Carsten Koall—Getty Images
April 23, 2014 5:49 PM EDT

For me, nothing epitomizes Angela Merkel’s leadership more than her role in the 2006 World Cup. As hosts, we Germans were concerned about how we would be perceived — the dark shadow of history still loomed. We had assembled a young, hungry, decidedly “un-German” team. A team that historically was disciplined, organized and physical — which perfectly fit the image of our culture — became one that was free-flowing, creative and energetic. There were growing pains, and the criticism was harsh. She remained supportive, and Germans ultimately embraced the new approach. We as a nation were comfortable showing a pride not seen or felt in generations. Merkel had presided over a transformational moment. After the triumph of 2006 came 2007 and a financial crisis; once again she had to convince skeptical Germans that change was needed — to rescue Europe’s economy. The quality of her leadership — firm, measured and agreeable — helped return Germany to a place of respect on the football pitch and in the global arena.

Klinsmann, coach of the U.S. men’s soccer team, played for Germany and coached its 2006 team

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