James Rogers sat down with new Dundalk FC signing Joshua Gatt to discuss his career to date – his early interest in the game, playing under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Molde and coming back from four anterior cruciate ligament surgeries. He also discusses how his move to Ireland came about and his hopes for his time at Oriel Park.

James Rogers: Hi Joshua. First of all welcome to Dundalk. Just so people get a bit of a flavour of your background was soccer what you always played growing up in Michigan?

Joshua Gatt: To be honest, it was actually a mixture of a lot of things. I grew up playing baseball, football, hockey, pretty much everything. Soccer was just the sport that I fell in love with the quickest and the easiest because I enjoyed the training sessions more than any other sport I played and that’s what made me really love it. I always felt, whether it was games or training, I always had fun playing it. I loved playing football and baseball games but the training was miserable so soccer was the only sport that I really loved playing.

JR: When did you get to a point then where you thought maybe there’s a career in this for me?

JG: I told my parents by the age of 11 or 12 that I wanted to play professional soccer. Growing up that was my only thought. They asked me had I any other plans or a back-up plan basically and I just looked at them as much to say there is no back-up plan, I’m going to play professional soccer. That was always what I wanted to do. It was the only thing I cared about. It was my passion and I was determined to see it through until the end.

JR: Was Europe something on your mind back as a teenager?

JG: Believe it or not, my goal was always to play over in Europe because I believed the best players played in Europe. That’s where the best teams were and the best version of football or soccer was there too. I wanted to be one of the best so the only way to be part of the best was to play over where the best play and that was in Europe.

JR: So who were the players you would have looked up to or idolised back then?

JG: Believe it or not, most of my childhood sports idols were not soccer players – they were American Football players. In my house I was actually the first person to touch a soccer ball let alone make it a career. Growing up with my dad we watched baseball, we watched football and we watched hockey so I normally fell in love with a lot of the sports teams I watched which was American Football. One of my biggest idols growing up was Charles Woodson when he played at the University of Michigan. He was a corner back and that’s why throughout my career I chose the number two because of his number at the University of Michigan. Then as I got older and got immersed in the soccer world in Europe, the next idol I came across was (Hernan) Crespo from Argentina. That was more or less from playing video games. I remember thinking this guy was so good in the game so it made me want to go look at him in real life. That helped me get into gaming with FIFA and from that I started watching Fernando Torres at Liverpool and that’s why still to this stay I’m a huge Liverpool fan. I just thought he was fantastic. I loved the way he played and how he scored goals. Those were the guys who really drove me forward to play soccer but I was much older then, maybe 16 to 18.

JR: So as a Liverpool fan, you’re obviously happy this week?

JG: I couldn’t be more happy. I’m ecstatic. I became a pretty die hard Liverpool fan once I watched Torres play and I’ve been one since so obviously to see them win the title was great. I knew it was just a matter of time after the season that they’ve had but to see them finally get over the line, I couldn’t be more happy. Obviously Liverpool fans who have followed the club for 50, 60 pr 70 years will be happier but even us short term fans were delighted.

JR: Well between that and officially signing for Dundalk, you’ve had worse weeks I’m sure?

JG: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s been an absolutely fantastic week for me personally. I’ve definitely had way worse weeks. This is definitely one of the better ones I’ve had in a while.

JR: I was listening to an interview you did for the club website and you were saying you didn’t actually know who Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was when Molde came in for you in 2011. What was the experience like being there and playing in Norway under someone like him?

JG: Yeah, when I first was scouted by him I had no idea who the man was, which is an embarrassing thing to say, but again at the time I didn’t have any experience with watching European football. I knew of the teams but I didn’t know the players. Once I found out about who he was and met him and he started coaching me, it was great. Like how do you describe being coached by one of the best strikers who have ever played the game? It’s worldly and unbelievable. The reason I am the player I am and the reason I have the ability to continue to play at this time is because of everything that he as a coach tried to teach me. When I came to him at the age I was, 19 or 20, I was extremely raw and he really helped me define and hone my ability as a player. You can’t ever thank someone enough for that. Again, because of him I have this opportunity now because of what he did for me eight or nine years ago.

The article as it appeared in The Argus on June 30th 2020

JR: Everything was going well for you at that point in your career. You’d been in Austria and the Norway and been capped by your country. Then it’s actually seven years ago tomorrow (Monday) since your first bad knee injury. How big a setback was that because when you’re on such an upward trajectory to have to take a step back must be difficult?

