Postcard from Europe: Don't let Diskerud's smile fool you
AMSTERDAM — Stabæk midfielder Mikkel Diskerud may always look like he's having a blast, but don't let his great ease with a grin fool you.
It's been a difficult 2011 season for the 20-year-old Norway-born US international, and it's not set to get easier. For starters, plans for Stabæk's new stadium have raised the degree of difficulty on gaining results at Telenor Arena now.
"Players with the oldest contracts and highest salaries have been released and/or sold off in order to pay the salaries of the remaining," Diskerud explained to MLSsoccer.com by e-mail from Norway. "This results in a smaller squad, younger average age and less experienced starting 11."
The result has been a roller-coaster ride. After losing their opener, Stabæk won six of eight, then went five games without a victory, and then won four straight. Now winless in three and down to seventh place, Diskerud is still proud of the team's performance this season.
"Given the fact that since last season, we have been drained of some good national A-team players from Sweden, Norway and Iceland, I think we are solidly overperforming expectations," he stated.
In fact, Stabæk can go level on points with third-place Brann (who sit in the last Europa League slot) by winning a game in hand. And let's not forget they actually finished 12th last year.
Tough times haven't fazed the youngster; in fact, they've made him and those around him stronger.
"I have matured," admitted "Mix," currently rated as the 22nd-best player in the league this term by leading Norwegian paper VG. "I have had to do the dirty work, as well. I have started all games, and played different positions, and with the expectation from [manager Jörgen Lennartsson] that I should prepare myself for finishing all 90 minutes."
Much as he plays, Diskerud shows vision to see what's coming and deal with it before it arrives. To wit, he is always aware that success on the field for him and the team may increase the likelihood he's the next vital cog out the door.
"We still have not secured our spot in Tippeligaen for next year," he said. "But as soon as we do, even I might be put on the transfer list if we agree that is the best or only way to help the club."
According to a source close to the situation, the midfielder has had plenty of interest and offers over the last year. Other than vague murmurs of Dutch and German eyes watching, none of these stories ever hit the paper. Not that it's just good ol' humble "Mix" at play here — Stabæk don't want to lose him. Diskerud is considered a key building block thanks to his productivity, flair and a public face that never stops smiling to the fans.
Though he does aspire to bigger competitions like any player worth his competitive salt, Diskerud grew up at Stabæk from the age of 14. He feels part of its beating heart, even if he knows he's ready for the next step.
"If you had experienced what I have with these fans and this community, you would understand that this is a personal issue," he said. "Last month, our hardcore fans themselves donated the last portion of cash that was needed as a base for us to economically qualify for a license to the Tippeliga next season.
"How can you not repay that by some duty to the common goals we are fighting for right now? For now, I am only focusing on two things: Stabæk's survival, and my preparations for Olympic action and play."
Looking past any possible January camp call-up to the senior side, the playmaker is most determined to be on the US squad at the Summer Games in London next July. Predictably, Diskerud got positioned for this goal very early.
"Back when I signed my last contract with Stabæk [in February], there was a little bit of give and take," he revealed. "What I took was release for Olympic qualifiers, as my call only."
The fun-loving but candid Diskerud — whose American-born mother makes him eligible to suit up for the US — is taking this particular ambition quite seriously.
"The Olympics in London are only 10 months away, and [there are] difficult qualifying matches much before then," he said. "I am going to be disappointed if I am not a part of it. Apart from other athletes, each soccer player really only has a one-time shot at participating in games with the Olympic ideals. That fact ... made London 2012 a very special goal for me."
As such, he would like to see that US national team situation go on the drawing board in short order.
"Aren't some of the rowers we are sending — already sitting in the same boat — preparing?" he said. "Player relations, preparations and formations are so important in soccer and the time factor gets to be even more important considering the strict club obligations players usually face."
First things first, though. The Stabæk ace has formulated a plan for beating those pesky club challenges to make things happen.
"A Europa League slot sounds like something worthy of a fair bet, and with decent odds," said Diskerud. "Reaching it would also definitely make a positive contribution in the cash office."