When Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as the head coach of the U.S. national team, it was pretty clear the direction of the team was about to change significantly. But that termination also included his job as technical director, the other job title he held, and what that means for the future of that position is less clear.
In a conference call with reports on Tuesday, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said the federation was not going to worry about it immediately, especially because there are people in-house doing the job already. Bruce Arena, Klinsmann’s replacement, will only focus on coaching the USMNT.
"We’re not in a rush on that," Gulati said. "The priority of the two roles that Jurgen had was certainly as national team manager. That’s where the urgency is in terms of timing. Tab Ramos is our youth technical director and a lot of the work that goes on falls under his jurisdiction in any case."
"We’ll sit down over the days and weeks to come and make a decision about how were splitting up the role in terms of the technical director of the overall program."
Gulati’s comments seem to suggest that the technical director role wasn’t a big part of Klinsmann’s day-to-day work, despite Klinsmann holding the job title. How involved Klinsmann has been on the technical side has been murky over the years, and it may mean U.S. Soccer will go back to how they’ve treated the role before: Rather than having one dedicated technical director, responsibilities were divided among staff.
It could end up being an admission of a failed experiment. Klinsmann was initially hired only as the national team coach, with the expectation that he would usher in major changes to the program and when his contract was extend in 2013, the technical director title was added. That decision raised some eyebrows as many felt the positions were at odds with one another.
Indeed, a technical director has to think big-picture and long-term about how to create the right infrastructure for developing talent, while the head coach must think in short-term, granular terms about the senior team’s day-to-day operation. Never had a USMNT coach been given such sweeping authority to affect the direction of U.S. Soccer and it seemed like one of many reasons the federation would be reluctant to part ways with Klinsmann.
Sunil Gulati announces Jurgen Klinsmann as the U.S. national team's manager and technical director on August 1, 2011 in New York. (Photo by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)
But by last year, reports surfaced that Klinsmann really wasn’t acting as the technical director. SI’s Grant Wahl reported that Klinsmann’s technical director title had become "ceremonial" and there was a power struggle over the duties. A U.S. Soccer spokesman denied the report and said there was no such power struggle because "everyone is working collectively to improve the technical side on a daily basis."
Earlier this year, Gulati acknowledged that the technical director role was a group effort, but that Klinsmann was the "leader" of it. When asked about Klinsmann’s job performance, Gulati suggested the technical director role was where he was excelling most.
"There’s short-term goals and long-term goals. The reality is, the business we’re in, specifically the business coaches are in, you don’t get to see through many long-term goals if you don’t hit the short-term goals," Gulati said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. "So, there are things, overall, in his role as technical director that we think we’ve made good advances in. But we need to win games, and we need to win games in competitive play."
In light of Gulati’s recent comments, it’s unclear how much of the success on the technical side can be attributed to Klinsmann vs. others in the organization. U.S. Soccer has made significant strides in expanding its youth development operation and its infrastructure around players at the professional level, like working better with foreign-based players. The federation did make an effort to start expanding its youth development through a boys academy before Klinsmann arrived, but in the Klinsmann era, they added more age groups and staffing to advance their goals.
For now, it appears U.S. Soccer has not yet decided on how to handle the technical director position going forward and there’s no timetable for a decision yet. But with expansion in recent years to build more infrastructure that falls under the jurisdiction of a technical director, U.S. Soccer will probably be looking for a solution sooner rather than later.