Klinsmann question clouds German optimism

July 10, 2006

BERLIN, July 10 (Reuters) - Germany played with great attacking quality and unswerving self-belief at this World Cup but the Klinsmann question will continue to cloud the host nation's optimism until it is resolved.

The increasingly desperate calls for Juergen Klinsmann to stay show just how real the fear is that Germany's run to the semi-finals was down to the coach's sheer force of personality.

Unless he decides to renew his contract and lead the team into their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign there will be doubts about whether the three-times world and European champions are really back as a force.

'We all need to take a deep breath now,' Klinsmann said as the team were given a rousing reception on the Fan Mile in Berlin on Sunday.

'We've had seven intensive weeks and it was fantastic. It's absolutely insane what happened and we have to come to terms with it first. We all need a bit of time.'

The importance of the 41-year-old former striker to Germany's future is evident.

This German team that finished third was much more than the sum of its parts.

The general verdict before the tournament was that Germany had one world class player in Michael Ballack, two good goalkeepers, a bunch of kids and some lumbering midfielders.

As it turned out, Miroslav Klose was the outstanding attacking player of the tournament, scoring five goals and taking the golden shoe award for top scorer, and he was by no means the only over-achiever.

Defenders Per Mertesacker, Christoph Metzelder and Philipp Lahm, midfielder Bernd Schneider and young striker Lukas Podolski were all well short of top form for their clubs last season but for Germany they looked like world beaters.

The credit goes to Klinsmann, a novice coach when he took over in 2004, and his willingness to delegate specific tasks to his talented staff.

A team of fitness instructors, led by an American, looked after the physical preparation, assistant coach Joachim Loew had a big hand in the tactics, Oliver Bierhoff was always there to offer advice and they made good use of a sports psychologist.

If Klinsmann does stay, or if a like-minded coach is appointed to replace him, there are reasons for great optimism.

Podolski, midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and centre back Mertesacker are all only 21, while winger David Odonkor and fullback Lahm are 22.

The coach taught them to play without fear and watched as they matured into a group of exceptional international players.

That is quite a gift, and one that Germany should not squander whether or not Klinsmann remains.