Regime shift is never a bucolic landscape of plush rolling greens and pastoral Bob Ross barnyards. It is, even in the best of times, a violent mashup of seemingly incongruous colors. It is a Turner painting, the man lashed to the mast as the snow and waves whip at his collar.
It is especially difficult when the transfer of power comes upon you suddenly. It has been a strange, uncomfortable thing to watch Obama slowly begin to vacate the levers of power for Trump’s administration, but the process itself is as normal as gravity. But when someone is fired, as Jurgen Klinsmann was late in 2016? Stability is an inherently foreign concept.
Klinsmann spent five full years operating as perhaps the most vocal agent of change in U.S. Soccer history. He was the spiritual kin of Teddy Roosevelt, all hot-blooded vigor and progressive change and public laments on the State of Things. In his sprawling, multi-thousand word introductory press conference in 2011, he bounced from youth national team playing style (he would like to better define it) to USMNT playing style (he would like it to “reflect the culture” and be more proactive), to the college game (he would like it to be more technical), to comfort zones (he would like to shove them out of an airlock in a space vacuum). In hindsight it was a meandering, rambling mess.
Klinsmann was, in truth, a Lamenter-In-Chief, a man so dissatisfied with the state of American soccer that he spent much of his time pushing back against it in lieu of the sweeping change so many were led to expect. Whether or not he had the ability to change any of the institutions he’d identified (or if he even tried – he never touched or attempted to touch college soccer, for instance), he complained vociferously and often. His idealism ground to powder, he was forced off his captain’s chair with nary a whimper.
This was the disconnect, the break between Klinsmann and the real world that led so many fans (and journalists) to abandon him. It wasn’t that he was terrible as a manager. His teams weren’t awful, more often than not, and his winning percentage remained defiantly high to the end. But his teams failed to assert almost any of the principles of style, proactivity and discernible youth progress that he seemed to trumpet upon his arrival. He was the reform candidate, and at least in his primary duty as a coach, there seemed to be precious little reform.