Jürgen Klinsmann: US Soccer’s Diversion from USWNT and Chuck Blazer

By Patrick Salkeld

Controversy surrounded Jürgen Klinsmann’s tenure as the head coach of the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) since nearly the beginning. He created tension between himself and Don Garber, the Commissioner of Major League Soccer (MLS), about implementing promotion and relegation in the United States and the quality of American soccer in the US. He notably left Landon Donovan—arguably the most famous American soccer player to date—off the 2014 World Cup roster and refused to play many other MLS stars. He also publicly deflected criticism of his management on to the on-field performances of the players and denigrated them during press conferences.

In the last year, the USMNT suffered several embarrassments. It failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and lost its last two matches of the Hex in 2016 to Costa Rica and Mexico. On November 21, 2016, U.S. Soccer fired Jürgen Klinsmann. The German legend’s departure from the USMNT head coaching position surprised few Americans as it seemed to inch closer each month. Yet, US Soccer timed the official announcement right as the media brought attention to the federation’s other issues—the United States Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) fight for equal pay, the lack of promotion and relegation, and Chuck Blazer’s involvement in the massive FIFA corruption scandal, which broke in 2015.

On November 20, 2016, Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Christen Press, and Morgan Brian appeared on 60 Minutes, in a segment titled “The Match of Their Lives,” to discuss the USWNT’s “fight for equal pay and equal rights as the men.”[1] With this prime time slot, they received an audience of millions. The 2015 FIFA World Cup, in which the team won its third championship, transformed into the final point of contention. With FIFA’s refusal to fix the turf situation, the players started a full onslaught of activism—better treatment for themselves and female players across the globe. On March 31, 2016, Grant Wahl published the exact wage details for the USMNT and the USWNT in response to the news that five USWNT players “filed a complaint against the US Soccer Federation alleging wage discrimination, insisting they should be paid the same as their male counterparts.”[2] The US Senate even passed “a non-binding resolution from Democratic Senator Patty Murray urging the US Soccer Federation (USSF) ensure the World Cup-winning women’s team was fairly compensated.”[3] Later, she and Dianne Feinstein, another US Senator, sent a letter to Don Garber, the CEO of Soccer United Marketing (SUM) in addition to the MLS Commissioner, to “request that Garber provide a breakdown of revenue, details of individual revenue streams, a percentage of contracts that contain sponsorship of the Women’s team, a description of U.S. Soccer’s efforts to grow the women’s game, and any other relevant information” because the details about US Soccer revenue remains obscure.[4] The numbers in Wahl’s article show a distinct difference in pay and bonuses offered to both teams.

USWNT, USMNT pay gap[5]
Payment situation USWNT 
(2013-present)
USMNT
(2015-18)
Friendlies (per player, vs. teams not in FIFA’s top 25, excluding Mexico) $1,350 for a win $9,375 for a win;
$6,250 for a tie;
$5,000 for a loss
Friendlies (per player, vs. teams ranked 11-25, excluding Mexico) $1,350 for a win $12,500 for a win;
$6,250 for a tie;
$5,000 for a loss
Friendlies (per player, vs. teams ranked 1-10 and Mexico) $1,350 for a win $17,625 for a win;
$8,125 for a tie;
$5,000 for a loss
World Cup roster bonus $15,000 per player WCQ match bonus;
$15,000 per player WC roster bonus
$68,750 per player
World Cup qualifiers N/A $12,500 per player per win; $6,000 per player per draw; $4,000 per player per loss
World Cup qualification N/A $2,500,000 split among team player pool
World Cup per game payment N/A $6,875 per player, regardless of result
World Cup first round points bonus N/A $218,750 to team player pool per point earned
World Cup second round advancement bonus N/A $4,500,000 split among team player pool
World Cup fourth place bonus $10,000/player N/A
World Cup third place bonus $20,000/player $1,250,000 to team player pool
World Cup second place bonus $32,500/player $6,250,000 to team player pool
World Cup champion bonus $75,000/player $9,375,000 to team player pool
Player in World Cup training camp, not game roster N/A $2,500
Per Diem $50/domestic venue; $60/international $62.50 domestic;
$75 international
Sponsor appearance fee $3,000/appearance $3,750/appearance
Attendance ticket revenue bonus $1.20/ticket $1.50/ticket
Post-World Cup victory tour (number of games dependent on WC outcome; tour dependent on WC finish) $1.8M for team player pool for finishing first in World Cup;
$6,750 per player for finishing second;
$6,250 per player for finishing third
N/A

