Alejandro Bedoya likes to play between the lines. For French club Nantes, he has been used out left, wide right, in the hole behind a striker and deep in midfield too. But the versatile American clearly has a preference. He pauses when asked. “I like a freer role, where I can wander in and out, and get on both sides of the ball,” he told FIFA.com. “I like to drift out wide and open up spaces,” he added. “I like to roam.”
The midfielder enjoys a wander off the pitch too. “In Europe, people eat, sleep and drink soccer,” he said when asked why he spurned the chance to be a star in Major League Soccer, heading instead for Sweden after completing his university degree. While playing with Orebro he shocked local media by conducting interviews in Swedish. “I learned it by watching American TV shows when I was there,” said the fast and lively player, a bundle of tireless energy for club and country. “I’d listen to the English and match up the phrases with the Swedish subtitles.”
Bedoya’s hard on himself for not having mastered French yet. But he’s well on his way a month into his second season with Nantes. “I want to grow as a player and as a person, and going abroad and understanding the culture and language gives me that chance,” he said from his home, a carefully chosen dwelling near the banks of the Loire River. “In America you can get overcome with the idea that it’s the best place in the world, and you forget to open your eyes and look around.”
This is not the stock answer of your average, media-savvy professional. It is not the boring jumble of canned words, repeated often, meant to convey nothing.
Between Scandinavia and France, Bedoya had a brief stint in Glasgow with Rangers. It was a challenge. “Physical,” he sniffed. “The crowd goes crazy when you make a big, hard tackle.” Now in France, