Don Garber lashes out at Jurgen Klinsmann’s attack on MLS

MLS Commissioner Don Garber isn’t happy with U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann after his comments earlier this week. Klinsmann said that he believes the careers of Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley have been negatively affected by their move from teams in Europe to MLS.

Garber decided on Wednesday to answer Klinsmann, and his comments were very interesting. This transcript was provided by MLS:

Obviously this is not a phone call that I want to have made and certainly not something that I look forward to discussing.

We have enjoyed an incredibly positive and mutual beneficial relationship with the federation since the founding of the league and I believe both we – the leaders of MLS, our owners, the leaders of the federations –the league and the future of the sport is inextricably linked. That has been the core of everything that this league has done and that has been the basis of, what I think, the most successful partnership between any league and any federation in the world of football. So what I want to do is respond to Jürgen’s comments about the league and sport of soccer in America. I’m going to start with I will do anything and everything to defend our league, our players and our owners.

I don’t believe anyone is above the sport and I believe everybody needs to be accountable for their behavior, whether it is a commissioner, an owner, an athlete, or whether it’s a national team coach.

I feel very strongly having spent the last 24 hours thinking about this issue, discussing with MLS team owners, members of our board that Jürgen’s comments are very, very detrimental to the league, they’re detrimental to the sport of soccer in America and everything we are trying to do north of the boarder. And not only are they detrimental, I think they are wrong.

What I’m going to do is talk a bit about why I think they are detrimental to the league and why I think they’re wrong.

Let me start with the detrimental part first; sending a negative message to any player, and obviously to U.S. players, that signing with Major League Soccer is not going to be good for their career, or good for their form is incredibly detrimental to Major League Soccer. We have invested since our founding, billions and billions of dollars in creating a foundation for the league and the sport, growing a fan base, commercializing the sport, creating a dynamic where it is a part of the sports culture in this country and doing what you hear me say often, which is creating a soccer nation in America. And when we have a national team coach that, in essence, is telling players that when we sign with our league that it is not going to be good for their career and frankly not going to be perceived well by the national team coach, who is selecting the U.S. national team, is incredibly damaging to our league.

As you may know, and I don’t know if everybody does, 2014 Major League Soccer is going to spend 30 million dollars on player development programs alone that investment is going to grow more and more over the next couple of years.

Yesterday, Adrian Hanauer, one of the owners that was criticized by Jürgen yesterday, just announced that they are launching a USL Pro team. So the investment today in our investment in USL, player development is just going to continue to grow over time. So I think we are leading our development efforts in this country and to think that we are not aligned with our national team coach A) is disappointing and frankly it is personally infuriating, and frankly I don’t think it’s in line with the shared vision this league has with the federation.

We have heard many, many times that the federation believes that a strong and vibrant first division in the United States is going to be one of the key drivers for this sports in this country. So to think that our national team coach is in disagreement with that is frustrating as hell.

The World Cup team that played in Brazil this summer had 10 players that actively played in the league and almost half a dozen, I think it was five that began their careers in Major League Soccer. The contributions of these guys, and obviously an extension of the league, to the extension of the summer is indisputable, so the importance of the league to the U.S. national team, recently, has been strong and it’s only going to increase over time.

So I would say contrary to Jürgen’s assertion that MLS has hindered player development, the facts clearly show that without the league, both the depth and the quality of the U.S. player pool would be diminished and certainly wouldn’t be what it is today.

I also believe that those comments are wrong, why is it wrong? My comments about how effective we have been at developing players, just take DeAndre Yedlin for example, a guy that has been developed in our league, has performed well for the Seattle Sounders, has performed well for the national team and subsequently been sold to Tottenham.

It is just patently untrue, that if you play in Major League Soccer that it will negatively impact your form. It is detrimental and it is obviously not true.

I want to say one last thing before I go to questions. I have been the commissioner of this league for 15 years, I also have been a member of the U.S. soccer board for that time. I deeply, deeply believe in the future of the sport. I believe even more in the partnership that we have with the U.S. soccer federation. My relationship with Sunil, our league’s relationship with Dan Flynn, and I believe that his comments are at odds with what we collectively believe is what we’re trying to achieve together. So, obviously that’s what motivated me to get you on the phone this afternoon.

