Stuart Holden was, at the start of his career, predicted to become a star in the future both at the club level as well as for the US national team. Although the Scottish-born midfielder has impressed in the Premier League for Bolton Wanderers, several serious injuries in the last few seasons have heavily disrupted the 27-year-old’s career. His most recent injuries have yet again disrupted Bolton’s plans ahead of the new season in the newly renamed Sky Bet Championship.
Holden was born in Scotland in 1985, but emigrated to Texas at the age of sevem, where he grew up. This is how he gained his American nationality, and he also played football for his high school, Awty International School, in Houston. He then earned a spell playing college football at Clemson University, and it was during this spell that he was noticed by the international selectors, making his debut for America’s under-20 side in 2005.
This early period of his career got him noticed across the pond in Europe, and in early 2005 he sealed what was supposedly his big break to Sunderland of the Premier League. However, in mid-March he was attacked at a bar in Newcastle, leaving him with a fractured eye socket and unable to train for two months. Once he then re-started training, he suffered another injury, this time on his ankle, ruling him out again, for the rest of the season.
After an injury-littered six months in England, Holden was released by the Black Cats and moved back the America to join MLS side Houston Dynamo. He went on to have a successful spell with Dynamo in his three and a half years back in America, making 118 appearances in all competitions and also winning the MLS Cup on two occasions.
This impressive spell back in American football led to him being given a second chance in English football after his contract ended with Houston Dynamo, allowing him to pursue success with other clubs. After several weeks on trial, Holden finally signed a contract with Bolton Wanderers in January 2010, where he remains to this day. He went on to make two appearances for his new side before being breaking his leg on international duty, ruling him out for the majority of the remainder of the season. However, he was able to make his comeback in one of Bolton’s later league games, which was enough to secure his place at the 2010 World Cup.
It was the year after in which Holden really came into his own at the Reebok. He had a profound effect on the Trotters side in the 2010-11 season, helping his new club to seventh in the Premier League and also a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final, in which they were to face Stoke City (they would later lose 5-0 to the eventual runners-up).
Holden played 26 league games in the white shirt that year before his season was cut short at Old Trafford, when a challenge from Jonny Evans injured his anterior cruciate ligament, ruling him out for around six months, and also required twenty-six stitches for the gash on his knee. Despite his season ending in March, the American international was named as the Bolton Wanderers player of the season, which boded well for his career once he’d recovered from his serious injury.
Stuart Holden then made his comeback from injury in September 2011, starting the League Cup tie with Aston Villa and playing the full game. Following this sole appearance, Holden was placed back on a follow-up procedure for his injury, as is routine for these kinds of injuries. However, during this process it was discovered that Holden also had cartilage damage in his knees, which once again ended his season when it had just started, causing a serious set-back for the player and the club.
Having Holden missing for the entirety of the 2011-12 campaign had a disadvantaged effect on Bolton’s campaign, as they were relegated to the Championship on the final day of the season after over a decade in England’s top flight. Holden and Wanderers will now both be left wondering what could have been had Holden been fit for the campaign, especially considering the dramatic impact he had on the Reebok in the previous season.
After a sixteen-month spell without playing competitive football, Holden finally made his comeback from injury in January of this year, as he played in a reserve fixture for Bolton in a bid to regain his fitness. On 15 January, he then made his return to the first team in an FA Cup match against his former club Sunderland, and came on as a late substitute in his team’s 2-0 victory.
After managing three appearances in a Bolton shirt since his return from his serious injury, Sheffield Wednesday announced they had agreed to take the American on a month-long loan from the Trotters in late March. The midfielder then made his debut two days later, starting in the derby match against Barnsley and contributing to Wednesday’s hard-fought 2-1 victory over their relegation rivals. He then played three more times for the Owls, against Blackburn, Leeds, and Blackpool, before returning to Bolton Wanderers and playing against league champions Cardiff City in his last appearance of the season.
Versatile midfielders can be very useful for managers, especially the managers of club sides, as they can provide cover for a number of positions, as well as being able to play in their original position too. This is one of the words often used to describe Holden, who is able to play on both sides of midfield as well as in the center, which has proved a valuable asset to Houston and Bolton in his career. He is also well-known for his high-quality set pieces, and has in the past been compared to David Beckham, such as the quality of his deliveries. This is praise that does not come lightly, and shows the quality that Holden has, but which we often don’t see.
Playing for your country is one of the greatest honors for a player, and although he has picked up 25 caps for America’s senior side in his career, many believe he possesses the quality to have picked up many more for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side. He made his debut for the national side in the 2009 Gold Cup, scoring his first goal in the process against Grenada, and also scoring a 30-yard leveler in injury time against Haiti a week later. He was instrumental in the USA’s passage to the final, setting up both of their goals in the semi-final against Honduras. However, he was unable to prevent his country losing 5-0 in the final against the Mexicans.
After a lone appearance at the World Cup, it was over two and a half years before Holden was called up to the national side again for this summer’s Gold Cup. He was once again key in his national side getting to the final (despite the brilliance of Landon Donovan throughout the competition), and although the tournament ended happily for the Americans, it was another set-back for Holden, who suffered an injury early on in the final against Panama. In recent days, this has been revealed to be another anterior cruciate ligament injury for the midfielder, ruling him out for a further six months.
It is a real shame the way that injuries have affected the man’s career so badly. He has played very little football in the last few years due to injury, and when his career promised so much in its early stages, it can’t feel great for Holden with the way it’s been plagued by these injuries. He’s still at a young enough age to resurrect his career successfully, and I do hope he manages this. When he was on loan at Sheffield Wednesday briefly last season, he showed flashes of his former self in his four appearances, and I feel he would have shown a lot more if he’d been properly match-fit.
I feel Holden deserves a lot of credit for the way he has carried on trying to recover from his injuries and getting back to playing regular club football. There was a time when these injuries ended a player’s career instantaneously, and even though we have moved beyond that era, an injury of this type still has a profound effect on a player’s career, and can even spell the end in modern times. It also often forces players into premature retirement, and if someone had the quantity of injuries that Holden has had, there would be many who would have ended their careers by now. However, this player has decided he wants to try and fight for his place in the Bolton squad.
I do honestly hope that we’ve seen the last of Holden’s serious injury woes and that he is finally able to get on with the business of playing football after a turbulent few seasons in England. The quality does still seem to be there for Holden, and is still at a relatively young age in footballing terms, so there is still a lot of time for him to resurrect his playing career. We may not even have seen the best of what the American international has to offer either, as many players only reach their prime in their late 20s and early 30s, meaning we could still see Holden contribute a lot to the Trotters over the next few years.