DAVID SMITH - Friday, May 6, 2011
Heading into the 2011 Swedish Allsvenskan season, US U-20 back-line fixture and once-capped senior international Gale Agbossoumonde looked to have finally landed himself in a stable, supportive club situation at Djurgardens IF after more than a year of frustrating uncertainty.
As one of the most promising back-line prospects in the US system, the much-heralded, yet largely unpolished 19 year-old Togolese born central defender was widely believed to be only a regular starting role away from breaking out both at the club and international level.
While several starts in Djurgardens IF's defense had certainly exposed some of his rawness and inexperience, a supportive coaching staff and the lack of a high-pressure situation often found in more popular leagues did give continued hope that this season could be the turning point for Agbossoumonde.
Sadly, the worst start by the team in more than a generation has, however, thrown the club in turmoil, leading to changes from the top down, which could see the American's fortunes quickly turn for the better or worse.
After last weekend's loss to a relatively poor Trelleborgs FF squad left the Blue Stripes tied for last place with only one point and no wins after six games, the team's management finally made a change.
Co-interim-head coach Lennart Wass was released from the team and while his partner-in-crime Carlos Banda avoided the unemployment line, he was demoted to assistant, with coach-in-waiting Magnus Pehrsson brought in several months earlier than planned to lead the team through the rest of their season.
Longtime Djurgarden player Pehrsson was in charge at Danish Superligaen team Aalborg BK for close to two years, however was removed from the post under similar circumstances in October 2010. While he agreed with Djurgarden shortly after to take over the reigns, he chose to wait until his contract with Aalborg officially expired at the end of 2011 before assuming the position.
While a year-plus paid vacation with a guaranteed job waiting at the end is a scenario which only the most lucky of us can dream about, the team's reality of having a full season under a pair of coaches who were essentially glorified temps had to have been unsettling to the players and staff - as was obviously evidenced by their lamentable start.
Forcing Pehrsson's hand to take the position nearly a full season early was a step in the right direction for the club, however was clearly not enough for some clearly mentally disturbed fans.
One day after the coaching changes, sporting director Stefan Alvén announced he was leaving the team immediately after he received an anonymous letter from so-called fans threatening both him and his family should he not resign before their next game.
In the wake of a recent incident in Scotland where letter bombs were sent to Celtic coach Neil Lennon and a prominent politician supporter of the team, and a situation much closer to home in Sweden where a Superettan game was halted after fireworks were thrown at a referee by hooligans in the stands, Alvén wisely chose to put his and his family's well-being before the club and step down.
If there is any possible silver lining the tumult of the last week and the overall toxic environment currently surrounding the club, the early handover to Pehrsson could see Agbossoumonde's support at the top solidified.
Pehrsson is a man well familiar with American players, having had a hand in bringing both Marcus Tracy and Chris Rolfe to his previous team Aalborg. Furthermore, he has stated in the Swedish press that he was previously interested in Agbossoumonde during his tenure in Denmark, however contract issues reportedly scuppered any possibility of bringing the American to the club.
Experience has shown there is no use trying to predict where balance between the clearly difficult situation at the club and the possible positives with the coaching change will fall in this case. Agbossoumonde could still see a season of development or he could find himself paying for his earlier on-field mistakes and spending several months on the bench.
Complicating matters, the loan deal arranged with Djurgarden by his management company Traffic Sports only runs through July, at which point he could remain in Sweden or be pulled back into an exasperating quagmire of being a player without a club to call home. It wouldn't be the first time he's been through it.
Djurgardens' next game over the weekend against similarly-winless Halmstads BK will likely go a long way to show what awaits the young American - and his teammates - in the coming months.