Postcard from Europe: Class in session for youngster Gatt
AMSTERDAM — The Buddhist proverb that reads, “When the student is ready, the master appears,” is perhaps no more apt to Josh Gatt’s life than it is now.
The teen winger was ready to learn when he transferred from Austrian second-tier side Altach to Norwegian top-flighters Molde FK in January, and he’s been all ears ever since. That’s largely because his new boss, former Manchester United ace Ole Gunnar Solskjær, appeared with a trophy haul full of lessons.
Solskjær’s tutelage has helped Gatt display his learning curve on the field with increasing regularity, and he now has four goals and an assist in 21 matches. He’s also gone the distance in 10 of the last 13 games.
"They've helped develop me into a good team player who runs and plays for the team," Gatt recently told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Norway. "That's what I've been doing."
Gatt said that in fact, some of the most helpful lessons actually came during sporadic stints covering right back. Ever the apt pupil, Gatt learned well beyond the obvious of simply understanding how defenders approach him as a winger.
"Considering that I'd never played there professionally and we're at top of the table, playing those games at outside back was a large confidence booster," he said. "It helped me understand my responsibilities as a winger. I know how difficult it can be to have a winger not tracking back, which makes me want to get back to help my defense."
As Gatt noted, Molde currently hold a surprising Tippeligaen lead through 20 of 30 games. It's obvious when talking to the youngster that Solskjær's 10 career championship medals as a player have done the talking when it comes to the mentally needed to win the big prize.
"[Being in first place] is exciting, but especially for a team trying to win it for the first time, you've got to stay focused," Gatt said. "If we look too far ahead, we might be in trouble. Everybody in that locker room and stadium knows we take it one game at a time and anything can happen."
Gatt says the entire clubhouse has essentially barred any discussion of title glory until they have it in sight. After all, they got to this position through humility.
"When you go into a season, you always start out thinking the best," Gatt said. "With the way we're playing, it's a goal we're looking to, but we're not looking too far ahead. We don't talk about anything else but the next game. We don't think we have it won."
If you take the improvement of Gatt and multiply that by his number of teammates, you begin to understand how Molde is finally on the top of the mountain. The old dog club may have turned a century old back in June, but Solskjær has it doing new tricks.
"We've really grown as a team," Gatt said. "Before, yeah, Molde had a lot of great individuals — but they were not a team. Everyone sacrifices for their teammates. The thing that's put us top is that we're playing the best team soccer, I think, in Norway."
Gatt and his teammates will next test their six-point cushion at Aalesunds FK on Sunday, but there’s a potential personal accomplishment looming in the distance as well. The 2012 Olympics (and a potential chance to impress new US boss Jurgen Klinsmann) are right around the corner, but Gatt is keeping his national-team aspirations in check.
"I haven't put too much thought into it yet," he said. “I can't think about that until I finish what I started here. That's more important right now. But obviously, when the time gets closer, I'd love to go play for the national team at the Olympics. It's something every kid dreams of."