answer is simple. I have enough.' He gives generously to Greenpeace and various environmental causes, but says he is a passive not an active supporter. In Germany they confused his Greenpeace interest with the Green Party, which he is not a member of. 'I have political opinions but not a political party.' Oh, more diplomacy. Perhaps he'll become some sort of sporting ambassador when the time comes to retire from football.
He has agreed to two years at Spurs, after which he has no idea what he'll do - but he'll be moving on, somewhere. How about America? 'I am watching their new league with interest, and it seems logical they will succeed this time. The problem for me in the future is not to decide what to do but where to do it. I have not chosen the country yet where I want to live. At the moment, it is between Germany and Italy. But we will see.'
In the meantime, he is improving his English. Not with lessons this time, as this is the first foreign country where he has arrived with a basic knowledge, but by listening. 'Every day I learn a new word.' Not rude ones, I hope. You know how footballers talk. 'No, today I learnt 'goose pimples'.'
Could be very handy, in the wintry months ahead.
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