Q: Is MLS’s goal to support the U.S. Men’s National Team?

A: I am going to repeat the comment I made before, and it is really one of our core values, we believe that the league and the future of the sports, and our relationship with the federation are inextricably linked.

If we are able to continue what we have had as a strategy together, which was to have is to have the league invest deeply into player development, for us to work collectively on a wide variety of programs and initiatives to grow the game overall, then we will become more and more of a soccer nation.

If we are able to achieve that young kids are going to grow up and want to play the sport professionally, want to play for an academy program, or youth team in the shadows of an MLS stadium and ultimately view those players that are on the first team as true soccer heroes, then ultimately I think it will lead to us performing better in the World Cup.

And, by the way, I think this is very true in Canada. This is not just true of what plan is in the United States. Our Canadian clubs have the same programs and the same commitments to youth development that we have here in the United States. And by the way I think Germany has a great model and it’s a model we are trying to achieve here and it won’t be achieved unless we can have our national team coach getting on board with that deep, strategic connection.

On reading more into Jürgen’s comments about MLS:

Well, I don’t believe that is all he is saying, I believe what he is saying that the player’s that have come back, Michael and Clint specifically, have seen form diminish because of their move to Major League Soccer and do not believe that is true at all. I also believe that it sends the wrong message to other young American players that we collectively, the league and federation, want to have in Major League Soccer so that we can create the dynamic that grows the game in the country and I also think it is going to send the wrong message to players we are signing from overseas.

If we have a guy that is in charge of not only being the national team coach but the technical director for our country basically saying that if you come home to Major League Soccer you are going to end up like Michael and Clint. And by the way, I don’t agree with that premise to begin with, but I believe Jürgen believes that.

And  if he makes hose kind of comments impacts our ability to make the right partnerships with corporate sponsors, to create the right relationship with fans and ultimately create the right dynamic to have a successful time getting international players.


On where MLS stands with the competition with leagues in Europe:

That’s really not the issue today. The issue today is that the only way we will continue to grow and prosper the way we have over the last 20 years, is to continue to have a close relationship with our federation, which has been the drivers of the league’s success and the sport’s success and where we are today is only the beginning of what the future holds for the sport in this country, if we continue to believe that our futures are inextricably linked.


On the pace of player growth in MLS and North America:

The plan that we have been able to execute over the last 20 years has delivered a league that, I think, has defied the odds.

All of us who are involved in the sport, whether it is the people reporting on it, those thousands and thousands of people who work at it, whether or not it’s our millions of fans or whether it’s our hundreds of players a year, believe that this league is delivering on the hopes and dreams of an entire soccer nation.

The only way we will be able to continue that is to have a deep alignment with everybody that is an influencer in the sport, and frankly, is charged with leading it. I don’t expect or ask that media will agree with it, there job is to make whatever judgments they want to make. But I do not only ask, I insist that all those people who are paid to work in the sport, whether that’s an MLS employee, an MLS coach, or whether it’s a coach for the U.S. national team, they align with the vision that has been established by the leaders in the sport and I don’t believe that has happened with the recent comments that Jürgen made.


On if he will talk to Jürgen and Sunil about this topic:

Well obviously I have sent a very strong letter to Sunil and a number of our MLS board members, unsolicited, sent a note to Sunil and I spoke to him very briefly before this call and a sent a note to Jürgen but I have yet to speak with him. Sunil is one of my closet friends and the partnership that we have with him has led to the league we have today and I’m confident that he will understand and accept the severity of what is happening here. And, ensure that our technical director is in line with the vision that he has publicly stated.


On what he feels about how Jürgen believing that players like Michael Bradley aren’t improving day-in and day-out like [they] would with, say, Roma:

Well, two things. The first is we are dealing with young, professional athletes.

I don’t know what could have possibly motivated Jürgen to so publicly criticize Michael Bradley and ultimately Clint. And it is concerning to me and it seems to be following a pattern that began with his criticism of Landon. And I’ll tell you folks something that I have not said before, and the reason for that as most of you know me well is because I was managing a serious health issue during this time and I was out of commission, but I regret not saying this at that time, so I will say it now:

I believe Landon should have been in Brazil not because he earned it, or deserved it but because his performance dictated it. If anybody disagrees with that, and some of you might clearly Jürgen does, than I believe his treatment was inexcusable. I have concerns that his criticism of Michael is following that same pattern.

