When 2011 started, LA Galaxy defender Gregg Berhalter set out to work on his life after soccer. Turns out, the season he spent as a player-assistant coach was the best transition possible.
Berhalter hit the ground running on his post-playing days, as he was named manager of Swedish club Hammarby IF on Monday. The former Galaxy and US national team defender will take charge of a proud club that has fallen on tough times as of late.
Having served under Bruce Arena this past season helped pave the way for this new role, Berhalter said.
“It was everything and I told Bruce that,” Berhalter told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “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 joined the Galaxy in early 2009 after he signed with MLS and was allocated to LA. From the start, Berhalter not only had the task of helping sort out what had been one of the league’s worst defenses, but also having to serve in a bit of an unofficial coaching role. As one of the most experienced players on the roster, Berhalter became a leader, helping guide young players like Omar Gonzalez and Sean Franklin.
Ahead of the 2011 season, the role became much more official as Berhalter not only focused on trying to play – injuries robbed him of a bulk of playing time – but also helped sort out the defense and helped coach the same young players in a more formal role.
“Giving me that responsibility, giving me that role was huge," Berhalter said. "Without that, I wouldn’t even be close to preparing for this. The only reason why I am halfway prepared is because of the role he gave me and what he let me do this year.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Berhalter – and one he was reminded of several times during his introductory press conference – is his managerial experience, or lack thereof. He put his hands in the air with regards to that issue.
“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.”
Hammarby IF are co-owned by Galaxy owners Anschutz Entertainment Group. Former Galaxy player Chris Klein is on the Hammarby board of directors and helped get Berhalter’s name on the list of candidates. Despite his lack of managerial experience, Berhalter made it through the various levels during the hiring process and was ultimately entrusted with the task of guiding the team back to the Allsvenskan. Hammarby last won a league cup in 2001 and have spent two seasons in the Superettan, the Swedish second flight.
What the club may look like in their 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.
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com