The year 2020 will start with a touch of nostalgia for Hertha Berlin coach Jürgen Klinsmann as he continues his quest for a bright Berlin future with a blast from his personal past, with Bayern Munich coming to town.
When the 55-year-old former head coach of the US Men's National Team answered the Old Lady's call at the end of November, one date will have been highlighted in the diary. That day comes this Sunday as Klinsmann prepares to plot the downfall of a club where he enjoyed success as a player, and cut his teeth as a club coach.
"I'm so grateful for the years I spent in Munich," Klinsmann said when appointed to only his second club coaching position late last year, after spells in charge of Germany and the USA. "I learnt so much there, which has served me well." The Stuttgart-born 55-year-old was referring to both his time as a player, when he twice topped the Bavarians' scoring charts between 1995 and 1997, also winning the Bundesliga and UEFA Cup, as well as his single season as their coach in 2008/09.
They were contrasting eras, the former tinged with success, 31 goals in 65 Bundesliga games, and trophies to adorn the cabinet, the latter a crash course in trying to manage the expectations of Germany's most successful club. It is with a blend of both experiences that he is now masterminding Berlin's rise from the realms of relegation to what he and the capital club hope will be a future filled more with the kind of joys Klinsmann experienced as a player in Munich.
"I feel that Berlin and Hertha need a personality like him to take us forward," said Hertha's general manager Michael Preetz as he sat alongside Klinsmann on the day he was presented as their new coach. "This could be an extremely sensible decision, and it is the situation we are now in, able to take the next step together. It was our intention to find somebody with whom we can take this step forwards."
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Klinsmann arrived in the capital in Ante Covic's stead, just 12 games into the season and with only goal difference separating them from the relegation play-off berth. In five games, he has lifted them three places, and more importantly opened up a four-point cushion over that dreaded bottom three.
They head into Sunday's showdown with Germany's record champions on a four-game unbeaten streak, having last conceded a goal on 6 December and seeking a fourth straight shutout which would be a new club record.
To put that into context, Klinsmann never managed more than back-to-back clean sheets in Munich.
There, he inherited the tools of a team which had just been crowned Bundesliga champions for the 20th time, albeit without the experience of retiring goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and right-back Willy Sagnol. A pyrotechnic 4-3 win over third-division Rot-Weiss Erfurt in the first round of the DFB Cup set the tone for what would be a season of imbalances at a club accustomed only to winning. A 5-1 defeat at Wolfsburg – the last time Bayern conceded five before Eintracht Frankfurt beat them by the same scoreline earlier this season – preceded a 1-0 loss at home to Schalke, which led to Klinsmann being relieved of his duties before the end of April 2009 as the title slipped from their grasps.
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Jupp Heynckes came in and succeeded in guiding Bayern back up one position to second, and into the UEFA Champions League, as Klinsmann's first experience of coaching at club level, having warmed the hearts of German football fans by leading their national team to third place at the 2006 FIFA World Cup on home soil, ended prematurely.
After dispelling some of those clouds by winning the 2013 Gold Cup and guiding the USMNT to the last 16 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Klinsmann is now keen on clearing the skies further, to resemble more the habitual view from his Huntington Beach abode in California, by beating Bayern in Berlin.
His team got a sight of the serene skies he has in mind for them when they spent a week preparing for the second half of the season in Orlando, the Sunshine State, during the winter break. A 2-1 friendly win over Frankfurt has further lifted the spirits at a club Klinsmann is looking to lead with the ambition and drive he learned at Bayern, employing their own values against them in a bid to start 2020; Using the tools of his Bayern past to shape Hertha's future.