Can leadership be taught? Red Bulls, Holgersson hope so

SARASOTA, Fla. – Markus Holgersson’s objectives this offseason go hand in hand.

First, win a starting spot on the New York Red Bulls’ backline. Second, and perhaps a requirement to accomplish the former, show improved leadership chops on a team with sky-high expectations.

The 27-year-old center back hasn’t yet locked up a starting spot in the Red Bulls defense despite making 31 starts last year, but he knows what’s expected of him as he aims to build on a 2012 campaign that saw him steadily improve from March to November.

“Having conversations with Markus, of course we’re looking for him to step up and be a leader, specifically with being vocally on the field,” head coach Mike Petke told “I think the communication from the backline has been lacking and we need someone there who is barking at people when need to be and calming it down as well.

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“Markus is not an overly vocal person, so a debate began with me and a couple of staff members. At 28-years-old, which he is, is that something that you can teach? I was told the opinion that it’s no, but I don’t believe that. I remember my initial conversation with Markus, [and] he understands that he has to take a grab of that.”

There were doubts, in Holgersson’s mind at least, that he would even get the chance in 2013.

Shortly after the 2012 season ended, Holgersson wrote a blog post on outlining his concerned over his future with the club and wondering how all the turnover would impact the ambitious Red Bulls.

You can’t blame Holgersson for feeling that way. With head coach Hans Backe and general manager Erik Solér gone, the Swedish defender was left without any of the members of the organization who brought him to the club and believed in his abilities.

“You never know if [the new coaches] trade me, or if they like me, but [the Red Bulls] told me to come back so I just worked hard for that and looked forward to a new season and do my best to play,” Holgersson told “Of course, Hans brought me here but on the other hand, now we deal with Mike, and it’s not a big difference. He’s smart tactically and I like when you’re thinking of the game, so, so far so good.”

With Petke, a familiar face, leading the charge, Holgersson is no longer focused on making a good first impression. Rather, he is looking to make good on his boss’ belief that leadership can be learned while also integrating with the club’s new charges.

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And while Holgersson is adjusting to playing with new teammates like Jamison Olave, he’s hoping this season will not see as many changes to the starting defense.

In 2012, the parts around Holgersson rotated constantly because of injuries, suspensions and coaching decisions, and he said stability would go a long way to improving a New York defense that surrendered 46 goals last season, the third-worst total in the Eastern Conference.

“Maybe we should’ve played with the same back four as we did a little bit earlier so we could have had [better chemistry last season],” Holgersson said.

“It was kind of like we didn’t trust each other that much as you do if you play more regularly together,” he added.

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for He can be reached at

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