Bayern Munich legend Paul Breitner analyzes Jurgen Klinsmann's effect on American soccer
He talked at length about the growth of German soccer domestically and globally, and also shared some frank thoughts on a fellow Bayern and Nationalmannschaft legend: U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann.
A few days before the NSCAA Convention, I got an email from a PR rep who works with Bayern Munich's New York office asking if I wanted a one-on-one interview with former Bayern and German national team star Paul Breitner.
Sometimes, I'm wary of soliciations for interviews, because they often come with strings attached relating to sponsors. But this one didn't - and it was also helpful that some of Bayern's New York-based staff are former soccer journalists in their own right.
So I accepted the offer, and I'm glad I did. The interview was one of the most substantive and enlightening I've ever had with a major figure in soccer.
We talked at length about the growth of German soccer domestically and globally. Breitner also shared some frank thoughts on a fellow Bayern and Nationalmannschaft legend: U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann.
Here's a transcript of our conversation, edited slightly for clarity, but not by much.
We're sitting here at a convention of soccer coaches, which in many ways is a very American thing to have. What do you make of being here?
So, you don't know that this is my second convention. The first time, I was in Washington in 1989 to talk about my way toward becoming an international player. Today, I am very happy that I can talk about what we are doing in our academy, how we are instructing our kids, how we are treating them, and what the secret is of Bayern Munich, of the successes of Bayern Munich.
Bayern Munich has always been a big club in Germany, but has there ever been a time before when it has been such a big club around the world as it is now?
No, no. But you have to know that when the Bundesliga was started in 1963, Bayern Munich wasn't one of the 18 teams playing over the first two seasons. We joined the Bundesliga in '65, two years later.
I'm traveling around the world representing Bayern Munich, and I can tell you it's a pleasure. I never expected that we would achieve becoming one of the most important clubs in the world of sports. Not just the world of football - the world of sports. And the first time was when had the honor to receive the 2014 Laureus Sports Award in Kuala Lumpur [for World Team of the Year - the ceremony took place last March].
We had been honored as the best club in the world. This is fantastic. And it means that we are now the best team, in the best situation, in the best form, in the best moment, ever.
The amount of interest in the Bundesliga in the United States has grown over the last few years, in part because Bayern and Borussia Dortmund have been so successful in the Champions League. But the Bundesliga itself has a poor television contract in the United States. That will be fixed next season when Fox starts broadcasting games, but until then, what are American soccer fans missing?
They are missing being able to watch maybe the best league right now. I think we can compare the quality of the Bundesliga only with one league: Spain's Primera División.
The teams of the English Premier League stopped learning and stopped developing four or five or six years ago. They thought it was enough to buy, year by year, three or four or five stars, outstanding players, to win everything. To dominate the Champions League. And they are wrong. They are wrong.
The system and the way they are constructing their game in the Premier League, especially the big four or the big five, this way of playing has passed. It's not quick enough, it's too static. I can compare it - it's the same style we started to play, our game of ball possession, with Louis Van Gaal [when he managed Bayern from 2009 to 2011]. This is my impression every time I watch the Premier League.
The Bundesliga, for me, together with the Primera Division, is the best league. Because not only are Barcelona and Real Madrid playing at the highest level, there are also five or six more teams with outstanding football. So, watch the Bundesliga, and you will see every weekend very good, high-class soccer.
England has so much money, and so much sense of spectacle in the stadiums and with their television broadcasts. But English clubs don't win often in Europe, and no one knows whether the financial model of oligarchs buying teams is sustainable compared to how Germany has fans owning majorities of shares in Bundesliga clubs.
In Germany you can't have just one person who owns a club. And the ticket prices are a lot cheaper, which is also something that gets talked about a lot. You can get a season ticket in the upper levels of Bayern's Allianz Arena for almost the same price as a ticket to one game at Arsenal or other big Premier League teams. How important is it to have that cultural connection with the fans?
It's very important, because it brought us the respect of the supporters and fans in Spain, in England, in Italy. We are the only healthy league. Ninety-five percent of our teams earn money, and not just for one year.
The best example of how to work, how to guide a company - and I will say, I try to explain Bayern Munich as a football-producing company, with an income of half a billion euros and more than 600 employees - Bayern Munich has made money for the last 23 consecutive years. We earned the money we had to spend to buy Franck Ribéry or all the other players.
And we have got perfect new stadiums to deliver all the kind of luxury you expect in our times if you want to see a football game. And as you said, [in England] you have to pay three times the price that you have to pay in Germany for a ticket. No luxury, nothing at all. Old. Not all of them, okay, but some. We have only perfect arenas.*
There is another number which is very, very important for us for the future of the Bundesliga. Forty-one percent of our fans in the stands are female spectators. And our stadiums, arenas, are sold out for every game. Forty-one percent! It means they bring their kids, and these kids will bring their kids. So I think we will see a golden future.
[* - Of course, hosting the 2006 World Cup was a major factor in why those stadiums are as modern as they are. The Allianz Arena in Munich was built for the tournament, while older venues such as Dortmund's Westfalenstadion and Berlin's Olympiastsadion got extensive renovations.]
