For National Team coaches, choosing rosters and lineups are an art as well as a science, much like the chef in the kitchen in search of the perfect dish. There are a lot of different ingredients, many of which are the same around the world. And the common questions: What ingredients are available and when?
It’s a fact of life in international soccer that lineups change from game to game, and tournament to tournament. Many different aspects affect lineup consistency. Injuries and suspensions play their part in limiting availability. Timing of fixture dates, proximity of matches and individual demands on players all enter the equation. Further, managers need to experiment with tactics, test new players, foster chemistry and provide experience to those who will be on the field when the World Cup rolls around. And this must all be accomplished with a limited number of meaningful games on the schedule.
Since making his debut as head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2011, Jurgen Klinsmann has spent 25 games at the helm; those 25 games have seen 25 different lineups. While some may believe that having a new lineup for every game may not be the best recipe, history and the record books say otherwise.
A review of the World Cup champions since 1990 and the European champions since 1996 reveal 11 different countries that have claimed titles. In the year before winning their championship, each of those teams used an average of 30 different players. In that same time period, there was only one instance of a team using the same lineup twice leading up to the tournament (Spain did it in 2010).
Klinsmann isn’t the only U.S. Soccer coach to follow the same pattern. During his 80 games as the head man for the Men’s National Team, Bob Bradley deployed a different lineup 78 times and used a different lineup in every single qualifier for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Bradley led the MNT to its sixth consecutive World Cup appearance, where it won its group for the first time in team history and advanced to the Round of 16. Not surprisingly, the four games at the 2010 World Cup featured four different lineups.
Before Bradley’s tenure as head coach, Bruce Arena led the U.S. men for 130 fixtures from 1998-2006. Arena used the same lineup twice early in his career with the MNT – during the ’98 CONCACAF Gold Cup – but would rarely ever do so again. He never used a repeat lineup at any one of his two World Cup appearances or in any World Cup Qualifier, spanning a total of 43 fixtures. Even Arena’s magical run to the quarterfinals in the 2002 World Cup featured multiple lineup changes in all five of the MNT’s games.
The one constant in the process is change, and the best bosses in the world accept it, embrace it, and make it work for them. For Klinsmann, change is the path to improvement, and it may very well be the most important ingredient heading toward Brazil in 2014.