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Jurgen Klinsmann: my hero

Growing up as an ardent Tottenham Hotspur fan (I had no choice in the matter; it’s in the genes) was great fun. This may come as a surprise to those with short memories or under the age of 30, but honestly, it was.

While my Arsenal-supporting friends had only clean sheets and raised right arms to get excited about, my Spurs mates and I were watching Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Chris Waddle. I wouldn’t have swapped that triumvirate for anyone playing in red and white. Anyone.

By the time I got through my teens and the innocence of hero-worship had more or less disappeared, Spurs were entering a distinctly fallow phase, not just in terms of on field success but also in the quality of player on display. I was playing football on Saturday afternoons, not watching, while Gazza and Gary Lineker strutted their stuff, and most of the nineties were mediocre in the extreme. Apart, that is, from the arrival of a certain iconic blond German. No, not Claudia Schiffer; Jurgen Klinsmann. I still remember hearing the news of his arrival on the radio during a car journey and getting ridiculously excited; three weeks later he was standing in my flat as he was escorted around North London in search of accommodation. My (now) wife swooned as he shook her hand and introduced himself. More worryingly, so did I.

Jurgen was phenomenal at Spurs; not only for his immense footballing ability (I still vividly remember him pinging waist high volleys into the net off either foot during a warm up in Euro ’96), but because of the humour and intelligence which he brought to the club and to English football in general. His brilliant ‘dive’ and the press conference that preceded it; his insistence on driving a VW Beetle rather than a £75k 4×4; his obvious enthusiasm for English football and his love of life in our country. He made us feel a bit better about ourselves at the same time as he forced a huge reappraisal of his own reputation and quality.

He left, understandably, surrounded as he was by mediocrity, and returned a little while later to remind us what we’d been missing. Then, I liked him a lot. After last night’s World Cup game against Belgium, I liked him even more.

At the end of a breathtaking game, after the USA’s eventual elimination, pundits on the TV and press eulogised about their heart, stamina and effort, and praised Belgium’s attacking play which had resulted in about 30 attempts on goal. But no one mentioned the most astonishing aspect of the game, which was the complete absence of cynicism, cheating, feigning injury and gamesmanship. In a World Cup of generally excellent quality and entertainment, I have still sighed regularly (who hasn’t) as players have collapsed at the merest contact, waved imaginary cards at the referee, harangued officials as a matter of course and made continual ‘tactical’ fouls whenever necessary. More worryingly, both players and pundits have mentioned England’s unwillingness to excel at some of these dark arts as a possible reason for our elimination. In last night’s game, the referee barely had to use his whistle. At 2-1 up, Belgium were hanging on, but still when American players broke past them in midfield they refused to haul them down or pull them back. The resultant match was free-flowing, end-to-end and played according to the ethos of the sainted Danny Blanchflower: the game’s about glory, not about waiting for the other lot to die of boredom. Belgium noticed and played in the same way: credit to them too.

Jurgen Klinsmann has now managed two international teams and imbued them with exactly that ethos: in an era when diving (and let’s not forget he was one of its earliest and most notorious protagonists) and cheating are endemic, he is going resolutely against the grain. It can’t be an accident: he must have told his players that they are representing their country and their sport and that this is how to behave.

He’s right; it is. And despite me being 44 now, for that, he is my hero.





Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Anonymous
    July 28, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Noel Ashford was better than Klinsmann.


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