JOHN KRETLOW - Wednesday, December 14, 2011
The next stage of Gregg Berhalter's career will come as coach of Hammarby, and the former defender is confident despite the pressures that come with leading one of Sweden's top teams.
The New Jersey native is excited at the opportunity to make his way back to Europe and begin his head-coaching tenure.
Berhalter could have chosen to stay on as an assistant with the Galaxy, but the he points to Hammarby's size and tradition in convincing him to return to Europe.
"Normally, the Swedish second division isn't the most known league in the world and I was a little bit hesitant, but you look at Hammarby, the size of the club, the fan support, the new stadium that's coming, and it just seemed like a great opportunity. There were a lot of upsides to it.
With a playing career that included stops all over Europe, one might have thought that it was one of his contacts there that gave him his shot at the lucrative position. But, it was a former Galaxy player that put Berhalter in the running for the Hammarby job.
"Chris Klein of the Galaxy is on the board of Hammarby and when he found out that they were looking for a coach, he said, well, let me introduce a candidate for you and you guys can put him on the list. He did that and that's where the process started," Berhalter told YA.
It is not everyday that an American gets a shot at coaching in Europe, let alone a team with a history such as Hammarby's. Berhalter though is well aware of this and understands the upcoming pressures.
"Although it's second division Sweden, they're under pressure from the fans. They're the third highest attended team in Sweden and fans want to see a winning team.
Fans have had it tough in recent years, culminating in the team's relegation in 2009. Last season Hammarby finished 11th out of 16 teams in the Superettan, just points away from relegation into Sweden's third tier.
For a team with a rich tradition in the Swedish top flight, Berhalter is ready to bring Hammarby back to the Allsvenskan and bring some joy back to the stands.
"The team underperformed last year. We have to get that right, and we have to get guys playing to their normal level. We'll have to work hard to achieve that. The next thing is getting players. We have four or five spots we need to fill in the roster, so were looking aggressive for players now.
Berhalter also does not expect his nationality to bring him any challenges when coaching in Europe, even though he will be one of the first Americans to coach abroad. The former defender instead sees an opportunity.
"I have a strong European background in terms of playing experience. That speaks for itself. With the American side of it, we have a market that is untapped, so I think it's an interesting market for us, in terms of bringing players in.
The former US international will also have a team of assistants that will make his transition into Swedish soccer much easier.
"The interim coach who took over last year is staying on as an assistant. I've spoken to him numerous times, and I feel like he's the right person to help me out. He has head coaching experience and he knows Swedish players and the league really well.
Although there is still work to do, Berhalter is confident and eager for the upcoming season which starts in April.