Jürgen Klinsmann, of course, was wrong. The former United States manager was wrong when he suggested, during Iran’s victory against Wales, that stretching rules and blurring boundaries was part of Iran’s soccer “culture.” He was mistaken when he suggested that the Guatemalan referee had to have tolerated it as it was his culture.
He cannot, really, have been surprised by the reaction in Iran, which has ranged from outright fury — Iran’s manager, Carlos Queiroz, inviting Klinsmann to visit Iran’s training camp to learn more about the country’s players, fans and culture, but only on the condition that he resign his position on FIFA’s technical committee — to the hilarious.
The Iranian soccer federation’s drive-by on Klinsmann was, to be frank, immaculate: suggesting that German soccer culture should not be judged by the 1982 World Cup match known as the Shame of Gijón, or that Klinsmann’s legacy as a player should extend beyond his “dramatic dives.” Whoever composed that particular missive should have signed it with a chef’s kiss.
Klinsmann was correct, but that is the problem. It is part of Iranian soccer culture to push the boundaries. and Guatemalan soccer culture, and German soccer culture and South American soccer culture and everyone else’s soccer culture, including the English, who really don’t like it if you point that out.
It might be called different things in different places — viveza Oder picardía in South America, being “streetwise” Or indulge in “gamesmanship” in English, furbizia in Italian — but its meaning is the same. It is usually not said with disapproval or clucking unless the opposition is saying it. It’s not a slur. It is actually said with furtive admiration.
It is impossible to know exactly what Klinsmann meant — who are we to judge the intent of a man’s soul? — but there’s a good chance that, should he keep his promise to explain his statement to Queiroz, he will point out that his error was in clumsily implying that Guatemala and Iran is a unique case, where players will do everything they can win. It would be wrong. The common thread that unites players across continents is the desire to gain an advantage. and So it should. This is not a hobby. They are there for the win.