JG: Yeah, of course. It’s difficult not just in my life but in the life of any professional. It’s difficult when you get to a certain level and believe you can continue to get higher and then things that are out of your control take that away from you. It’s extremely difficult to deal with but the thing is you have to deal with it. I was very young and it was the first major injury in my life so it was a learning experience and it was a difficult learning experience. It was something I wasn’t prepared for and couldn’t have been prepared for. To go through it though, it just created a new kind of mental strength that I didn’t have before and I needed to create, grow and adapt into my life. It actually made me into what I believe is a better person and a better player because of my experiences. It’s unfortunate that these things do happen to you as an athlete and can take away from what people perceive you can still do but the only thing that defines you is not what happens to you on the field but how you rise from the worst situations. I’m just going to continue to show that I can rise to a level where I believe I can be at.

JR: Even so, to come back from four major knee surgeries is fairly incredible. I’ve seen other players who had a few and it kind of took their love for the game away more than anything but you just seem to come back more determined every time?

JG: Yeah, everybody is different and I respect everyone’s decision in that situation if they want to pack it in because it is an extremely difficult experience to have to continuously go down and get back up. It’s hard but I’ve said this multiple times and it’s something that I live by, when these major things happen in your life it’s a crossroad decision. You have a road to the right that is to continue on the path that you’ve known and love. It’s going to be a hard road and it’ll suck but it’s what you have to do to get back to where you want to be, or you take the road to the left where you move on. For me, I just continued to choose the road to the right, to persevere and push forward and do all the right things to get myself back to playing and doing what I love because this is what I love. It’s the only thing I want to do and I’m going to continue working at it as hard as I can to continue to play this sport because no matter how many knee surgeries I’ve had, I still think that physically I’m in the best shape of my life and that I’m as strong as I can ever be and if I can continue to build and improve on it then in my mind there’s absolutely no reason why I can’t be at the level I was before or even way better than I was before. All it really takes is my own mental strength at this point because the body is still there, the strength is there and my legs have healed. It’s just about believing in myself and knowing that everything that I’m doing and all the work I’m putting in and sacrifices that I’m making are worth it and it is.

JR: Despite all you’ve gone through, you’re still only 28 which is when a player should be peaking in theory. Do you feel you can peak in the next couple of years?

JG: They say an athlete’s peak is between 28 or 29 but in my mind every athlete and person is different. Some people reach their peak early and some people reach their peak late. I think, based on what I went through when I was younger and the years that I may have lost playing, that I can tack those years on in the end. In my mind, if I can continue to do the right things and treat my body well then there’s no reason why I can’t continue to play for 10 or 11 years. There’s players out there who’ve played until 40, 41 or 42. Age is something that people outside of the sport think about but as an athlete age is only how you perceive it in your own mind and in my mind I’m a young, youthful man with a lot of energy and a lot of legs left to give. I have, in my mind, plenty of time to continue to create and build a career and I hope to start here and I’m excited to start here.

JR: So tell me how this opportunity came about? Was it just a case of Bill Hulsizer contacting you having read your ESPN article in January?

JG: Yeah, it was pretty much that. He read the article and connected with the rhetoric that I’m trying to send out into the world that injuries aren’t what define you. It’s how you rise from them.

JR: I remember watching you against Longford in the game you played in in February and you looked exciting which was great but to see you then being carried off, the initial thing is concern. What was going through your own head at that stage?

JG: For me at the time, I thought there was the potential that I had re-injured the meniscus surgery that I had because it was a similar sensation that I had at the time but after getting it checked out and everything and getting my knee looked at, it wasn’t that. It was just a lock and I think honestly it just went down to fatigue. At that time, it was my first time really playing a game within a year and it was my first real training session with a team the day before for almost a year and in all honesty I just don’t think I was prepared enough to be at that fitness level to play professionally but that’s something that I looked back on and said ‘ok, learn from it and grow from this. What did you do that wasn’t good enough?’ The thing I saw was that I didn’t put enough of my own individual effort to get my body ready for the rigours of playing professionally. That’s something that I should have done and something that I should have known ahead of time but it’s a small learning curve. Now, at this moment in time, I’ve done all those hard things in my time off to make sure that coming back that it will be a non-issue. I am ready and I am at a level that I need to be at to be successful on the pitch and to have the strength in my lungs, my legs and in my heart to push for 90 minutes. At the time of that game I was grateful for the opportunity but in all honesty I just wasn’t physically prepared for it but this period of time in between was about me getting my head, my body and everything ready. I had been recovering from the knee injury but I hadn’t got my cardiovascular health up to where it needed to be at that point in time but that’s something that right now is a non-issue. I’ve pushed myself hard during the whole Covid crisis to be 100% ready for when I came back and I’ve hopefully shown the coaching staff and the trainers at Dundalk that I have worked hard and I’m ready for this moment.