Is it ever difficult for the people in power - whether at the German federation or Bundesliga headquarters or the the clubs - to keep that focus on working collectively?
You have, especially with Bayern and Dortmund, these huge clubs with huge stadiums that seat 70,000 to 80,000 people. They could go off and do what the big English clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United are doing with bringing in wealthy individual owners and raising the prices on everything. But they are just as committed to keeping the community-based financial model intact as it been.
Can things really stay that way?
Everybody - every fan, every supporter, every man and woman in Germany - is interested in keeping this form of 50 percent plus one. Of staying a club owned by the members. Bayern Munich are owned by 250,000 members. And this is the way the Germans like to be, members of a club.
I have tried to explain before that completely different to many countries, life in Germany is regulated and organized by clubs. We have clubs for everything you want to do. I live in a village of 4,000 people - we have 41 clubs. Clubs for everything. It means you can be registered by your birth and you can start playing football, tennis, swimming, whatever you want, from the age of two or three until you die.
And therefore, we want to keep this way of being a "football club." We don't need the oligarchs. Nobody wants them.
How do you keep the oligarchs out? If they come to you and say that they want to buy in, what happens?
How? We don't want them. And it's not necessary that somebody, that an oligarch or a sheikh's family from Abu Dhabi, or anybody else, bring money into a club. We don't need it. As I said, if we want to buy a player, we have earned the money. We don't need a bank, nor an oligarch, nor anybody else.
[For those of you who don't know, the reference to not needing a bank is a shot at the many big clubs in Spain who have struggled with debt in recent years.The reference to Abu Dhabi is a shot at a certain conglomerate of soccer teams around the world that you might have heard about in recent weeks.]
On the field, everybody talks now about wanting to play the German way. They used to talk about playing the Spanish way, and before that the French way, and the Brazilian way, and the Italian way, and the Dutch way. It seems like every big nation gets its era.
The German way has changed, though, from the last era of dominance that ended in 1990 to the current era of dominance today. Why did it change, and can that style - as shown by players like Philipp Lahm, Thomas Müller, and Mesut Özil - continue to be as popular as it is now?
The style of the dominating teams hasn't changed all. Just a little. In my understanding, we have a situation that the German national team, Bayern Munich, Borussia Mönchengladbach, they improved the game of Barcelona.
Five years ago, under Louis van Gaal, we at Bayern Munich started to change our game completely. Van Gaal brought into the team the game of ball possession, but by fixed positions. Static positions.
Jupp Heynckes started to move the players in their positions. They were allowed to move out of their certain spaces where they had to stay and to play.
And now, we've made the third step with Pep Guardiola, by his ideas, to play this style at a high speed. We now are playing the same football Barcelona played until three years ago - but with one difference, and a decisive difference. They played during the last two or three years just to have fun. Just to do an exhibition, to demonstrate their category, their level - without thinking about what they were playing for. They were not playing to win.
We improved the Barcelona style by playing this style with a center forward, with Robert Lewandoski and others, to score. Every time we have the chance, we don't stop moving forward and keeping the ball in the team. We try to score, if it's possible, every time.
What changed the national team and how it played?
The national team adopted the game that Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund started to play two or three years ago. We had seven players of Bayern Munich in the first 11 for the  World Cup final, and two players of Borussia Dortmund.
Every national team, every selection is just as good as the best teams in the league. Bayern Munich is dominating European football, along with Real Madrid. Borussia Dortmund stands in second place with Barcelona, Chelsea, and Man City.
Joachim Löw only had to accept the way Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund started to play, and play very successfully. And you have seen the [2013 UEFA Champions League] final in London. It was one of the best games I've ever seen.
And what about Jurgen Klinsmann's influence in 2006, that was credited with starting the entire movement towards what Germany is now?
It was a completely different time for him. But Jurgen Klinsmann did a very, very decisive job - together with Joachim Löw, his assistant coach - for the future, for the successes now of the German national team.
Why? We started in 1990, when we became world champion, to think we were the best. The only thing we had to improve was our physical fitness. And we were coached two times a day, three times a day, without the ball. So we lost the balance of 50-50 between technical skills and physical fitness. After 10 years, at the beginning of the 2000s, we had 75 percent fitness and 25 percent technical skills.
And we were not interested in looking abroad at how football was developing - how they played in Spain, Italy, England. Our national team and the Bundesliga played a horrible football, especially from 1998 to 2004.
Then Joachim Löw and Jurgen Klinsmann started to talk to those responsible at the DFB [the German federation], to tell them, "Hey, we're going the wrong way! We have to stop, we have to look. What have the Spanish, the English, the French developed in the last couple of years? They are playing a completely different football." We were still playing in the early 2000s with a libero, man vs. man.
So Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw started to try to turn it around, to learn to accept what the other teams in England and the other countries were practicing. And we started to change completely the instruction, the coaching of our kids and young players.
Jurgen knew, and he always said, "We need six to eight years to get a high level of football again." And we started to change in 2004. After six years, in 2010, we had a very, very good team in South Africa.
You had a good team in 2006, too, when Germany hosted the World Cup and Klinsmann was the head coach. It wasn't all the way there yet, but it was better than it was in previous years.
