USA national team and Chelsea defender, Matt Miazga tells Cross The Line about how he got into football and how life changes when you get bought by the Premier League Champions!
Where does your love for football come from?
So my parents are both Polish and in Poland football is obviously a popular sport, I was introduced to the game at five or six. As a young boy in America you’re supposed to be doing sport you know, so ever since I was introduced by my father and uncle, I fell in love with it and haven’t stopped since.
So how did you go from simple enjoyment for the game to turning pro and playing in Major League Soccer?
So once I started playing from a young age I progressed every year, training a lot and playing for different clubs. Once I was competent and ready for the next level, I joined the New York Red Bulls academy at thirteen, that was the typical age to join back then. Red Bulls were the big team in my area and so there was a massive trial for my age group, I went daily and I made a couple of cuts. I ended up making the final cut to the final team and ever since I just progressed year on year in the age groups.
Around sixteen I started training with the first team here and there, once the first few sessions were done I realised, wow, I can play at this level and make an impact. It all came to fruition when one of the sporting directors signed me and I became a professional footballer. The dream was always to be a footballer, I didn’t know how I was going to get there but I knew that was what I wanted to do and somehow I was going to have it.
How do you rate the MLS as a world league, you’re now playing in Europe but it was key to your development initially?
It’s an up and coming league, it started in 1996 whilst all of these leagues in Europe have been going for a longer time but for a young player, playing at any type of first-team level, getting minutes and getting to play with senior men, is great. Obviously my path was through the MLS and playing as a defender was good because I was going up against well-known attackers. I was going up against David Villa, Drogba, Kaka, Jermain Defoe and at one point I was training with Thierry Henry everyday so, as a young centre-back being exposed to all these world class forwards, allowed me to learn and get better and better.
Who out of those star forwards did you most learn from?
Yeah when I was younger, Kaka was at one point, the world’s best player so I remember the first time that I came up against him, I saw his movement, I saw his leadership, I saw his cleverness. Also David Villa, I played against him three times in one season where it all went well for me because we won the game. You also get that extra drive when you are playing against a world-class striker because you want to prove yourself and say, “hey you’ve scored a lot of goals and embarrassed a lot of defenders, see if you can do it to me.” I want to test myself against the best and that’s why I also came to Europe. When I play against these strikers and feeling confident, feeling like I can defend against them, that gives me a sense of pride and that I can I reach the next level.
As a defender, you were just keeping your head down in the MLS, focused on the league and then for a huge offer to come in from a European giant, in the form of Chelsea, how did you find out? What was your reaction?
Yes like you said, I was just focused on being a consistent starter in the MLS and I was starting to establish myself. Since I’d been playing from a very young age at a pretty high level and I’d had a good World Cup, offers starting coming in and my contract situation was known, that I had leverage to potentially go on a free transfer and I had a European passport, clubs started looking at me. Options were coming out and when I first heard about Chelsea’s interest I was very excited, at one point I didn’t really believe it you know, but once the weeks of the season go past and the interest gets stronger, obviously it all came to fruition.
I was very excited obviously, when a big club like Chelsea comes in it’s very hard to say no and personally I’ve always felt like it would happen in my career. Because working really hard, continuing to do all of the little things right and knowing that God is going to be taking you in the right direction, whatever comes will fall into place. Once of the goals and visions in my life was to become a Premier League footballer, to play for a big club and it came to fruition.
You say yourself, it was really hard to say no, it must have taken some careful consideration though because you were going to have to fight for a regular place?
Yeah definitely, every time that you make a decision in your life you have to look at the pros and cons. Wherever you go it’s going to be difficult, you are going to be a young American player going into a tough environment but for me, I never really looked at it like “am I going to get enough games?” I knew that it wasn’t going to come right away, I have to go in and I know it will be a challenge, but I knew that with persistence, hard work, patience and timing I’d get chances.
I ended up getting chances, it went well and at one point I made a mistake but that’s part of the game, you learn from it. I never went in thinking that I wouldn’t play, I went in thinking that it’s a challenge but I’m going to work extremely hard, stay focused, be patient, put my head down and work. When the chance comes I have to be ready, I have to continue working along my journey and I’m now playing in the Eredivise which is good for my development. I don’t focus on other things, I just stay humble, stay focused and everything else will fall into place.
You can say already that you’ve played in the Premier League for Chelsea, what was that like?
My first start in the Premier League was a very proud moment for myself and I remember it was Aston Villa away, ended up winning 4-0, a clean sheet, it was a great moment for me. The pace of the game was definitely higher, the atmosphere was different and yeah it’s something that I want to continue to build on. I want to experience more of those moments in the future.
What have been some of the ways that your life has changed, now that you are a Chelsea player?
I think, as a professional you realise how you always need to be spot on, there are always going to be eyes on you. Obviously when you join a massive club like Chelsea there is more popularity involved and you have to constantly perform on and off the pitch because the standard is extremely high. I’m a professional, you kind of get used to it from a young age playing with a club like Red Bulls. It’s all part of the game and you just have to go with it.
Why is your personal faith in Jesus, so important to you alongside your career?
The most important thing is my faith, I’m blessed with extremely amazing opportunities and experiences, the only person I can thank is God. He’s given me these opportunities and he’s guiding me the right way, I know that whatever happens in life He is guiding me. I’m blessed, thankful and really grateful for the opportunities, not everyone can become a professional athlete and live their dream. I do it all for God.
— Matt Miazga (@MattMiazga3) July 16, 2017
How easy or difficult is it to live out your faith in the money-driven, high-pressured culture of world football?
I think I mentioned it before, It’s probably easier because you know that you have God’s support, you’re not just doing it for the money and all of the other things. You’re doing it to inspire people and have that platform, it’s much easier when you know that whatever happens in football, God’s guiding you in the right direction. For me I know I can rely on that and have faith in that, so it really doesn’t affect me at all.
You’re still in your early twenties, you’ve represented the USA national team and you are contracted to Chelsea, what’s been the key to your rise?
I think from my standpoint it’s about hard work and patience, it sounds so generic but at the end of the day it’s about putting the work in and being patient. I think I realised that for a young footballer, you want it all so fast, you want to be that big superstar playing for the biggest clubs and winning trophies. But at the same time you don’t really see that in the world of football, you have to stay humble, stay focused and be patient. It will all come to fruition if you really believe it and with God’s will, he will lead you.