By Kevin Koczwara
Owen Coyle saw something in Stuart Holden the rest of the English Premier League missed, and he signed the American international after Holden impressed the manager during a trial. Since, Holden hasn’t disappointed the Wanderers’ supporters.
In fact, the 25-year old has taken the Premier League by storm in his first full season in Bolton after playing out his contract with Major League Soccer and the Houston Dynamo. Holden was voted by the fans as the league’s best player for the first half of the season in The Guardian because of his stellar play. With his hard work, pace and skill, it isn’t hard to see why he’s become a fan favorite not only in Bolton, but also across England. Holden has been an integral part of Coyle’s side fighting for a European place next season.
In 28 appearances this season for the Wanderers, Holden’s scored two goals. His two goals sealed important wins for Bolton, but it was his second that established him as a Bolton favorite.
On Dec. 12, Holden ghosted into the Blackburn box in the 88th minute and put home a blistering shot, beating Rovers’ goalkeeper Paul Robinson. The goal sealed a 2-1 win for Bolton in a pivotal derby match despite being a man down after Mark Davies was sent off in the 56th minute, and sealed Holden’s fate in Wanderers fans’ hearts.
Holden took some time out of his busy schedule with Bolton’s winter schedule to speak with The Soccer Guys.
The Soccer Guys: When did you know you were good enough to move to the Premier League? At what moment did it finally hit you that you can play and excel in one of the world’s best leagues?
Stuart Holden: I’d always known I had the ability to play in the Premier League, but it was always more of a timing thing and making sure I had some games under my belt and some experience. Obviously I learned a lot at Houston under Dominic Kinnear and playing behind players, such as Dwayne De Rosario and Ricardo Clarke. I was given that platform, and I knew going into my last season that [moving to the EPL] was something I wanted to do – it had always been a goal of mine. I felt having broken into the [U.S.] national team and playing at that level, it was the right time to make the jump to the Premier League.
TSG: Who was most instrumental in your move to Bolton? What did they do to help you push on through the trial to make the team?
Holden: I think it comes down to yourself. On a trial it is always tough because you are being judged on a short period of training. The manager had seen me play before, and he knew what I could do, but, at the same time, if I had a bad week of training then it’s not going to work out. So, I had to have that self belief in going out there for training and not trying to overdo it, to just play simply and show the manager what I can do. Obviously the manager saw enough in me to offer a short-term contract and an opportunity here, and I’m happy the way it has turned out.
After Nigel De Jong ended your season last year, what kept you going to make a recovery and get on Bradley’s 23-man roster? That was a pretty amazing recovery.
Holden: I think it was always the thought of playing in the World Cup, which was something I’ve dreamed of as a kid, and having that almost taken away from you and knowing that the time period and the time frame from getting back from my injury was going to be tight – it made me motivated. I worked hard in my rehab to get back fit and play a role in the World Cup.
TSG: What has been the biggest transition from the MLS to the Premier League – outside of skill level – for you? How did you adapt? How come your transition was so smooth, even after the injury?
Holden: I think it is just the standard of play throughout the league. Every week you get a hard match, you’re coming up against the likes of [Liverpool’s Steven] Gerrard, [Arsenal’s Cesc] Fabregas, [Chelsea’s Frank] Lampard, who are world-class players that have played at the highest level. Even the other teams, who don’t have the so=called big names, are always tough matches. Teams, such as Wigan and Stoke and teams that really pressure you, make you have to be on the top of your game. So I think, just playing like that week in week out and playing at the speed of play has really brought my game on and forced me to adapt to the style of play here.
TSG: The fans of Bolton have really taken to you as a player and person, did you ever expect to impress the fans there so quickly?
Holden: I don’t think so. I was pretty surprised at the way they have taken to me. I wanted to go out on the field and play football and enjoy myself and hoped those things would come. The fans have taken to me and embraced me along with everyone else at the club, and I’m enjoying my football and enjoying my time here at Bolton.
TSG: Who helped you to adjust to life in the Premier League? The schedule and really the lack of a break you got last year after moving on from the MLS? Was there anyone? Or did you just work it out on your own?
Holden: I think you get the help of your team mates, and I’d spoken with Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey and other American players who’d played in the Premier League … [about] the strains it takes on the body and what it requires of you on and off the field. To adjust, I think I have done a pretty good job in my first year, and obviously there are things that I still think I can do better in terms of looking after my body and preventing the little injuries and the little nagging issues.
TSG: At what moment in your life did you know you could make it as a professional soccer player? Was there a specific incident? Was there a click?
Holden: I think I’d always believed in myself and always wanted to since being a young kid aged 11 or 12, but I think it never really sets in until you’re 17 or 18, and you’re one of the better players on your team. That’s when it starts getting mentioned.
TSG: Was there a player you use to base your game off as a child? If there was, who was it and what did you like about their game and what did you try and carry over to yours? If not, why not? What really got you playing and kept you interested?
Holden: I used to watch [David] Beckham and [Ryan] Giggs and players like [Eric] Cantona. Also, players that had a good work ethic and enjoyed running around and playing for their team mates. That’s the kind of player I see myself as.
TSG: What can people expect from you as you mature into a better player and enter the prime of your playing career? What are you looking to show people? What part of your game have people not seen yet that you hope people will get to see in the next few years?
Holden: I think the more experience I get and the more games I play in England, I’m hoping to make a bigger contribution to the national team and becoming a regular with the team and making it hard for Bob [Bradley] to leave me out of the team. I think that, as I continue to chip in goals and work around and get around the field, it’s nice to add a bit of contributing to the defensive end as well.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.