Imagine turning out to play for your local amateur team on a sunny California afternoon. You're ready to show off your skills in a fun game against local college players. But one of the opposition players is good. Too good. He skips past anyone who tries to tackle him, tears through your defensive line and slams the ball into the net, leaving the keeper with no chance. And somehow, this mystery man looks oddly familiar.
That's exactly what happened to anyone coming up against Orange County Blue Star in 2003, then playing in the Premier Development League, the American 4th tier. As it turned out the California side's unplayable striker, listed on team sheets as "Jay Goppingen", was none other than former Inter Milan, AS Monaco and Tottenham Hotspur player Jurgen Klinsmann, playing under a false name to avoid media attention.
Klinsmann had retired from professional football almost six years earlier after a spell with Italian club Sampdoria, but after moving to the US, he had felt the call to pull on his boots once again. So when Orange County Blue Star fielded a call from Klinsmann, they leaped at the chance to include a man with a World Cup winner's medal in their squad.
Orange County's new star signing was just as clinical as one would expect, bagging five goals in eight games. The local youngsters he played alongside were delighted to have such an esteemed teammate to share his wisdom and experience. One teenager who played alongside Klinsmann was Robbie Rogers, who would later go on to play under his former teammate at the international level when the German took control of the USA national team.
As for Klinsmann himself, he says he was just having fun, enjoying the chance to play in a more relaxed environment after a career at the top levels of the game.
It proved to be a good season for Blue Star, who reached the Premier Development League's National semi-finals for the first time in their history, thanks in no small part to Klinsmann's efforts. Sadly, Blue Star are no more, having ceased operations in 2012. But Klinsmann's brief spell in the PDL will no doubt be cherished for years to come, both by those who played alongside him and those who came up against him.Published 28 Jun 2019, 19:19 IST