The FIFA World Cup this year was fraught with upsets and surprises, with many highly-ranked teams retreating in confusion, and many underdogs lauding their accomplishments. With top team Spain out in the first round, and tiny Costa Rica making it all the way to the semi-finals, coaches who want to improve their results in 2018 would do well to study the lessons of this year’s tournament. It would seem that Ian Holloway, current coach for Millwall FC, has already chosen the team from whom he would like England to learn its FIFA World Cup lessons: the US.
The United States national team has long been seen as the underdog of underdogs on the international soccer scene. Not only does its team not perform well normally, but soccer is seen as characteristically unpopular in the U.S., always taking a back seat to more “Made in America” sports such as baseball, basketball, and American football. A team that normally can’t pull viewership for its events has a hard time getting sponsorship, and thus is a poorly funded team, unable to attract good players and management. This year saw a reboot in the American team, however, and German head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was able to shepherd his underdog team all the way to the round of 16 before they lost to Belgium, but even then they were only bested in extra time.
The England national team, on the other hand, though not regarded as a top-tier team when it comes to World Cup play, was expected to do much better than the U.S. in Brazil. In fact, they did much worse, going home after their second round match against Uruguay. Holloway’s solution, it seems, is to look to the west. In his Op-Ed column for The Mirror on Saturday, Ian Holloway lauded the progress of the US team, citing heart and determination as the key factors which made the difference between the U.S. and England. He also intimated that the England players were sullen and sulky, citing bad attitudes about head coach Roy Hodgson’s starting and substitution choices, and lackluster playing.
The U.S. team had heart and motivation in spades this tournament, according to Holloway, as well as national pride – something that is never in short supply stateside, but that does not always appear in soccer. “Even Klinsmann – once a World Cup winner with Germany – belted out the Star Spangled Banner before the game,” said Holloway. The U.S. team put everything into their game this time around, and that was something clearly lacking in English play, and Holloway felt both players and coaches could take a lesson in attitude and heart, looking to their national pride and to representing themselves well at the FIFA World Cup, for a start.
Speaking of Klinsmann, the English are also not discounting the contribution of new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann as a huge factor as to why the American team was so motivated. One writer for the Telegraph even called for the English team to conscript the former German champion for the 2018 cup, stealing him away from the burgeoning U.S. program, and thus keeping England in its rightful place on top of America in international soccer. Luke Edwards’ commentary on the German coach cited him as having “that priceless knack of making his players want to perform for him.” Klinsmann’s ability to rally his troops was inspiring, and he seemed to bring out the best in is players like John Brooks.
Motivation is one aspect, but Klinsmann also brings the knowledge of the precise, clean and almost indefatigable playing style of the perennially top-ranked German squad to the U.S. team. German soccer is known throughout the world to be the most mathematical, calculated and cerebral of all the top teams, especially in Europe. This was most likely another key element which brought the Americans success.
There was no lack of talent on the U.S. team, but the collective drive in what was almost a hostile attitude to soccer in the U.S., along with an organizational vision and direction were two key elements that America seemed, until now, to be lacking. With the rallying and play-making abilities of Klinsmann and now with this first taste of success and support from fans in the 2014 tournament, the U.S. squad is nearly oozing potential for 2018. Ian Holloway, along with many other English and European soccer experts will no doubt be taking copious notes, and looking to study the lessons of the U.S. squad’s 2014 FIFA World Cup run.
Commentary by Layla Klamt