Holden: For club and country
Stuart Holden is one of an ever-growing list of US national team players to have crossed the Atlantic and plied their trade in the English Premier League. Few, however, have made the journey so frequently.
Having spent his childhood in Aberdeen, the Bolton Wanderers midfielder and his family moved to Texas when he was just ten, in a move that has since seen him represent USA at both the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, as well as lose his Scottish accent.
Returning to the UK when he was 19, Holden had a disappointing spell at Sunderland, before moving back to Houston Dynamo soon after, playing an instrumental role in their 2006 MLS Cup Final triumph.
Now, after a brief trial in January 2010, Holden has fulfilled his ambition to return to England after being signed by Bolton Wanderers. Creative, versatile and always on the move, Holden is proving himself to be a pivotal performer in the early stages of the Owen Coyle's side's Premier League campaign.
As the new season begins to take shape, FIFA.com spoke to the USA international about his brief playing time in South Africa, his much-lauded charity work, video games and establishing himself at the Reebok Stadium.
FIFA.com: With your time spent at Sunderland not working out as well as you would have hoped, did you have any fears that it might not come off this time?
Stuart Holden: Not so much. Coming over this time is different to when I was 19. I have come over this time as a full international having played three or four good years in Houston, so I'm a lot more sure of myself as a player and confident in my own ability and that's obviously helped me in my time here.
Are you surprised with the way the move has turned out, establishing yourself as a first team player so soon after the manager decided to sign you after your trial?
Yes. It is always tough on trial and with the other players already being under contract the manager took a bit of a chance on me offering me a short-term contract, so it was up to me to prove my worth. I just focused on training day in, day out trying to prove that I could play at this level. When you get an opportunity you don't want to look back. I was unfortunate with the leg break last year but that's why this year I'm coming in fully fit looking to make a big impact.
You started at Bolton at a similar time to Owen Coyle. How have you seen his managerial style develop in the last nine months?
I think we look to pass the ball a bit more. Obviously we have great threats in Kevin Davies and Johann Elmander but I think we try and keep the ball on the deck more and we try to link up. He focuses a lot on that in training, playing on tight pitches, forcing you to play the ball along the ground and combine.
You only had a brief appearance at the FIFA World Cup but has it given you a taste for the future?
Yes, it was quite bad timing for me. Straight after my leg break I would have considered myself fortunate to be at the FIFA World Cup but when you're fit and in and around the team, you're hoping to get a chance. I only played ten minutes but it was still an unbelievable experience for me to be a part of that run and to be a part of the team and now I'll push on, play well here at Bolton and that will put me in a better position with the national team.
It must have been a good game to come on for; any game against England is highly anticpated, isn’t it?
Yes, it was the opening game for both teams and highly publicised in the States and in England so it was great to come on and play against some great players and play on that stage, in that atmosphere and get a taste of FIFA World Cup action.
How important was the CONCACAF Gold Cup for you, to establish yourself as an international player?
The Gold Cup was where I got my first full cap and scored my first goal for the national team, which is something I will always see as special and look back on. It established me in the team and proved that I could play on an international level, albeit with what was considered as a B-team for us. That propelled me onwards and I was called in for the following first-team game against Mexico and I've never looked back since. After that first cap in August, I ended up getting 12 caps before the end of the year.
What is your reaction to Bob Bradley signing a new contract with US soccer, when many thought that a more famous name may have come in?
There's been a lot of talk about that but Bob Bradley has proven himself over last four years by really pushing the US soccer team forward, getting some big results such as beating Spain in the Confederations Cup. The style of play he wants is very organised and very disciplined but at the same time it allows for some creative, attacking soccer. I think it was a good choice by US Soccer; the guys are comfortable playing under him as you saw at the FIFA World Cup and now we want to push on and do much better.
Why do you think that so many Americans come over to England and are successful in doing so?
I think that everyone wants to play at the highest level. The guys that are over here have work permits, unlike myself with a British passport, so are obviously top quality players who have played at a high level internationally. They have come to England and proved that American soccer isn't as far behind as everybody thinks. I think we proved that at the FIFA World Cup this summer and the more players that come to the Premier League and do well, the more it should pave the way for those back in the US.
You played three games at the Beijing Olympics. With London 2012 around the corner would you advise young players to take part in the Olympic football environment?
Yes, definitely. I was called up as one of the over-age players for Beijing and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. The Olympics was an unbelievable experience for me. It was a little bittersweet in the way that we were knocked out by Holland, because I felt we had a team that could have gone on and done some good things. But the overall experience and opening ceremony is something I will always cherish. We got to meet the basketball team and other athletes because we were all in the same area. It was nice to meet those people and I follow their careers as they go on.
Talking of culture shocks, you grew up in Aberdeen and then, at ten years old, the family moves to Texas. How difficult was that for you?
It wasn’t too difficult in the sense that I was going to a warm climate! But it was tough going to a new home and leaving everything you know at ten years old, but in the end it has been a move that has really helped our family. It was a big decision for everybody but my parents worked hard to provide us a good lifestyle. Soccer is a big youth sport over there so I was able to continue my soccer and I've done enough to keep going and play at one of the highest levels.
Where did you play in the US when you were growing up?
I played youth soccer in Houston until I was 17 then moved to college for a year in South Carolina then at 19 I was signed to try my luck overseas, it didn't quite work out, so I moved back to Houston Dynamo. I had been unfortunate with injuries at my time in Sunderland so I needed to be somewhere where I could be comfortable and get some games and Houston was home for me, which meant I could be close to my family, play games and mature as both a player and a person and prepare myself for coming back over to the UK, which is what I had always wanted to do. I'm now playing in what is widely regarded as the best league in the world and I can thank all my experiences back in Houston for helping me to prepare for this.
In 2008 you were named as the MLS Humanitarian of the year. Of all of the awards that you have won in football, how highly does that one rate?
You don't really try and get that award. It was inspired by my dad's battle with cancer and once I got a taste for it and found that I enjoyed it, seeing the kids and the smiles you can put on peoples’ faces, I wanted to continue with it. Now I have my own foundation, I'm looking to grow that and I'd like to bring it over to England, but obviously I've been focusing on the football in these first few months. Once I get a little more settled and a little bit more into a routine, I'd like to carry on doing stuff like that over here.
So tell us about your charity, Holden's heroes.
It is mainly focused on children battling cancer, mainly working with Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, doing events and raising money for the kids to go on field trips or to just have a day off from the battle they are taking on a daily basis. Whether it's visiting them and playing video games or taking them on field trips, it's all of the above but mostly just to help the kids.
Speaking of video games, I hear you are quite a gamer. You played competitively, didn’t you?
Yes, when I was younger I used to play a few too many video games, which was a low point in my life! (He laughs) No, it was something I was good at and something I enjoyed and I was able to balance it with school and soccer, but it obviously never took priority over those. It's something I can look back on and laugh at now but I took it very seriously at the time. I still play a bit now, including the FIFA games, but my brother beats me constantly. He’s far better than I am!
So what do you hope that the future holds for Stuart Holden?
I hope to make a big impact here at Bolton and not only become a fan-favourite but also a favourite amongst the players and show that I can play at this level, score some goals and hopefully help Bolton push on to a top ten placing and maybe even on to Europe. I also want to be a big player for the national team and to lead out the team at the next FIFA World Cup in Brazil would be pretty special.