Whatever else he does in life, Jurgen Klinsmann will always be a world champion. But long before this Germany legend scaled football’s greatest peak, it was the FIFA World Cup – and one of the tournament’s icons – that started him dreaming.
“As a child my first World Cup was ’74, which Germany fortunately won, with Gerd Muller scoring the winning goal. He was my idol growing up. I always wanted to be Gerd Muller,” Klinsmann told FIFA+.
“Seeing that just kick-starts you as a little boy to have the ambition to play and do well, maybe become a professional player, and then if you become a professional maybe make the national team and play in a World Cup. In the end, I was very lucky to participate in three World Cups as a player and two as coach. I feel very fortunate.”
Klinsmann’s personal World Cup journey peaked, of course, in 1990, when he emulated his hero by helping fire West Germany to football’s greatest prize. A new generation of fans, however, came to know him as the coach whose dynamic, attacking team piled on the goals before losing a thrilling semi-final to Italy in 2006. Those experiences of home World Cups – as a fan in ’74, and as coach 32 years later – also leave the 58-year-old well placed to counsel Qatar on dealing with the pressure that accompanies any host nation. Klinsmann’s advice? Accentuate the positives.
“It will give the Qatar national team a lot of energy and a lot of confidence to play in their home country,” he said. “They want to do well, and I think they will do well. And even if they don’t go all that far, I think the whole country will still use this opportunity as a way to showcase themselves. I experienced that in Germany in 2006.
“Yes, you want your national team to do well and sometimes it goes hand in hand a little bit with how the atmosphere in the country is. But the German people also used that opportunity to show the world that this is a new Germany.
“I know a lot of people were surprised to see the different faces the country now has: open-minded, international, multi-lingual. Plus, we had four solid weeks of sunshine, which Germany never has! (laughs) So I’m sure that Qatar’s people will relish having that same opportunity to show the world that their country is a special place.”
Klinsmann genuinely believes this, too, having paid several visits to Qatar as preparations were ramped up for the region’s first World Cup.
What he has witnessed tells him that newcomers to the country are set for a treat and, just as in 2006, a few pleasant surprises along the way.
“All the fans and participating countries will find a completely new dimension of a World Cup,” he said.
“The infrastructure here is second-to-none. And it’s the first World Cup in the Middle East, which adds a new element that I think a lot of people will be very curious to come and see. It will be a real eye-opener for a lot of people around the world that this is an outstanding place, very welcoming, and I’m sure Qatar and the entire region will utilise this tournament to showcase what they have here. We’re going to see a high-quality tournament, very good games, in stadiums that are absolutely beautiful.”
The big question as the tournament draws ever closer, of course, is: which team will thrive in those gleaming new arenas? And while Klinsmann wouldn’t rule out a fifth German title, he believes the tournament’s record champions are once again the most compelling contenders. “Germany have a very good young team. They can go far and, theoretically, they can also win this World Cup,” he said.
“But my personal favourite, having watched them over the last couple of years – especially during the World Cup qualifying campaign – is Brazil. I was so impressed how they just rolled through the qualifiers, especially as South America is probably the toughest of all continents to qualify from. The way they did it was very impressive.
“Of course, we all as football fans also want to see if Messi is able to win a World Cup for his Argentina. That’s clearly his big, big goal. Whatever happens though, I know we will have an absolutely tremendous, dramatic World Cup in Qatar.”
Former German star Jurgen Klinsmann