Jürgen Klinsmann scored 110 goals in 221 Bundesliga games as well as coaching Germany, the USA and his former team Bayern Munich. An ideal candidate, then, to assess Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland and the league's American youngsters.
In an exclusive chat with bundesliga.com the 1990 world champion and Bundesliga Legends Network member gives his thoughts on newly crowned world player of the year Robert Lewandowski and pretender to the throne Erling Haaland. He also discusses Augsburg's latest arrival Ricardo Pepi as well as fellow Americans Gio Reyna, Chris Richards and Joe Scally.
bundesliga.com: What three qualities makes Best FIFA Men's Player of the Year for 2021 Robert Lewandowski a world-class player?
Jürgen Klinsmann: "There are definitely more than three qualities when you talk about Robert Lewandowski. Obviously he is an unbelievable, fantastic goalscorer and deserves every compliment in the world… the titles he has won in the last two years with Bayern Munich on this run of seven titles in two seasons - it's just insane. Then scoring 41 goals. I think one major characteristic we have seen from Robert Lewandowski over so many years now is just his hunger. He's just extremely hungry for goals. That means that when he scores his first one, he wants a second or a third one. I don't know how many hat-tricks he has scored over the last couple of years. That is what fascinates me as a former striker.
Watch: Klinsmann on the world's best, Lewandowski
"Just his hunger - his incredible desire to score again and again and again. If you are his opponent you never know at what stage he will be satisfied. It seem like he is never satisfied. He is still going for the next one and that is what really shows the difference between a top striker - a great player - and his own level to which he has catapulted himself over the last few years. It's just fantastic to see."
bundesliga.com: What similarities and differences do you see between Haaland and Lewandowski?
Klinsmann: "Well I think you see a lot of similarities when we talk about that hunger, that desire to score. Haaland has that hunger as well. He always wants more - he always wants another one. Both link up really well with their teammates, so they are good in combination play and they are smooth… They are both also able to give assists to other players to score, which I think is important as well. They are kind of complete. When I talk about Erling Haaland I always talk about young Lewandowski in a certain way. When you look at Robert Lewandowski you see the experience. He is still in top shape, still good for another couple of years, but when I see Erling Haaland I see the young version of Lewandowski in a certain way. We will see how this plays out over the next few years. I think Lewandowski still has the edge, because of his experience and also because of the titles he wins year in, year out. He's a step ahead there, but Haaland will definitely be the future and it will be very interesting to follow his path over the next few years."
Watch: How do Lewandowski and Haaland compare?
bundesliga.com: What were your first thoughts when you heard about Ricardo Pepi's move to Augsburg?
Klinsmann: "I was really impressed by that move. I was also surprised to be honest, because Ricardo is still a very young talent - he is just 18 years of age. I saw him a few times last season with the American national team as well. He will just kind of keep growing. He will develop and step-by-step that comes along with scoring goals. He is in a position as a number nine - that is my old position that I lived through for my whole career as a player - in which you are always measured on goals.
"I think this move to Augsburg is very courageous. It's very courageous because as a number nine you really depend on your teammates. You depend on the players that you are surrounded by to give you the opportunity to score, right? It's going to be a lot more difficult to score for Augsburg - because of the overall roster and team and the goals of the club - than if you play for Dortmund or Bayern. You get more opportunities to score if you are Lewandowski or Haaland. You get maybe three or four chances a game and you know that you are going to put away one or two of those.
"Ricardo going to Augsburg doesn't even know if he will get chances in a game and still people expect him to score goals - because that is how a number nine is looked at. Hopefully things turn out OK for him… hopefully he gets a couple of goals in his first couple of months in the Bundesliga. I hope that he will find a lot of friends right away, within the team and outside it. The social environment is extremely important for a very young player when he leaves his home country and goes to a completely different world. I have to admire this decision, because it is a courageous decision. He could have stayed in Dallas for another one or two years and slowly developed while scoring his goals in MLS, which he would have done. But he took the risk. He said 'no, I’ll give it a shot, I'll go to Germany.' Hopefully this turns out OK. You never know before you arrive and before you play your games, but he definitely has a lot of talent."
bundesliga.com: What type of player is Pepi?
