After struggling on and off the field for three seasons, Hammarby turned its eyes toward America for a clean start. Just weeks after breaking ground on an all-new Söderstadion, which the club is building with major backing from U.S. sports conglomerate AEG, Hammarby on Dec. 15 named American Greg Berhalter its new head coach.
The 38-year old native of Englewood, N.J., spent all of 2011 as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. It was Berhalter’s first coaching job after he retired as a player. He spent two years on the field , playing alongside England star David Beckham while learning his coaching skills from LA head coach Bruce Arena, who is arguably the most successful American soccer coach ever.
“It was everything and I told Bruce that,” Berhalter said. “Without him, none of this would have been possible. He’s the best American coach we’ve had and I’ve learned tons from him.”
Berhalter joins a Swedish side that is nearly more American than it is Swedish. AEG holds a large minority stake in the club and the new stadium, while former Galaxy player Chris Klein sits on the board of directors. AEG also owns the Galaxy.
With Klein cheerleading for him, Berhalter went through a series of interviews in which his international playing experience gave him an edge over other candidates. Berhalter played in Holland, Germany and England as well as with the U.S. National team before he joined MLS and the Galaxy in 2009.
“We have been working to find a solution for a long time, and Gregg's name has been around for most of the process, and emerged into the options we believe in most,” Hammarby spokesman Gustaf Grauers said.
Grauers said the most impressive thing about the new Hammarby mentor is his leadership.
” LA Galaxy saw a huge potential in Gregg and he had other offers in the United States, but Gregg himself really wanted to come to Hammarby,” Grauers said. “He wants the passion that exists around soccer in Europe, and the image of Gregg as a strong, dedicated leader has really come out in the conversations we have had with him.”
Berhalter said he knows Hammarby is making a huge gamble with him because of his lack of managing experience. His only season as a coach was 2011 when he took over duties of coaching the Galaxy’s young defensive unit under Arena’s watchful eye.
“I don’t even try to fight it – it’s true, I’m inexperienced,” he said. "But what I do bring is fresh ideas, a lot of energy. And every coach had a first game; there has to be a beginning and this is it.”
A team ready for rebound
After reaching the pinnacle of Swedish football in 2001, when it won the Allsvenskan and Swedish crown, Hammarby has been on a steady decline. Hammarby dropped down to the Superettan in 2009 and in 2011, finished 13th in the 18-team second flight.
Despite its slide, Hammaby, with financial help from AEG, is building a state-of-the-art new arena, one it may or may not share with rival club Djurgården. The new stadium is set to open in time for the 2012 season. Berhalter said he wants to get the product Hammarby puts on the field to equal the quality of the new stadium.
“Hammarby has a proud tradition and is a club with great potential. I am here to express my ideas and to get the team moving in the right direction,” he said. “There is talent in the squad that we should get together with a winning mentality. We want to put a team on the field that is ready to win games, it is most important. I am fair and someone you can talk to, but I demand professionalism and hard work, and I will lead by example.”
What the club may look like in its fight to gain promotion remains to be seen.
“The first thing I have to do is get a hold of the players, analyzing them in person, up close, on the training field, and then deciding what system we’re going to play,” Berhalter said. “It would be foolish of me to say, ‘This is the system we’re going to play right now’ without seeing them live and seeing the new players and how they gel and how they form together.”
Still, there is one trait that could perhaps become a hallmark of Berhalter’s managerial style.
“I can guarantee that it’s going to be a team that works hard and is going to be passionate,” he said.
by Chipp Reid