Meet Hammarby’s American coach Gregg Berhalter…
After going through five coaches in the three years since Hammarby were relegated from Allsvenskan, the club decided to go down a different route last autumn: they hired the American Gregg Berhalter who had just finished his own playing career at Los Angeles Galaxy.
38-year-old Berhalter had a playing career playing for, among others, Crystal Palace, Energie Cottbus, 1860 Munich and Los Angeles Galaxy. He finished his career in style by winning the MLS Cup as a player-coach for the Galaxy. With no previous experience as a manager, the appointment of Berhalter can be seen as something of a gamble for Hammarby. Blågul Fotboll sat down for a chat with the former World Cup player.
So tell us, how did you get this job at Hammarby?
Well, AEG is a part-owner of Hammarby and they also own Los Angeles Galaxy. When this vacancy arrived, a member of the board, Chris Klein, recommended to me that I put my name in for the job. I did that and at the end, after the application process and the interview, they chose me for the job.
Where you surprised that you were given the chance despite your lack of experience as a manager?
I wasn’t surprised at getting the chance but very honoured. The board probably looked at my playing career; I spent a long time in Europe as a player, and they knew that I had been a player and coach under Bruce Arena in Los Angeles. So there was a lot of positive things that kind of overshadowed my inexperience. I had other offers as well: I could have stayed in Galaxy as an assistant manager to Bruce Arena or taken a job as a manager at a lower level in the USA, but I felt that Hammarby would give me a better chance to grow and to shape my ideas. I realise that it is a difficult job, but is was a chance that I had to take.
Hammarby have gone through five coaches in the last three seasons and have had a lot of turbulence at board level. Do you know what you have gotten yourself into?
I’ve been in clubs before that have had a lot of turbulence. That’s football. I think what we are trying to do now is to stabilise the club and move forward. We need realistic expectations for the team. Take it step by step. There is one thing wanting to be in Allsvenskan but you have to earn it over time. We haven’t done that yet. We are looking to build gradually.
Hammarby are known to be an attack minded club. The supporters want to see good football. How do you want to play?
My football philosophy? Everyone has an idea of how they want to play but you have to win games. I’m looking at my team, looking at their strengths, and then try to shape the style from that. I can sit here and tell you how I want to play in my dreams but it’s a different story out on the field. Every team has special attributes and you have to play to them.
In general I like to pressure and be aggressive; get the fullbacks going forward with a lot of energy. A little bit more attacking but you need a good defence to get promoted. You have to have balance.
Do you feel there’s pressure from the supporters to play in a certain way?
No, I don’t feel pressure to play in any special way. In the end, fans want to win and see players that give everything they have and if the supporters see that the players are doing that I think they will appreciate it. I think they realise that we’re going forward but that it is a growth process. I hope they have patience. I can’t control the crowd. I do my best to shape the team and the rest is out of my control. I don’t spend time worrying about that.
Where do you see yourself managing in five years time?
That’s a good question. If I’m honest, I have some thoughts in my mind. But I am just focusing on starting now and building something with Hammarby. This is a great starting point. I’m lucky to be here at a club with such great tradition.
You’ve played in different countries and for a lot of managers, what have you picked up during your career?
I’ve been fortunate enough to play under a lot of good managers and I think I’ve taken something from all of them. Style, how they relate to the team and get the team working. My philosophy comes from that.
Is there anyone that you have learnt more from?
I learnt tons from Bruce Arena: managing a team, getting them to perform in the critical moment. He is not a guy that worries about the little stuff. He looks at the big picture. It’s important that you’re ready to play on Saturday and perform to expectations. And players in his teams have this sense of belonging. He gets everyone on board and on the same page. That’s why he is successful.
I love how he’s laid back and gets his teams ready. But it’s also up to the players because if the group accepts it and wants it I gladly give them more responsibility.
Where did you enjoy playing the most?
I loved all the leagues I played in. Holland was great for my development. Had I been in Germany before Holland it might have gone differently. The steps I took where perfect. I’ve always had a fascination with England. I played for Crystal Palace and I kind of realised that wasn’t the best place for me to play. It was in the Championship and I like to play football; I didn’t get the chance to do that. I don’t think my qualities were appreciated. Then I went to Germany and that was great. They played exactly how I like it. Great fans. Then finishing off in the biggest club in America. Turning things around with Los Angeles Galaxy. From being worst in the league to the champions.
You had some injury problems during your last season with Galaxy.
It was great winning the cup. Injuries are part of the game. But being sidelined made me appreciate just being there for the team. I did what I could to help. Everyone pulled in the same direction.
Is football finally getting wider recognition in the USA?
I think so. The league gets more attention. The foreign players are better. I think overall there are better stadiums and everything is better. Soccer is not part of the culture. It’s not on tv and it’s not part of everyday life. But as that changes, USA will have better players.
Do you think that players leaving MLS to go to European clubs on loan devalues MLS?
I don’t think it devalues the league. If anything I think it shows how valuable players like David Beckham and Robbie Keane are and what quality they have.
You played in the 2002 World Cup. You had a great goalscoring opportunity against Germany in the quarter-final that didn’t go in because of a handball. Do you ever think “what if”?
No, not really. Virtually every sporting event that you watch has a decision from the referee that you can’t understand. It would have been great for US soccer if we would have won that game but it didn’t happen. That’s life. The World Cup is massive. The only two teams playing in the world and everyone is watching. You kind of forget how big of a stage you’re on because you focus. But afterwards it’s amazing.
How’s the form? Any chance of a comeback?
No, definitely not.
You don’t miss it?
I’ve not really had time to digest it. I was on a plane to Sweden two days after I was done in Galaxy. But I’m moving on. My focus is on coaching Hammarby.