JR: So, in a way, while no one is happy that Covid-19 happened, it sort of worked out for you a little because you’ve had a few months to work on things and you’re not behind your team-mates because everyone in the entire league is pretty much in pre-season mode?

JG: Oh yeah, absolutely. Of course, I would never wish a pandemic on the world but ironically in a weird way it was a good period of time where I could just focus on myself and push myself six days out of the week. I was fortunate enough to be down in Florida with my parents where there was constant good weather so I was able to get out and run and get out and train, to be on the ball and lift weights. It was a very full circle blessing for me individually. Obviously no one is happy about Covid but, personally, this period of time has been really helpful to get back to where I believe I should be. I tried to make the most of every day I had.

JR: You obviously only signed last week officially but how long did you know that the deal would be happening and you were going to be a Dundalk player?

JG: I actually knew pretty much after the pre-season game that I had. They said they’d be willing to let me come back and give me a chance. To be honest, it was going to be in a period of two or three months to give me the time to build myself back up but then the world kind of froze so during that time was when I said the world may be frozen but I don’t have to be so I made sure I took the time to be 100% ready so that when I came back I could jump straight in and be 100% ready to go with everybody.

JR: How’ve you settled in so far?

JG: The guys have been fantastic. It has been an extremely easy transition for me to come to here from America. To be honest, it was a much easier transition for me to move here than to move to Austria where the language is different. The guys and the coaching staff have made it really easy as well so there’s not much more that I can ask for right now.

JR: Everyone will be looking forward now to the Champions League in August, I presume you’ve already played in the competition for Molde?

JG: Yeah, I was able to play in a couple of European group stage matches and some qualifiers. I obviously missed some as well because of my knee injuries but fortunately I did have the opportunity to compete in some. I loved it and I’m ready and willing to do it again and I’m very excited about the opportunity to do it again.

JR: So where do you see yourself fitting into the team? I know you’re traditionally a right winger, is that where you hope to play or are you open to other positions?

JG: I just like to be in a position where I can attack. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the left wing or right wing. I can play as a lone striker or behind someone but I just like to use my pace to my advantage to take people on because even in the game against Longford I think I showed I like to turn and run at somebody and try to do something. My passion about the game is to try and create things so hopefully I can be in a role where I can help my team to score.

JR: You’re over here now a week or two, how have you found the area so far?

JG: I really enjoy it. Everybody has been super friendly and super nice and I’ve met some really wonderful people when I’ve had the opportunity to get out. The town is close and small so you feel that it’s a tight-knit community. You can tell people here really like and support the team. The last time I really felt like that was when I was in Molde because playing there the community was really around the team as well whereas in Austria it was a bit more lax. It wasn’t as big of a thing in the town I was in there but here there just appears to be a real sense of community and it all circles around the football team. It’s just nice to be a part of that and inside of that because that makes moving here and being here alone simpler.

JR: Are there any plans for your wife to join you here or will she stay in the States?

JG: For now she’s going to stay in the States up until I can hopefully solidify something long term with the club. There are long term plans for me to continue to play and I hope it’s with Dundalk but for the time being right now with the deal only being short-term it isn’t really logical for her to move all the way across the world for who knows how long, especially when we don’t even know how long the season is going to be. It would be strange if she came over here and then the season ended in late October because if that does happen I’ll be going home anyway to see my family so at the moment it doesn’t really make sense.

JR: So, I suppose, the best case for you right now is to get as many games as you can in whatever amount of matches Dundalk have to play this year and try to get another contract out of it.

JG: Yeah, that’s the hope. I want to be a useful component for the team. I want to get out there and show I can be a player for this club and help us be successful and continue our run of winning titles.

JR: Yeah, you’ve obviously won three leagues in Norway, I’m sure you’d love to add Ireland to that list?

JG: Absolutely, it’s always nice to add trophies to your cabinet. I just love to win and it helps that I’m coming to the best team in Ireland right now. I’m excited to try add more medals to the cabinet.

JR: I’m sure everyone hopes you achieve that. Thanks for your time Josh and best of luck with Dundalk.