Much has changed in the 10 years since Jürgen Klinsmann last stood in a Bundesliga dugout with Bayern Munich. Robert Lewandowski has exploded onto the scene and fired his way to all-time great goalscorer status, while Jürgen Klopp has climbed to the top of the coaching tree. Klinsmann, 55, continues to watch, learn and doff his hat to both of them - but his immediate priority is saving new club Hertha Berlin from the drop.
The former Germany, Bayern and USMNT coach - brought in as Ante Covic's successor on a deal through to the end of the 2019/20 season - went down 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund on his debut in the capital hot seat, a result that extends the Old Lady's losing run to five matches and leaves them a point adrift of outright safety in the relegation play-off spot after 13 matches.
Klinsmann's primary objective is to steer the club into calmer waters, before resuming his supervisory role at a club he believes should be competing in Europe in the medium- to long-term.
bundesliga.com caught up with the Hertha boss for an exclusive chinwag on his long-awaited comeback, remit, influences and more...
bundesliga.com: Your appointment as Hertha head coach occurred very quickly and as a coach with such charisma you generated huge press interest. Then came the fifth defeat in a row and the club falling to third from bottom in the table. How do you see this defeat within the wider context of Hertha’s situation?
Jürgen Klinsmann: "Well, I would say it has been a very busy couple of days since the decision was made last week that I take over until the end of the season to help out in this very difficult situation. Obviously when you do something like that, you jump into it like ice cold water because you need to get to know the players really, really fast, you need to run a couple of training sessions and then you have your first game after three days against a Champions League team in a sold-out Olympic Stadium. It’s been very busy. The performance was tremendous from the team. We unfortunately lost the first game 2-1, we should have at least tied it. But nonetheless, it’s been very intense, it’s been a lot of fun, a lot of things are moving here. It’s a city full of energy, Berlin is a very, very special place. There is the big hope here that we build – one step at a team – a team that is going towards the European competitions. It’s a huge puzzle and you start to put the pieces together, but I am enjoying it. I miss the family at home in California, I miss for sure the Californian sunshine. But it’s fascinating and I'm glad that I took the decision."
Watch: Relive Jürgen Klinsmann's thrilling debut as Hertha coach
bundesliga.com: You were surrounded by cameras before the start of the game, but you decided to film the moment on your own smartphone. What was your motivation for doing so?
Klinsmann: "This moment was just really coming out of the blue because I had my cell phone in my pocket and I love that song from the fans here – this kind of ritual from the fans to sing: 'We are not going home for a long time'. It’s a wonderful, it’s a bit like Liverpool, 'You'll never walk alone' – what the Berlin fans do before every game. I felt that before from the stand watching the team play and there you have a sold-out stadium. I felt my phone and I thought I’m going to film this real quick. And so, it’s just something you do intuitively, some people said: 'oh my gosh, he has Adidas stripes on it but it’s a Nike club'. It’s all that stuff that I’m not thinking about, really not. So, I apologise for that, it was just something that I thought it would be nice to capture that moment in time. In this very special situation and nothing else."
bundeliga.com: You went all in when you took over the role of head coach. High risk, high potential. You could stand to both gain and lose a lot. After the defeat against Dortmund, are you still optimistic?
Klinsmann: "I think in our German culture, maybe a lot of people fear a situation where they might lose or might fail. It’s not part of my lifestyle. My life has always been full of adventure, it was always full of risks, it was always philosophy-wise: I just need to do it. You do it and then afterwards you know better. There is no such thing as failure. Even if something fails, you learn from it, it makes you stronger, it makes you even more focussed and obviously when you are on the ground you have got to get up and get going again. So, failure is not a problem for me. I think that this city is waiting since a long time that the football team makes it towards Europe. This city is full of passion, full of international atmosphere, my dad comes from the area. I was always fascinated by this place, so I know that people are waiting for this moment, that things will go towards Europe. It will take time, there is no doubt about it. And it will take failure, too, you will lose games, you will get criticised – rightfully so – people will tell you what you did wrong. But that never really was an issue for me. We have a goal here and it’s a long-term goal – to bring this club into Europe. Sooner or later it will happen – we hope sooner than later. It never has an influence on my mood, it doesn’t have an influence on my state of mind. I know what I’m good at, I know what I’m not so good at. When I feel like I’ve got to empower other people to cover my weaknesses, I’ll do that. Because nobody is perfect, but I think the players already sense that there is a lot of help coming, there is a lot of inspiration coming. We are going to go through that difficult period – right now, we are going to go through that together. We will climb up, sooner or later – rather sooner than later – in the table. But it’s a wonderful opportunity."
bundesliga.com: Ahead of the winter break, you face Eintracht Frankfurt, Freiburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach – all teams having very successful seasons so far. How do you see your chances of getting positive results in these games?
