Giancarlo Gonzalez is the newest addition to the new look Columbus Crew. Gregg Berhalter recruited Gonzalez, a Costa Rica international, away from Valerenga Fotball Club in February. Valerenga plays their soccer in the Tippeligaen, Norway's first division. In an effort to better understand the kind of player that has been brought into the team, I reached out to sotahjornet.no, a Valerenga supporter's website. Below is my e-mail Q & A with Rune Julsvik who writes for sotahjornet.no. (edited for clarity)
Q: Can you tell us a little about Valerenga?
A: Vålerenga is a club in economic crises due to an ugly play from the Norwegian Football Associations president Yngve Hallén. Two years ago he was about to lose his presidency to Stabæk's Erik Loe; but killed Loe's candidacy with the dirtiest play ever. Vålerenga had bought an option in the biggest talent in Norway, Herman Stengel from Stabæk. A month later we bought Stabæks striker Veigar Páll Gunnarsson, which half of the transfer fee should go to the France club Nancy. Stabæk was accused of trying to cheat Nancy and Loe's candidacy for Football president was dead. So was the clubs sponsormarket. From being Norways greatest sponsor object in 2011, Vålerenga lost our general sponsor for the season 2013 and still don't have a general sponsor. The negativity from the transfer case still destroys the club.
Q: What was the general feeling of Valerenga supporters regarding Gonzalez?
A: We had five center backs with González, now we are down to four and that is all we need. But González was our best center back. No doubt about it. That created a moment of great frustration from most of the supporters. But some supporters, like myself, saw behind the first frustration of the club selling our best center back less than a month before the league starts in Norway. González was too much away with the national team of Costa Rica last year. This year would even be worse. Norway is not qualified for the World Cup in Brazil and the league goes on as if there is no World Cup. Seven matches would be lost for a WC-player. Vålerenga had three WC-players last year. The Nigerian Fegor Ogude and the two Costa Ricans Giancarlo González and Diego Calvo. Ogude and González has been sold and we got good money for them and lost a big paychecks (salary). That's important in a club without a general sponsor.
The momentarily frustration has more or less gone over to become a feeling of a great deal for Vålerenga for the opportunity of the supporters. Mostly due to the fact that he will be too much away for a coherent defense, as he was last year. The CONCACAF's and UEFA's weeks for playing with national teams are not coherent, so that is a great trouble for European clubs with players from the other site of the Atlantic Ocean.
Q: What is his biggest strength as a player?
A: The first thing that comes to my mind is calm. Even in stressed situations in the box, he remains calm and get the ball in a direction where it is out of danger. He is not very big for a center back, but wins most of the duels anyway on both sites. He scores often with his head on corners and free-kicks.
Q: What is his biggest weakness as a player?
A: He has to be the chief. If he controls the back squad everything is OK and the offside trap works fine. But, since he was too much away last year, his partner center back mostly took control of the back squad. And when that happened he misplaced himself due to the rest quad and the offside trap was not in line. I think that is his main problem.
Q: What kind of attitude did he demonstrate while with Valerenga?
A: He is a fighter. Professionalism to the fingertip. Never any trouble with him and also easy to talk to as a supporter. When we had kick-off for last season, he was one of the two players that first came to meet the supporters. He is a kind of player every supporter loves.
Q: Was he always deployed as a center back?
A: He has been placed as a defensive midfielder in some games. Mostly at the end of them when the resistors hunt for a goal. He worked well at that. He has also a few matches as right defender. That worked well in defense but the team lost an assault weapon.
Q: How was Gonzalez rated among other center backs in Norway?
A: That's a difficult question. There is only Vålerenga and Molde who plays with a center back meaning to be a fifth midfielder. In 2012 he was at the level of Vegard Forrén, but last season was not so good. I think mainly because he lost too much of the coherency with the other defenders.
Q: Did he have any chants, songs or nicknames that were dedicated to him?
A: He had no special song. He was only in the club for one and a half season, and with too much time away with the national team, he never got a song
Q: We paid a transfer fee but it has never been reported in the US media. Has any Norwegian paper mentioned a fee? If not, is there a rumor to the fee?
A: No, only that it was a significant sum. He had a contract with Vålerenga until June 30th 2016 and in his age, with World Cup ahead, you can guess.
Q: What is the Norwegian soccer fans opinion of MLS?
A: MLS is a league most Norwegian do not care about. Vålerenga had Jan Gunnar Solli last season coming directly from the MLS club New York Red Bulls. He did not get a new contract this year. We have also had the goalkeeper Troy Perkins in the club. But when they go to MLS, they disappears from the news. The same happens if players go to clubs in Asia. It is all about Europe when speaking of soccer (or football as we call it.)