BRENT LATHAM – Among the bustle about the upcoming under-20 qualifying tournament, one name you won’t hear is Josh Gatt’s. There’s a good reason the winger won’t be in Guatemala with Thomas Rongen’s team, though.
Gatt is simply too ensconced in Norway to make the trip. His new coach, Man U legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wouldn’t let him go as the Norwegian season kicks off at Molde.
Despite the fact that Gatt will miss out on some pretty important national team duty, though, he’s in about the best situation possible for a young wing player, playing for the “baby-faced assassin” in Solskjaer’s first head coaching assignment.
In short, Solskjaer will be remembered by just about anyone who’s followed soccer over the last decade. But ironically, though Gatt maintains a respectful appreciation for his coach’s accomplishments, he’s a little young to have witnessed first hand the exploits of a man twice his 19 years in age.
“I remember seeing him play a couple times, more towards the end of his career,” Gatt said when I caught up to him just before the season kicked off. “I was a little young when he was in the middle of his career. Toward the end I did see him play. To be honest I was really shocked that he was gonna be my new coach, because I remembered he only retired a couple years ago. I was more than excited for it.”
“He’s been really pleased and very supportive of what I’ve been doing for the team. Obviously he’s pointed out a lot of things that I need to work on to become a top player, but hopefully when I work on those things I’ll become the player he thinks I can be.
“He’s always very positive. He tells me with the speed I play the game, if I really get those fundamentals down then I could be a player at the highest levels.
“He’s spent a couple days with me working on my finishing in the box, when I break in. And he’s spent some time with me working on how to break into the box, playing very quickly — maybe to center mid one touch and back — and sprinting through. I’ve really learned a lot from the short amount of time I’ve been here.”
Gatt revealed that aside from his rapid rise in European soccer, he has ambitious goals for the next few years.
“As a kid growing up it was to play in the World Cup,” he said. “I’m shooting for the 2014 World Cup, that would be a dream come true. I really just want to get to the highest level there is at club soccer, play in the top division in England or Germany or Spain and be successful. Having a coach like Ole is a guy that can get me to that level.”
Having travelled around Europe and played in Coach Rongen’s system, the young winger is also getting plenty of experience in different tactical systems.
“In Austria it was a 4-5-1,” he said. “Rongen likes to play a 4-3-3, with three attackers high and wide. In Austria I had to get back and play a lot of defense. There I had to pretty much cover the whole field, all the way back to defend, and get as high as possible in the attack. At Molde we often play 4-3-3 but in defense it becomes like a 4-5-1.”
The Michigan native has learned from his first season in Europe that things are not as always as easy as they seem at first.
“In the beginning I felt really accomplished, but once I got there, being behind it was very humbling. It was a lot of hard work just to see the field.”
Among other things, he earned his first ever national team callup at any level back in December. Gatt says he never worried about why he wasn’t a part of the U.S. setup while coming up in Michigan.
“I really tried not to focus too much on why I wasn’t getting calls. I just tried to focus on my game and knew that one day I’d get the call. When I did it was just a big sigh of relief.”
For his part, Coach Rongen is pleased with Gatt’s progress, obviously, and expects a lot more of the young player in the coming season as he gains time and experience under Solskjaer.
“Josh was first noticed in our Development Academy and he’s a player we continued to follow as he took the step to Europe, which is happening more and more,” said Rongen.
Rongen called Gatt in for a camp and a couple scrimmages late last year — the forward’s first participation in a national team setup at any level.
“He’s a guy with good pace and technical ability, which is a great combination for a wide player. He showed in that December game against Canada, and it seems like he’s doing similar things with Molde, that he can both set up goals and score goals.”
“It’s nice to see players coming out of the Academy, finding themselves in Select Team games and then finding their way onto Youth National Teams. Josh has had a great rise to Norway. We feel that he can contribute to our team at a high level.”