 

The next day, one might have expected sports journalists on ESPN and other news outlets to cover the 60 Minutes interview, but they remained silent on the matter. FIFA and US Soccer both claim a desire to constantly improve women’s soccer on a global level; however, their actions and attitudes towards the players regarding sexist comments, pay discrimination, funding, and field surface display an inconsistent track record contrary to their statements. The two organizations must adjust their policies and mindsets if they truly want to help the popularity of women’s soccer. Another glaring topic entered the conversation during that week as well—changing the American soccer pyramid from a closed system to an open system.

The concept of promotion and relegation (which will be referred to as pro/rel for the rest of this article), an issue that separates the American soccer community similarly to the chasm created by the 2016 Presidential Election, has caught the attention of mainstream media in recent months. On November 21, the same day US Soccer fired Klinsmann, Deloitte released a summary of its study about the feasibility of pro/rel in the United States that Riccardo Silva, owner of Silva International Investments and Miami FC, commissioned. It revealed little unknown to pro/rel supporters and non-supporters already. In fact, it confirmed the benefits of the system to the American pyramid; however, it also reaffirmed that “the US club soccer is not immediately ready for promotion and relegation,” which as a pro/rel supporter, I completely agree even though others want it implemented overnight.[6] The process would take time to complete. Mark Abbot, the MLS Deputy Commissioner, rebuked the study because of its connection to North American Soccer League (NASL), which seems problematic in business terms because it would benefit from such a system.[7] Yet, it comes at no surprise that an MLS official would reject the study since they have repeatedly rejected claims that pro/rel might improve the sport in the US and refuse to implement it. In fact, he referred to MLS teams as “local businesses” not clubs, which brings up the question—does MLS want to increase soccer’s popularity for the good of the sport or simply to increase its revenue?[8] Much like FIFA, US Soccer and MLS appear more attuned to profits than enhancing the game.

That Wednesday, HBO broadcasted “a brand new episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” titled “The Informant.” David Scott, a correspondent for the show, interviewed “Mary Lynn Blanks, [Chuck] Blazer’s longtime girlfriend.” She revealed much to the public about their relationship and Blazer’s personal life inside the walls of their luxurious apartment in Trump Tower and during his travels as a FIFA executive. He eagerly became the FBI’s informant as Agent Richard Flankel said, “It was not what we would call a hard flip.” Blanks even told Scott, “He didn’t care these people were all getting carted off to jail, that their families were being destroyed. It didn’t really matter to him.” Blazer enjoyed the opportunity to incriminate his fellow executives. One might wonder if he might have wanted to share the spotlight with them or deflect some of it away from himself, even though “[he] had no delusions about his innocence.”[9]

To this day, no entities have conducted investigations to discover any connections between Blazer’s corruption with FIFA and the US Soccer Federation. Whether or not any links exist, his longtime association with US Soccer and its president, Sunil Gulati, opens the questions—did it benefit from Blazer’s illegal dealings? Did Blazer commit any crimes as a US Soccer administrator? How much corruption occurs in US Soccer either now or in the past? Because of their silence regarding the corruption, Andrew Jennings called for the ousting of Sunil Gulati and CEO Dan Flynn from US Soccer

There’s got to be a revolution in US soccer against the leadership of US Soccer, recalling Mr. Gulati and sending him back to Columbia University to teach Economics, sending Mr. Flynn into retirement and getting a whole new organization. Let’s get Flynn and the current directors out because they’re doing nothing for the reputation of America and the management of American [soccer].[10]

Christopher Harris and Kartik Krishnaiyer have written numerous articles about the possible connections between US Soccer, Traffic Sports, Blazer, and the other corrupt FIFA officials on World Soccer Talk. Krishnaiyer even wrote in his article “USSF Continuing Blazer-Era Closed Shop with Soccer Media Giving Them a Free Ride,”

Transparency is not the strength of the USSF or MLS. Operating in an environment where many journalists and writers who cover the sport see protecting the USSF and MLS as a “cause,” the vigilance in coverage toward potential domestic corruption in the game is nowhere near the levels they are in western Europe. It can be surmised that if the illegal activities of Traffic Sports and alleged illegalities of CONCACAF had taken place on British soil, the media would have nailed the offending parties long before the Department of Justice swooped in and took everyone by surprise in May 2015.[11]

