Stuart Holden Signs Contract Extension With England's Bolton Wanderers
Stuart Holden was able to wrangle only four minutes of playing time from U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley during the World Cup. On Thursday, he wrangled another three years from English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers, whose coach called the former Houston Dynamo midfielder "a breath of fresh air."
Holden joined Bolton last January and started twice for the club the following month, but his season was derailed when Dutch hatchet-man Nigel De Jong broke Holden's leg during a national team friendly in Amsterdam in early March. Holden recovered in time to make a token appearance for Wanderers toward the end of the English season, and Bradley selected him as one of his 23 World Cup players in May.
However, Holden's only action was in the dying minutes of the opening game against England.But he's been almost ever-present for Bolton over the past two months. He has started all six of Premier League games so far this season and has been substituted just once. Wanderers are in 12th place at 1-1-4, and Holden's performance was good enough to warrant a three-year extension from the club.
"We're delighted that he's signed a contract with us, Stuart has been a breath of fresh air since he's come in," Bolton coach Owen Coyle said. "He did terrifically last season and has started this campaign really well. To now have him signed until 2013 tells you how committed Stuart is to the club. It also goes to show how committed the club are to Stuart ... I believe he's going to get better and better."
Holden, not surprisingly, was moved by the gesture, telling Bolton's Web site that, "I'm really excited because I love being at the club. I couldn't ask to be around better fans, management staff and players.
"I had a bit of a setback with the injury last season, but that made me more determined to make an impact when I came back for preseason. I've had a good start to this campaign and I'm looking forward to continuing playing and helping Bolton as much as I possibly can."
Holden and Bolton will be feeling good about themselves following last weekend's 2-2 draw against local rival Manchester United, and Holden said he hopes fans home will start to regard Bolton as highly as they do other English clubs that have committed to American players, like Fulham, Everton and Aston Villa.
"There are Bolton shirts all over the United States, especially back in Houston," he said. "I want to continue to raise the club's profile and hopefully we can become one of the most supported teams over in the U.S."
During the pre-World Cup training camp in Princeton, N.J., Holden spoke with FanHouse about his affection for the club, even though his playing time had been limited by the injury.
"Everybody's really commite. That's the number one thing," he said. "It'ts commitment on a day-to-day basis. I think off the field, there's a lot of pranks. It's a lighthearted dressing room. But as soon as you cross that line, it's all business. The manager likes to joke and keep it lighthearted, but at the same time the intensity is high from the get-go."
Holden was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and moved to Texas as a child, although he still has family nearby. "My grandparents live 20 minutes from Bolton, which is nice. So I get to visit them quite often," he told FanHouse
So while Holden makes himself at home in England, the question is whether he not he will have an increasing role with the national team. The basic 4-4-2 system that Bradley used during his first four-years with the national team, which features two-deep lying central midfielders, would appear to freeze Holden out unless Clint Dempsey moves up front.
Holden would be competing for minutes not only with Dempsey and Landon Donovan, but Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, José Torres, Jermaine Jones (if he ever actually plays for the U.S.) and several others. It's a bottleneck.
However, Bradley has indicated that he is willing to try new things during his second term in charge.
"The ability as a coach to continue every day, every year, to challenge your players the right way, to know how in some moments to re-energize yourself, refocus, in some ways re-invent yourself," he said after signing his new contract with U.S. Soccer. "I think that's what coaching is about."
If so, perhaps he'll experiment with a different alignment. Spain and Germany were very successful at the World Cup deploying five players in midfield in a 4-2-3-1, with the lone striker up front. Considering the national team's dearth of forward options, and its glut of talent in midfield, that might be the way to go.
It certainly would seem to be in Bradley's interest to find a way to get his best players on the field. While several members of his team are struggling to earn regular playing time abroad, it would seem silly to ignore a player like Holden, who now has proven so valuable to a competitive club in one of the best leagues in the world.