Klinsmann: "Ricardo, overall, is physically strong. He is both-footed, he is strong in the air as well, so I think he suits the style in Germany well. It depends a lot on how he links up with his teammates now and how he becomes part of the group of players there and if he also gets opportunities to score. You can also talk a little bit about Josh Sargent at Werder Bremen, where he actually did fairly well and scored goals and got opportunities.
"He moved on to the Premier League thinking that is a big move, but obviously he went to a club [Norwich City] that is fighting relegation from day one. He is not getting any scoring opportunities, so at the end of the day if you are there as a number nine and a goalscorer, not getting any chances, not scoring, you lose your confidence and things go the wrong direction. That is always the risk of a move to a new environment. I hope that with Ricardo having that courage to come to Germany and give it a shot, that everybody supports him and gives him the opportunity."
bundesliga.com: What did you make of Joe Scally's first half season in the Bundesliga?
Klinsmann: "I think he has done super well, even if the club has had its problems in the first half of the season and things didn't go the way they wanted them to. Joe Scally has done great overall. Again, we are talking about an 18 or 19-year-old youngster who is suddenly playing as a starter in the Bundesliga, which nobody really expected right away. He did a great job. He is versatile - he can play on the right side and he can play on the left side. His game going forward is good. He has a very precise passing game in him - he reads the game well. I think he can only get better, so overall I think he has done very well for the first six months."
bundesliga.com: What part has Chris Richards played in Hoffenheim's outstanding season?
Klinsmann: "Here we are talking about another huge talent who I would say has come from overseas into the Bundesliga and impressed everybody. That is why he is on the Bayern Munich payroll and is on loan at Hoffenheim - because they see something in him that is different and which also makes a difference. He has great pace, obviously, he has great technique and he is just going through a maturing stage over a couple of years.
Watch: Former USMNT boss Klinsmann discusses the young Americans in the Bundesliga
"The most important thing in that kind of a stage is to play games… that is the reason why he is in Hoffenheim. To get games - to play them at the highest level possible. After a very difficult start for the club they kind of turned things around step-by-step and now they are one of the big surprise teams in the Bundesliga… Things have gone very well for him and he can only get better as well."
bundesliga.com: Would you say that he is now showing for the first time that he can have a future at Bayern?
Klinsmann: "FC Bayern does not take on any players if they don't believe they can have a future at the club at some point. It doesn't happen overnight. Maybe he has to go the route of being loaned out and then being part of this huge club in Munich. With the type of game that he has, with his pace, technique and vision on the field, you can see very early that he could become a player who is the difference maker at one point. We saw that in America. Now let him grow step-by-step, and I think that in a few years he can be a big player for Bayern Munich as well."
bundesliga.com: Gio Reyna has been struggling with an injury. How difficult a time can that be for a young foreign player like him?
Klinsmann: "Being out with an injury when the club has big hopes for you and you are already a difference maker for that huge club in Dortmund is frustrating. It makes you impatient and you carry a bit of anger inside of you, because you just want to be on the pitch. But that is also part of a professional footballer's life. Injuries will come... He will go through this stretch with the issues that he's had and then come out and get fit again to play his role in the second half of the season. I have no doubts about that."
Watch: Learn about Klinsmann the player
Klinsmann: "Tyler has already become a leader of that team in his years at Leipzig. As a leader you are challenged far more when things go a little wrong than when things go well, because when things are going well - and you are leading games or winning 1-0 or 2-0 - everybody is good on the pitch. Everybody shines. The question for a lot of coaches is: who will step out in the moments when things go wrong - when you're down a goal, when you have a bad period of results. That's what a coach wants to see from their so-called difference makers or leaders. Tyler already became a leader in the very early stages of his career. He steps up when things go wrong. He wants the ball. You see a lot of players don't want the ball when things go wrong… That is what I like in his game.
"He takes things on and says 'maybe we've gone down [by a goal], but we are going to turn it around and find a result.' Obviously they haven't played as well as they wanted to play so far this season and they had a change of coach as well. I think he can only get stronger with those experiences and that's why I hope that he has a very, very positive second half of the season."
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