Klinsmann: "The programme until Christmas is very difficult, no doubt about it - all teams that do very well in the Bundesliga this season. But also at a time where we have nothing to lose, we want to try to get the points as quickly as possible. We have the next opportunity in Frankfurt. We go to Frankfurt to win, we are going to play Freiburg at home to win, we are going to go to Leverkusen and also the last game. So hopefully as many points as possible. We should have gotten a point already against Dortmund, a Champions League team. It didn’t happen there, so it has to happen next game. And if it doesn’t happen there, we will make it in another game. It’s a process that we are going through to build confidence, to build all the technical pieces, the tactical pieces. It’s going hand in hand with the daily work with a team that is very willing to do all the work, to put all the work into it. So, I am very optimistic that we will get quite a few points before Christmas."
bundesliga.com: You are known as both a reformer and a project manager, and you have already appointed a new coaching team. You always say that Berlin is a sleeping giant and that Hertha is the most exciting football project in Europe. What will you have to change for Hertha to become a so-called 'Big City Club'? How long will it take for the Klinsmann effect to set in?
Klinsmann: "Well, I think it’s important that people understand that what we do, with the few changes that we maybe make, it’s all about quality. Everything you want to do is geared towards it, if you maybe change a position around the team, or a coach around the team, there is a reason for it, there is a plan for it, the players understand: 'OK, that's why he's doing this and that'. I think we live in a time where you need to explain everything you do to a younger generation that is very curious. They want to understand what is done today in training, why is it done in training, why do we do this? So, you are looking around and you look for people that know their field – if it it’s an assistant coach, if it’s a fitness coach, if it’s a psychology person. So, you want to work with the best in the field that you can find. I am in that profession since almost 40 years when I started my professional career, so I have a network of people that I completely trust based on what is really the challenge. So, here we are in Germany, in my home country, so it’s obviously more related to the situation here in Germany. If I'd taken a job now in South America, which I actually thought might happen, then it would have been a Spanish-speaking staff of people and I think that it is important that you blend as a person into your environment. That you show, now we're at Hertha Berlin, that I understand how people in Berlin think, that I understand how people think here in the club. That I talk to people and say what is your goal, what is your vision, how do you see the team, what do you think about the club. I, myself, learn every day as much as hopefully the players learn from me or from my staff. So, it’s a give and take everywhere you go but I always liked this place. Berlin has always been a special place for me, so now I am thrilled and I am actually also honoured that I can help out for a limited amount of time."
Watch: Jürgen Klinsmann - "The Bundesliga is a wonderful league"
bundesliga.com: Are you involved in squad planning for next season, and are you putting together your own wish list? Perhaps even for the coming winter transfer window?
Klinsmann: "Well, in football you have to always, when you are on the technical side of it, coaching staff or the management side like Michael Preetz who is the sporting director here, you always have to have the discussion: 'OK, today is this, tomorrow it could be that and four weeks this and in half a year that'. Absolutely, I have to give my input for him, to him, to help him in how I see the team, how I see areas of improvement, maybe areas of changes. He is the implementer, he is the boss in this club and he decides at the end of the day where they want to go after I have helped out until the end of the season. Do I give my input? Absolutely. It’s very, very important that he gets constant feedback from me on how I look at players, and I'm sure that he will listen to me as well. He does, we have a great friendship. My goal is that this club in the middle and long run is going into Europe."
bundesliga.com: In your opinion, which players have had the biggest impact between 2010 and 2019? Why? What sets them apart?
Klinsmann: "Well, it’s difficult to say. If you look at a timeframe of about 10 years, obviously when you talk about Germany, the Germany national team and especially the Bundesliga, you talk about some outstanding players that obviously are mainly at Bayern Munich, which is the leader in Germany for decades. You look at their players, how they kind of put their stamp really on the success of the Bundesliga globally, internationally. Difficult to say now it’s one specific guy. I mean if I look over the years there is certainly one striker that has been tremendous for the Bundesliga who played before for Dortmund, then he went to Bayern. And it’s Robert Lewandowski. He is the complete striker that I often compare to – since I was myself a striker – to a phenomenon that I played against many times myself, Marco van Basten. At my time, Marco van Basten was the most complete forward in the world, in the late 80s and early 90s. And I think Robert Lewandowski put his stamp on the last decade like nobody else."
bundesliga.com: Which managers have been the most influential this decade? Why? What sets them apart?
Klinsmann: "That’s really difficult to say now from a coaching point of view, who put his stamp on the last ten years. We obviously admire it when especially German coaches come through the ranks and put their stamp on it – if it’s in Germany or if it’s somewhere else. Looking at the international scene, he started everything in Germany with Mainz and Dortmund, but then he left us and he went to Liverpool. And I think if you talk about one coach, you have to talk about Jürgen Klopp – no matter if it’s about the Bundesliga, or now about the Premier League or about the Champions League. He is a person that I admire a lot, his spirit, his energy, his knowledge. So, I think he deserves the biggest compliment."
bundesliga.com: Young English talent continues to opt for the Bundesliga over the bench in England, and Premier League 'rejects' such as Serge Gnabry are thriving in Germany. What do you think makes the league and country so appealing to young professionals?
Klinsmann: "I think when you talk about talent and where they should grow through the ranks, if it’s in Germany, Italy, England, Spain or France, it doesn’t really matter. The kid has to fit into a specific place and has to feel the support and the freedom to express himself. So, there is no guarantee when you move a kid like Jadon Sancho, for example, at Dortmund, that it works out that perfectly, that he really worked out for the club. Or vice versa, that a kid goes to England and shoots through the roof suddenly from one day to the next. I think it is really something that needs to be analysed by the people that are surrounding this special player and then once the decision is made either way, if he goes to Germany or he goes to England, needs a lot of support, needs a lot of help, needs a lot of trust. Then things like that are possible."