When the FIFA scandal broke, MLS announced the signing of Giovanni dos Santos to the LA Galaxy minutes after the US Senate hearing about FIFA and immediately the media focused on the new player instead of corruption at the highest level of international soccer.[12] As Professor Roger Pielke, Jr., wrote in a recent article titled “US Soccer and Conflicts of Interest” [COI] for Soccernomics—particularly the section describing COI between US Soccer, MLS, and SUM—“the appearance of conflicts is just as important as any actual conflicts.”[13]

Organizations dread negative attention, especially when they lack control over the situation, and US Soccer faced several days of it. Similar to when news broke about the FIFA scandal in 2015, the federation used Klinsmann’s departure as a convenient opportunity to redirect the media’s attention from the USWNT, the pro/rel study, and the interview with Blanks to a more “important” (less political) issue—the firing of the USMNT head coach two years before the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It generated the desired attention and the media, more or less, forgot about the other issues to cover the future of the USMNT and whom US Soccer might hire for the position. For months, American soccer fans called for Klinsmann to be fired; yet the federation extended his contract and reaffirmed their support of the coach.

Nonetheless, when asked about the reasons behind letting him go, Sunil Gulati “said the decision to fire Jürgen Klinsmann was based on results over an extended period of time and not just the two recent World Cup qualifying defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica.”[14] After Mexico and just a few days before Costa Rica, he told reporters “he expects…[him] to be the manager through the end of World Cup qualifying.”[15] In the past, “Gulati has long said that one game won’t change Klinsmann’s status going forward;” however, it brings up the question—how much of a role did the Costa Rica game play in the decision?[16] Was that one game the major turning point, or did Klinsmann evolve into a scapegoat to sway the media and the masses? Thanksgiving week 2016 placed US Soccer in the mainstream spotlight and revealed, again, longstanding issues of transparency, corruption, discrimination, and Americanization—all a bane to fans who prefer international leagues to American soccer. Unfortunately, some American soccer fans denigrate the people, who criticize US Soccer and MLS or call for reforms within the system, by calling them “Eurosnobs” or conspiracy theorists and prefer to accept the status quo without considering the possibility that maybe reform is indeed needed. The reluctance of the soccer media to criticize US Soccer and MLS and the American soccer community’s complacency and conformity (and the larger political atmosphere in this country as a whole) reminds me of William O. Douglas’s words in his 1952 New York Times Magazine article, “The Black Silence of Fear,” about the threat of Communism, the ensuing Red Scare in the US, and the repression of unorthodox views similar to the conduct of the Soviets:

There is an ominous trend in this nation. We are developing tolerance only for the orthodox point of view on world affairs, intolerance for new or different approaches…Thought is being standardized, that the permissible area for calm discussion is being narrowed, that the range of ideas is being limited, that many minds are closed…It means that the philosophy of strength through free speech is being forsaken for the philosophy of fear through repression.[17]

The US government hid closed-door deals and corruption from the American public for nearly twenty years until the Pentagon Papers revealed the secrets of the Vietnam War. The presidential administrations persuaded the public into believing its integrity when it eliminated “Reds” from its employment and strove to contain communism. The Cold War transformed into a necessary evil because of how intertwined the military industrial complex became within the American economy. The government attempted to put down all dissention until the bubble of tolerance burst with the counterculture movement, rise of the New Left, and eventually the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s. Similarly, US Soccer has created this same veil of security and omniscience. It requires the loyalty of its supporters and for them to turn a blind eye from its inadequacies in order to provide a continuous stream of revenue to fund its for-profit business (Major League Soccer and the USMNT). Attendance declined at USMNT games as it increased for the USWNT just as dislike for Jürgen Klinsmann rose, the USWNT increased its fight for equal pay, social media continued to ring with calls for pro/rel, and the continuing FIFA scandal. US Soccer distracted the media and satisfied the majority of fans by firing Klinsmann and reignited its popularity by making a decision many fans desired for months.

Patrick Salkeld is an MA Candidate at the University of Central Oklahoma. His research focuses on the rise of mainstream soccer in the United States from the 1960s to the present in addition to the relationship between social movements and sports. He can be reached at patsalkeld92@gmail.com and on twitter @patsalkeld.

