Player spotlight

After a rough ending at Nantes, Miazga eager to help Reading to safety

The last few months have been a wild ride for Matt Miazga which saw a falling out with his previous club Nantes and the tragic death of a teammate. But turning the page, the New Jersey native now looks forward to helping his new club, Reading, avoid relegation while also ushering a new era with the U.S. national team.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 20, 2019
12:00 AM
THE CAREER of a professional soccer player is full of twists and turns, ups and downs. For Matt Miazga, the past three months have been beyond intense. His loan to Nantes slowly deteriorated after a managerial change which was followed by accusations over a faked injury and the tragic death of a teammate. A move to Reading FC has also thrown Miazga into an intense relegation fight at a time when he is also aiming to usher in a new era with the United States national team.

But result has left Miazga happy. Miazga and Reading have managed to leapfrog Rotherham United to pull out of the relegation zone by goal differential. On Saturday, Reading will host Rotherham in a game that could determine Reading’s fate.

Miazga, 23, is still a young player but the Championship is the fifth different professional league he has played and Reading is his first relegation battle.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge but I never shy away from challenges,” Miazga said. “I think challenges are what define you in how you overcome them. I remember my first training session here and thinking that this was a really good group of players. The atmosphere is very good at the club and you can't really tell that we are in a relegation battle. This team is capable of being way higher. I am very happy to be here.”

Upon leaving Nantes, Miazga had options. His previous success in Holland with Vitesse, where he helped the team to its first ever major trophy with the 2016/17 Dutch Cup, opened plenty of doors. But Miazga’s ultimate goal is to play for Chelsea on a permanent basis and Reading’s loan offer made the most sense in terms of getting to England and providing meaningful and important minutes.

After a month, Miazga is enjoying life in the Championship which gives him yet another league to experience and learn. He developed with the Red Bulls in MLS, played briefly with Chelsea, before being loaned to Vitesse, Nantes, and now Reading.

“It's very different,” Miazga explained. “The way I describe the Championship is that it is more chaotic. When I was in Holland, France or even when I played a bit in the Premier League, it was more refined. Here a lot of teams try to get to the goal as fast and as soon as possible. It's at a very intense pace. Some teams have a lot of quality. There are a lot of physical battles - which is good. You adapt, you learn, and you add more elements to your game. England has the best league in the world, the Premier League. I want to establish myself at the English level. Premier League scouts and Chelsea are constantly monitoring the Championship because a lot of good players are here. The Championship is probably the closest league in terms of pace and intensity to the Premier League.”

Reading FC has been a breath of fresh air for Miazga who got off to a strong start before the loss to Sheffield United. In his first 360 minutes, Reading conceded just one goal with Miazga on the field. But it is a far cry from the difficult end to his time at Nantes.

Miazga’s time at Nantes got off to a strong start despite him missing most of the team’s preseason. He was a regular starter for manager Miguel Cardoso but when the team struggled, Cardoso was replaced by Vahid Halihodzic in early October. In Miazga’s first game under the new Bosnian manager, Nantes lost to Bordeaux 3-0 and Miazga left afterward to play for the U.S. national team. When he returned, playing time was nonexistent.

While Nantes struggled during the first half of the season, stats suggested that Miazga was among the least of the club’s problems – where he won the highest percentage of duels among all Ligue 1 defenders with at least 450 minutes played.

In January, Miazga’s situation continued to deteriorate. Then there was a dispute over a back injury which Halihodzic claimed Miazga embellished to force a transfer.

“The blackmail I was talking about yesterday was about Matt Miazga,” Halilhodzic said at the time. “He assured me that he had a sore back. After exams, however, there was no problem. He just wanted to leave the club. This morning Miazga was in England, in Chelsea. He didn't warn anyone."

Miazga firmly denies those allegations and says that he was in fact injured, which Chelsea confirmed to Nantes.

“That was false,” Miazga said about faking an injury. “Everything at Nantes in the beginning was going perfectly. A new coach came in, and he didn’t favor me. I was on loan, I was young, we were in a tough position in the table. That’s fine. I stayed professional. I continued to work hard. I never had a complaint. I spoke with him many times and we agreed in January that I could go. But then I was asked to stay, even though they told me I could leave. That was not a problem. But then it occurred that I actually had an injury with my back. There is a protocol with Chelsea that I have to return if there is an injury where I miss a certain amount of days. Chelsea told me to come back to examine the injury.”

“What the club [Nantes] said about me not telling anyone was false,” Miazga said. “I told everyone. I told the manager, I told the president, I told the sporting director and team administrator. I told all the appropriate staff. Chelsea told them as well. Once I got back, I was getting treatment on my back and I was going through the protocol for recovery and treatments.”

Following this, Chelsea and Nantes decided end the loan prematurely. Despite statements later made by Halihodzic which questioned the back injury, Miazga looks back on his time at Nantes positively.

“There are no hard feelings,” Miazga said. “I didn’t like what was said at the end but it is what it is. I’ll just take it in stride. But I will always look back on my time at Nantes a good time. I am thankful and I hope they do well.”

During the time of Miazga fallout with Nantes there was also tragedy. The club sold star striker Emiliano Sala to Cardiff City. But shortly after Sala said his final goodbyes to his teammates, his plane went missing on his trip to Cardiff. Wreckage was later discovered in the English Channel and his body was recovered.

It was a difficult experience for Miazga who got to know the Argentinian-born Sala on a personal level once he took French lessons and had a common language. The two would ride stationary bikes together before trainings and talk.

“He was my teammate,” Miazga said. “You see your teammates every day, you shake hands, laugh, eat meals, fight for each other on the pitch. You have that relationship. He got sold to Cardiff, he went there. Two days later, I left [to Chelsea] to get my injury treated. That next day, he came back to say goodbye to everyone because he had the weekend off. But he then left for Cardiff to start training the next day. I remember I was speaking with one my teammates from London and he told me: ‘Emilano’s plane is gone.’ I then looked it up on the internet and I was like: ‘what is going on?’ It’s very sad and rest in peace to him, strength to his family, and the pilot’s family. I knew him. He never caused any problems and always worked hard. He just made a dream move to the Premier League. He was a great guy.”

But as Miazga moves on and looks ahead to his time in England and the relegation fight, he is also looking forward to a new era with the national team under the recently hired and fellow New Jersey native Gregg Berhalter. Miazga is excited by the current young generation of American players – many of whom are playing at very high levels in Europe.

The upcoming March friendlies against Chile and Ecuador will be a big moment for the team and its new coach as many of the top players are expected to take part. Miazga is looks forward to hopefully getting that opportunity.

“I've known him from before and played against his Columbus Crew teams,” Miazga said of Berhalter. “They were never easy to play against. He's proven himself as a manager and is now the manager of our national. Hopefully I can earn minutes here to earn another call-up to prove myself. I watched their recent games against Panama and Costa Rica and kept a close eye. We’ve played well. There is a nice style of play right now that is very distinct and very detail oriented. You can now really see there is a direction we are headed. We have a new generation of players and a coaching staff that is leading us in the right direction. The most important thing is to get results.”

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