As you may have already read or heard, USNMT attacking midfielder Stuart Holden just signed a contract extension with Bolton Wanderers that will tie him to the English Premier League outfit until 2013. Last week’s deal should come as no surprise to anyone who’s had the good fortune of watching Holden play for the Trotters this season. Despite not acting as the constant focal point of attack as he did in Houston, Stu has been his usual vibrant self. He flashes forward on dangerous runs, provides positive service for teammates, and fires from all angles when given a shooting lane. So why then, does this apparent non-story about a deserved contract extension for my favorite Scotch-American middy, make me shake my head, smile, and give a mini-fist pump of triumph? Well I’ll tell you why.
Our boy Stu, promising young talent that he is, started his stint in European football like many Americans going to play abroad, by immediately getting hurt, such that any supposedly pending contract offer would be called into doubt. This is often where it breaks down for players lucky enough to call the greatest nation their home. Guy picks up a minor knock, doesn’t get that offer from the club, and ends up floating around to Europe’s lesser leagues or seeking refuge in the MLS playing for the San Jose Earthquakes. But Stu had done enough in his week on trial at Burnley to impress manager Owen Coyle, enough in fact to convince Coyle to make the move that would save him from potential pitfall number two, relegation.
Coyle had one foot out the Burnley door when Holden arrived, and that foot was ready to land in Bolton’s Reebok Stadium. Say what you will about getting to the Premier League only to leave the club that got you there, but Coyle saw the writing on the wall and had an offer from a bigger club. What’s more surprising than Coyle bolting for Bolton was that he had the wherewithal to take the talented, young, and inexpensive American with him after little more than a week on trial at the once and future (now current) Championship side. Keep in mind, Holden was recovering from his minor injury at this point! This would not be the last time Coyle would save Stu.
Upon recovering from his injury, Holden soon featured twice for the Wanderers, notching an assist from a corner kick and giving the few downtrodden fans of the club a spiky blonde hope for the future. Not to worry ye masochists, the labors of Stuart were still far from over. He would soon meet up with that paragon of fair play, Nigel de Jong in an international friendly during World Cup prep. We all know how one-on-one battles with that dude usually go. Advantage de Jong, broken leg Holden.
Amazingly that still wasn’t it for Stu in the EPL! He was on a short term contract at the time and the club renewed him even with the brokenleg! I know the move might seem rather elementary to the readers of this blog, but the recent history of American players being devalued and cast aside in Europe should not be ignored. And yes you could argue that Rangers stood behind Maurice Edu while he was hurt, but the guy had already proven himself over the course of a season that he could do the job for Walter Smith, and he was under contract the whole time. Holden had played one good game for the Trotters and perhaps fed Owen Coyle snacks while scratching his back during training every day?!
And here we are, a good nine months since Stu signed his first of three contracts with Bolton, and the midfielder has proven manager Owen Coyle and every American soccer fan right. Holden starts every game as one of two central mid holders, possibly re-auditioning for the role alongside Michael Bradley in the U.S. team. More importantly to Coyle and the Bolton fans (who have doubled in number to six!) is that Stuart Holden is a key player in the club’s new attacking style of play. Former manager Gary Megson would have no use for a player like Stu, but he’s perfectly suited to Owen’s Wanderer Wevolution. In fact, one could argue that Coyle views Holden as the key to the future of the Trotter attack. After all, he’s only brought the kid to the club while injured on his own first day of work and insisted he be signed, made the club renew him while he had a broken leg, and signed him up to a long term contract after just six bright league starts.
I shook my head, smiled, and gave a triumphant mini-fist pump when I heard the latest news because I think Stu might have gotten the good karma that was due for a Yank’s first forays into Europe, and his name is Owen Coyle. With a guy like that standing firmly in his corner, I think we can imagine that when Holden takes a few teammates out for dinner, he doesn’t develop alligator arms. Holden can just go out and play, and we don’t need to worry about an upcoming Grant Wahl book, “The Bolton experiment.”
Jon Levy is co-founder and Senior Writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.