In the latest of our exclusive New York Red Bulls blogs, we talk to Red Bulls General Manager, Erik Soler, about life in New York and the MLS.
Name: Erik Soler
Position: New York Red Bulls General Manager/Sporting Director
Birthplace: Lillestrøm, Norway
Date of birth: August 6, 1960
When did your passion for soccer begin?
I actually had a membership at my local soccer club from 1962 when I was just one-and-a-half years old. Even though it was my mother who brought me into soccer at that early age, I can’t remember a time when I wasn't passionate about soccer. Soccer is my life. You know my passion for this sport right now is as strong as it has ever been. I just think it is the best sport in the world.
Your mum brought you into soccer? How did that happen?
You know we lived only 100 metres away from the local soccer club and she wanted me to start doing positive things at a very early age obviously [starts smiling]. And so, one day, we went to a game and somebody said that I could be a member. So she got me a membership of this club, as I said at just one-and-a-half years of age, and I am still a member of the club nearly fifty years later!
And when did you start playing soccer?
I started to play with a team when I was five-years-old. In my hometown they didn’t have a league at that time, but I played together with the seven-year-olds and I remember that this was really very hard [smiles again]…the older kids beat me all the time, but I never gave up. So I started playing when I was very young. I also had the good fortune to be talented. I really enjoyed it.
When you think back, which players did you admire?
Well I played for Hamburger SV in Germany, where I played together with the current coach of Vfl Wolfsburg, Felix Magath. He was an extremely hard worker, a really tough character, but he was someone I really looked up to and he was really helpful for me and my career because I learned a lot from him about hard work and dedication.
I think he had a good influence on my soccer and on everything else in my life. You know you simply have to put in a lot of effort if you want to do things as best as you can and that you get something out of. So yeah, if you are blessed with the necessary talent for what you do and have the right attitude towards hard work then everything is possible. Talent and hard work, that is the best combination.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Well, I actually think the highlight for me as a young Norwegian kid was to enter into the German Bundesliga and to be able to play against players I really admired. I remember we played in Barcelona in front of 90,000 people, and we played of course in Munich in front of 70,000 and in Milan in the European Cup. I really like to look back on these times, but I also won the League and the Cup in Norway [with Lillestrøm] and in Denmark [with AGF Aarhus] as a player and winning is definitely nice, so I would say these are also very good memories.
But you are not only passionate for soccer on the pitch, you even owned a club in Norway after your retirement. Tell us about that..
When I stopped playing at an early age I went to university to study psychology. So I stopped playing when I was 29-years-old and after that I really missed the whole soccer environment – the people, the attitude, the stadiums, the games – I missed everything about soccer. So I figured out that I had to find a way to be part of this wonderful community again. I worked as a players' agent for more than 10 years, then I owned my own club [IK Start] for seven years and now here I am in New York with the Red Bulls and it is simply such a big part of my personality I think…so I can’t see myself stopping being a part of soccer.
What does it mean to you being here in New York at the Red Bulls, leading this great team. What is the challenge for you here?
Well, first of all we are still at a very early phase of soccer in the US. It is growing faster and faster and I am sure that soccer will be a big deal here in the end, but know that this will take still some time, so the challenge here for me is to be a small part of something which will be really big one day.
But it is also a challenge for me to build something here in New York with the New York Red Bulls in the sporting sector which is really, really tough, because the competition is unbelievable. You know, coexisting next to basketball, baseball, football and ice hockey in the US is not easy, but I know we can do it. We have unbelievable support from the Red Bull Company, who really do everything to help us to develop as best as we can. Even if it is difficult, I think that’s the thing that keeps me going.
What is the special thing about the New York Red Bulls? What would you tell anybody who doesn't know anything about the New York Red Bulls why he or she should come to the arena to watch a game?
I would say there are two things. We have a team with individuals that are really worth looking at, we are still the best scoring team in the League and we are always producing good soccer…so the soccer itself is worth watching. The second reason why somebody should definitely come to Harrison to watch one of our games is that we have the most beautiful home arena in the US and I would say it is hard to find a better arena anywhere. So I think anybody who comes once will look forward to coming back. So these are two great reasons.
What is your favourite hotspot here in New York or New Jersey?
Maybe it sounds a bit silly, but honestly my life here is just about work and the rest of the time I like to be at home, so actually outside of the Red Bull arena my hotspot is my home! I live in New Jersey in a beautiful little city, 20 minutes away from the arena…I really don’t have a lot of time to go into the city. I am very rarely there. If I go it’s mostly because of meetings.
So what is your vision with the New York Red Bulls for the future?
My vision is to be the best soccer franchise in the area. We have great opportunities and we are right next to the greatest city in the world, so we have to think big, act big and do everything we can to be an important part of this market.
I am definitely the kind of guy that never gives up and I am sure in the end – and when I am speaking about the end then I am speaking about just a few years from now – we will have an arena which will be packed, we will have a waiting list for tickets, we will have a waiting list for sponsors and we will be in the newspapers and the media every day. So when these things come to fruition and when we win the League a number of times it could be time for me to go back to Norway…but definitely not before we reach these goals.
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