Notes:


[1] Christopher Harris, “US Soccer Federation Under Microscope Again in TV Journalism Pieces from HBO and CBS,” World Soccer Talk, November 19, 2016, http://worldsoccertalk.com/2016/11/19/us-soccer-federation-microscope-new-tv-journalism-episodes-hbo-cbs/.
[2] Grant Wahl, “USWNT Stars Accuses U.S. Soccer of Wage Discrimination in EEOC Filing,” Sports Illustrated, March 31, 2016, http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2016/03/31/uswnt-eeoc-wage-discrimination-equal-pay.
[3] AFP, “US Lawmakers Back Equal Pay for Women Players,” World Soccer Talk, May 26, 2016, http://worldsoccertalk.com/2016/05/26/us-lawmakers-back-equal-pay-for-women-players-2/.
[4] Colton Coreschi, “U.S. Senators Send Letter to Garber, SUM Requesting USMNT, USWNT, Revenue Information,” SBI Soccer, October 6, 2016, http://sbisoccer.com/2016/10/u-s-senators-send-letter-to-garber-sum-requesting-usmnt-uswnt-revenue-information.
[5] Wahl, “USWNT Stars Accuses U.S. Soccer of Wage Discrimination in EEOC Filing.”
[6] Deloitte, “Professional Club Soccer in the USA: An Analysis of Promotion and Relegation,” Deloitte, https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/sports-business-group/articles/professional-club-soccer-in-the-usa.html?id=gb:2sm:3tw:4ussport:5awa:6ci:20161121123000:duk2&linkId=31327094.
[7] Bob Williams, “Deloitte Pro-Rel Report Has ‘Serious Credibility Questions,’ Says MLS Deputy Commissioner,” The Telegraph, November 21, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2016/11/21/deloitte-pro-rel-report-has-serious-credibility-issues-says/.
[8] Williams, “Deloitte Pro-Rel Report.”
[9] Harris, “US Soccer Federation Under Microscope;” Michael O’Keefe, “HBO’s ‘Real Sports’ Continues Daily News’ Expose of FIFA Big Wig and FBI Informant Chuck Blazer,” New York Daily News, November 22, 2016, http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/i-team/hbo-real-sports-continues-news-expose-chuck-blazer-article-1.2883820.
[10] Christopher Harris, “Andrew Jennings Calls for Revolution to Oust Sunil Gulati From US Soccer,” World Soccer Talk, July 20, 2015, http://worldsoccertalk.com/2015/07/20/andrew-jennings-calls-for-revolution-to-oust-sunil-gulati-from-us-soccer/.
[11] Kartik Krishnaiyer, “USSF Continuing Blazer-Era Closed Shop with Soccer Media Giving Them a Free Ride,” World Soccer Talk, February 22, 2016, http://worldsoccertalk.com/2016/02/22/ussf-continuing-blazer-era-closed-shop-due-to-soccer-media-giving-them-a-free-ride/.
[12] Christopher Harris, “The Reaction from US Soccer Media to US Senate Hearing on Corruption in Soccer,” World Soccer Talk, July 16, 2015, http://worldsoccertalk.com/2015/07/16/the-reaction-from-us-soccer-media-to-us-senate-hearing-on-corruption-in-soccer/.
[13] Roger Pielke, Jr., “US Soccer and Conflicts of Interest,” Soccernomics, December 5, 2016, http://www.soccernomics-agency.com/?p=973.
[14] Jeff Carlisle, “Jürgen Klinsmann’s Firing Based on More Than Two U.S. Losses – Sunil Gulati,” ESPN FC, November 22, 2016, http://www.espnfc.us/united-states/story/3002184/jurgen-klinsmanns-firing-based-on-more-than-two-us-losses-sunil-gulati.
[15] Jeff Carlisle, “Jürgen Klinsmann Will Remain U.S. Manager for Remainder of Hex – Sunil Gulati,” ESPN FC, November 12, 2016, http://www.espnfc.us/united-states/story/2995545/jurgen-klinsmann-will-remain-us-manager-for-remainder-of-hex-gulati.
[16] Carlisle, “Jürgen Klinsmann Will Remain U.S. Manager for Remainder of Hex – Sunil Gulati.”
[17] William O. Douglas, “The Black Silence of Fear,” The New York Times Magazine, January 13, 1952, http://viewingamerica.shanti.virginia.edu/content/black-silence-fear.

2 thoughts on “Jürgen Klinsmann: US Soccer’s Diversion from USWNT and Chuck Blazer

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