Vogts both friend and foe for U.S.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Tuesday's adversary will soon be aiding the United States' World Cup effort.
As soon as he's done coaching Azerbaijan against the United States in an international friendly Tuesday night, Berti Vogts will start his temporary job as a special adviser to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
It's a rare scenario, put in place last March when Klinsmann shook up his coaching staff, dumping long time assistant Martin Vasquez and bringing in Vogts.
"I've never seen or heard that before," U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi said. "That's just the way it is sometimes."
Vogts expects about half of Azerbaijan's 9 million people to be tuning in on TV to watch the match at Candlestick Park, the first of three World Cup warm-up matches for the U.S. squad.
Not that Vogts is getting ahead of himself.
"First, I'm the national coach for Azerbaijan. Proud to play here against the United States," Vogts said. "It's a huge match for Azerbaijan, and I hope the match also will help the United States."
He is quick to clear up a couple of things: Klinsmann hasn't asked him to make any tactical adjustments based on better preparing the Americans even though his Azerbaijan squad has faced all three of the United States' World Cup opponents. It was Klinsmann who first offered the idea for this match.
"It's a friendly. It's a natural match. It's not a match about two friends. It's a match of Azerbaijan-USA," Vogts said.
For Klinsmann, facing a team ranked 85th has its benefits.
There's a purpose behind choosing Azerbaijan. It's a team that has met with a lot of the European opponents that we actually face," Klinsmann said before practice Monday. "We had strong preparation the last 12 days. We did a lot of physical work, obviously, so the legs might be a little bit heavier.
"I think they will give us a very good game. It's important to start with a win in the send-off series and build confidence and see where the guys are right now after that intense two weeks.''
The 67-year-old Vogts won the World Cup with West Germany in 1974 as a player and is in his seventh year coaching Azerbaijan. He coached Germany to World Cup quarterfinal losses in the 1994 and 1998 tournaments, and stepped down in September 1998. He went on to coach Kuwait from 2001-02, Scotland from 2002-04 and Nigeria from 2007-08.
Vogts sought permission to also assist fellow German Klinsmann, who coached Germany from 2004-06.
And Klinsmann called upon Vogts in March, when he shook up his coaching staff just more than two months before the World Cup.
"He's very excited to be part of our path to Brazil and during the World Cup because that's where the big music is played, and he wants to be part of the big music," Klinsmann said. "For me he's been a big mentor throughout my life, and he just has an outstanding soccer brain, an outstanding knowledge the way he reads the game, the way he analyzes things with his tremendous experience he has, is unquestionable, a huge benefit for us."
After Tuesday, Vogts will endure a whirlwind stretch of travel and scouting. He returns to Germany with Azerbaijan. Then he will drive to Rotterdam to see Saturday's friendly between Ghana and the Netherlands. The following day it's Cameroon vs. Germany in Moechengladbach. The U.S. play both Ghana and Germany in the group stage of the World Cup.
"Then I come over to Boston and watch Portugal against Mexico, then I go to Jacksonville to be part of the (U.S.) team, then I stay two days longer in Miami and watch Ghana against South Korea," Vogts said.
The U.S. will play Turkey in New Jersey on Sunday, followed by a game against Nigeria in Florida before departing for Brazil to finalize preparations for its Group G opener against Ghana on June 16.
Vogts is perfectly content to contribute behind the scenes, without getting involved in personnel decisions or weighing in on Klinsmann's selection choices.
"I think it's a good group together, the U.S.," he said. "I'm not a coach. Maybe Jurgen has some questions for me about special things. I give him a clear answer. That is my part."
The trip has its benefits in terms of Vogts position with Azerbaijan as well. Azerbaijan has been grouped with Croatia and Italy for Euro 2016 qualifying, and with both teams participating in the World Cup, Vogts will get a chance to do some advance scouting for his full-time job. In the meantime, it's all about the Americans' group opponents.
"Germany, Portugal, they are [two] of the best teams in the world," said Vogts. "The most important thing is the match against Ghana. It's the most important thing. But first, the USA, they have to play against Azerbaijan."
The relationship between Vogts and Klinsmann dates back to the early 1980s, when Vogts was in charge of then West Germany's U-21 side and Klinsmann was playing in the youth team of Stuttgarter Kickers.
"He was a winger," Vogts recalled. "Then I told him, 'That's not your best position. You have to play in the middle.' He did it, and he started a big, big career."
Vogts was on hand for Klinsmann's biggest moments at international level. Vogts was an assistant on the West Germany team that triumphed at the 1990 World Cup and later managed the unified Germany team for eight years when Klinsmann was at his peak.
"For me, he's been a big mentor throughout my life," said Klinsmann.
On Sunday, Vogts was quick to give his opinions on all manner of topics. The injuries hitting Germany right now?
"That's only paper talk. That's normal," he said.
The prediction of Bayern Munich executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge that the U.S. would advance with Germany?
"Rummenigge also told all the papers [Germany] would win the European competition, and they're out," he said.
"That's Jurgen's decision."
As for Tuesday's match, Vogts added that Klinsmann hadn't asked him to line up in a certain way, or mimic a certain team's tactics.
"It's not possible," he said. "This is a friendly, it's an international match. It's not a match about two friends. It's Azerbaijan and the USA, that's all."
After which, the two friends will join forces.