Better, yes. And in 2010 and 2014, a more experienced team.
What did it take for Klinsmann to convince the people in power - whether at the DFB or the Bundesliga clubs that went on to spend millions of dollars on domestic player development - that what he was seeing was the right thing to do?
He knew that the fans in Germany were tired of watching this kind of poor football. It just was necessary to talk to five or 10 fans, and everybody would have said to him "Hey, it's boring! It's brutal! This is not Germany, this is not the way we expect and we can expect of our players!"
Especially because at that time, Germany was really taking off as a unified nation, and growing into the economic and cultural powerhouse that it is now.
Yes. By being unified, we changed a lot. But not the way we taught football and played football.
Klinsmann spends a lot of time trying to convince people here in the United States that his vision is the right one for the community to follow. In last summer's World Cup, they made the round of 16, but some critics said they did the same thing four years ago under a different coach, so how much improvement was there really.
As Klinsmann continues to shape the U.S. national team program in his image, he is now being watched and examined closely as he's trying to convince the skeptics that he's right. What do you make of the job that he is doing here, and what more do you think he can do here to shape things to how he wants them to be?
Our impression in Germany is that he's doing a good job here. What he could do, in my point of view, is to convince people here in the U.S. that soccer has nothing to do with American football, basketball, ice hockey and baseball. He should convince them that soccer players aren't, by far, athletes.
If I have to read that Alexi Lalas says that American soccer players can borrow many ideas and attitudes from the other sports, I call that crazy. Soccer players are a mix between many kinds of sports - swimmers, tennis players - and artists.
What Klinsmann could do is to convince people that young soccer players don't need to be guided every second, every minute when touching the ball every. Soccer doesn't exist by commands and order in the same way as American football. So you don't need that many attitudes as an American football player or as a baseball player. I'm sorry to say that.
And you have to accept that you have to instruct the squad individually. It also means forget commanding and ordering. Give them a free hand, give them a position, an area to produce ideas, to get a feeling of what responsibility is. Defending, you need responsibility. You need to learn it, to understand it.
The difference between American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey and soccer is that soccer is dominated by and lives by spirit - intuition, ideas. This is the difference. I was talking to a lot of coaches here, and I told them: please, give players their space. Let them be free. Let them produce ideas. Let them move. Let them learn to take responsibility, and you will get better players.
I am fascinated by you saying that, because it makes me think you might be able to answer one of the criticisms that Klinsmann has faced here. He is perceived as believing that some soccer players in America aren't motivated enough, and the response to him from those critics is that Americans in all walks of life are very good at self-motivating. It's a mental dynamic.
Yes, but this is a question I am not able to answer. Because until now, I thought there is a parallel between the German and the U.S. mentality in sports. We in Germany, and I think the Americans too, practice their sports not to have fun, but just to win. Winning makes fun. And we in Germany, and I'm sure also the kids here in the U.S., have to learn how to win as they play soccer or tennis or swimming or running or fighting over four or five years.
Therefore, if Jurgen gets the impression that they are not ready to give what he sees as their all, maybe he got the feeling or the impression because he knows that just a few players have the chance to reach more than to play here. Maybe he got the impression that there are players who say, "Okay, it's enough, it's fun, I love to play soccer." But I'm sorry, I don't want to talk about this kind of thing, as it wouldn't be fair.
I can tell that you know Jurgen very well, and some of the things you've said here are insights that I think some Americans might not have heard before. Here's another question relating to something I hear often about Klinsmann.
You have used repeatedly used the word "convinced" in describing the effect he had on Germany's soccer culture. A lot of people here see Klinsmann as believing that he is always right. Whether or not he is in fact right, he believes that he is always right. Is that fair?
Yes. I understand it, and I understand him. I have always understood him. Because without that thinking, he wouldn't be here as the national team's coach. I am sure that to play as a striker, you have to have this mentality. Because you're in a similar position as a goalkeeper: the team is always more dependent on you than on anybody else.
So the responsibility is by far higher, and you know that. You have to learn it, you have to accept it. And then you say, "Aha, I'm a senior man [in the hierarchy of the team], I play in a decisive position. How can I handle it?" I think you just have the chance to become a successful striker if you say, "Okay, this is my game, and my aim is to score goals, goals, goals, goals."
If anybody says, "It doesn't matter who is scoring goals, the only thing that matters is that the team wins" - if you have this idea as a striker, then you had better look for another position.
But when you're a coach, instead of working with your peers you have to work with not just administrators and the media but also players who are younger than you are and want to learn from you. Is there a danger, if you have that striker's mentality, of being too forceful?
No. Teach them first of all that everybody plays for himself, not for the team. Everybody tries to win for himself. Everybody. We do our sports in groups, in teams, but the team is not the winner. The senior player wants to win - wants to become world champion, U.S. champion - for himself. He is working, he is training, he is running, he is fighting, over years and years and years for his results.
This is what I think a soccer player, a team player, has to realize. The star isn't the team, by far. I am the star. I want to win. I want to become champion. Together with my colleagues, but first of all, I want to score.