The major qualm with Jurgen Klinsmann when he was hired by the United States became embodied in Philipp Lahm’s autobiography, where the Bayern legend and former German international portrayed Joachim Loew as the real tactical mind behind the 2006 Nationalmannschaft. Klinsmann dwelled on fitness, never talked about tactics, and left the players to figure out how they would play the games, Lahm reported. “You have to score a goal” was the extent of one of Klinsmann’s halftime talks.
After Klinsmann’s four-plus years with the United States, Lahm’s criticism takes on a different look. Although his tactics are still debated among national team fans, Klinsmann has often made clear tactical choices, ones that betray the idea of an ambivalent toward how the team functions. From using Eddie Johnson as a player to target coming in from wide positions, to pulling midfielders into fullback roles to help control games in CONCACAF qualifying, Klinsmann has shown flexibility. We’ve seen teams that have varied from handcuffed by their own possession to ones that rely on counterattacking, depending on the strengths of their opponents. We’ve seems teams that become lopsided, building down only one flank, as well as teams that play more directly to their forwards.
If anything, a lack of consistency (or, coherency) is a bigger problem than a dearth of ideas, with Klinsmann’s want to leave people in the dark responsible for his Lahm-fueled reputation. Players are given places but not orders. Choices go without explanation. A style of communication, debatable in its own right, gets portrayed as tactical naiveté.
That label, a scarlet letter for coaches, is one that has also been sewn onto Klinsmann’s Saturday adversary, interim Mexico head coach Ricardo Ferretti. But as opposed to being inconsistent and nebulous, the man Mexico hired to bridge the gap between a fired Miguel Herrera and Juan Carlos Osorio tends to err too far toward clarity. With Tigres, his teams already play 4-4-2, relying on wide midfielders alone (with rare help from fullbacks) for width, usually placing one forward in a withdrawn role. It’s an approach with produces clear game plans, often leaves responsibilities with its players, and, as recent high-profile games have shown, can leave Tigres as sitting ducks.
As the Mexican Soccer Show did such a good job breaking down in a recent podcast, Tuca’s approach left his team second best in the 2014 Apertura, when a 1-0 win over América in Liguilla final’s descended into a sea of conflict, red cards and goals in the second. The Aguilas won at Estadio Azteca, 3-0, and claimed their 12th Mexican title.