How times have changed
American-trained German national team
Headline: US guru whips German players into shape Byline: Andreas Tzortzis Date: 03/28/2006
Imagine India's top basketball coach flying to Miami to teach Shaquille O'Neal how to shoot free throws. You can guess the incredulous reaction of everyone from the ESPN pundits to your local 7-Eleven cashier.
That's how German fans reacted when national soccer team coach Juergen Klinsmann brought in US fitness guru Mark Verstegen to whip his team into shape before Germany hosts the World Cup this summer.
"It would happen, even if the guy were Italian," says Andrei Markovits, an expert on German soccer culture at the University of Michigan. "But the very fact that the guy is American is just inexcusable."
It would be hard to overstate the national pride associated with the German team. In the 17 tournaments held since 1930, only seven countries have won the championship. Brazil has five World Cup titles; next, with three each, are Italy and Germany, who last won in 1990.
US titles? None.
"Some innovation never hurts," allows Falk Neuhof, sitting in a Berlin bar watching Germany beat the US 4-1 last week. "But it just won't bring much. The players have been used to doing things differently for years."
"The proof is in the pudding," says Professor Markovits. "If Germany wins the World Cup, there will be statues built of [Klinsmann] and the American strength coach will be a god."
Verstegen himself has accepted all the criticism with a patient smile. After all, players have overwhelmingly embraced his conditioning drills. Some have even begun including them during practices with their club teams.
"After the first day, they understood what we were after," he says. "They began to see instantaneous results, or it began making sense to them."
Will it make sense to German soccer fans? Ask again in mid-June, when the World Cup is in full swing and the German team is - hopefully - still competing.
posted by Steve @ 12:01:00 AM