So this to me, if Jürgen wants to talk to Michael about what he believes is in the best interest of his career, go ahead and do that. Don’t use a global media platform to do that. I think that is absolutely unacceptable.


On if he would speak to Sunil about Jürgen’s position with the team:


All I will say is that I believe that Jürgen should embrace the vision for the future of the sport. I will repeat the same thing again, and that to me is his job. For him to publicly state issues that he has with Major League Soccer, in my view, is not something is going to allow him to effectively serve the role as not just coach, but as technical director. I am in no way saying what Sunil should be doing with Jürgen as it relates to his employment that is up to Sunil and Jürgen. I think he has done a great job with the national team, I think he needs to think hard about he manages himself publicly and how he deals with his view on how he should motivate players that are playing our league.


On if he will recommend removing Jürgen because of his belief of the league:


The best thing I can say to that is that I want Jürgen to embrace the vision and I believe that we all need to sit down and talk about his alignment with that vision.


On what he wrote to Sunil in his letter about the next steps to fixing connection between Jürgen, U.S. Soccer and MLS:


That’s a good question and I think the answer is part of a longer term commitment that both the league and federation have made to ensure that we continue to do everything we can to grow the sport in our country.

This is obviously happened in the last 36 hours and we focusing in on it for the 24 hours and we met with Sunil and Jürgen, federation leadership and MLS competition leadership in Hartford and I will say to you what I said earlier; we have a good relationship with Jürgen, but I do believe that we collectively need to ensure that everybody is align with the mutual goal that we have of growing the game and the league’s role in growing the game and in order to do that we can’t try to denigrate or damage or disparage the very entity that will be the key driver of the sport in this country.


On if MLS’s financial muscle is out growing the sport in the league:


I think this is part of the challenge here. I think it is incredibly judgmental for anybody to say that Michael Bradley or Clint Dempsey’s sole motivation to come back to Major League Soccer is because of what their salary was versus what some think it might have been if they had stayed in Europe.

I can assure you that Michael Bradley, who is a professional and has been since he was 16-years-old and has pretty good advice from a guy who has spent his life in the game, would not have come back to Major League Soccer if he did not believe it was in his best interest to do so.

And I can assure you Clint Dempsey feels that way and nobody was saying Major League Soccer was not worthy when Clint scored two great goals, including a game changing goal against Ghana in the World Cup.

So, now for anyone to start publicly stating that it was money that was the sole motivator for these guys, I think that’s wrong, I don’t agree with that.

I have spent time talking to players and with their representatives. So there is enormous pressure on Michael and Clint in Major League Soccer, I don’t agree with Jürgen’s comment that there isn’t. They are leaders of their leaders of their team, they’re leaders of the league and leaders of the national team. They might not have the day-to-day pressure that might be what would exist trying to make it into the first team in Roma. I don’t believe playing in Major League Soccer is much different, at that level, the level they are at Major League Soccer, then the level they were at when they were at when they left Europe.

I want every top player in the world to think that Major League Soccer is good for their competitive future and, ultimately, their involvement in the league will be good for the sport and this country.

We have a stated goal to make Major League Soccer a league of choice and we invested 100 million dollars, or near that, in just Clint, Michael and a handful of others, who we signed to be part of the World Cup.

And all that energy and that positive news for both the league and the sport in this country, with lots of players playing for Major League Soccer and the excitement for the World Cup in this country was great for us trying to build the game.


On his relationship with Klinsmann and how long this disconnect exist:


I have very good relationship with Jürgen, which is why I was so shocked to see him, what I believe was so publicly attack Michael and Clint and disparage the league.

I met with him a few days ago; we spent two-to-three hours together.

I have enormous respect for everything he has done in his career and as a member of the federation board, and was incredibly supportive of his first contract and his extension. So I believe I have a good relationship with him, I just am demanding that he refrain from making comments, which are critical of our players and damaging to our league.


On what Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders have reached out about Klinsmann’s comments:


I am not going to comment on that at all, Neil. The communication between our clubs and the federation were private communications, we are not going to make them public and I will leave it that way. But I understand why you would ask that question.

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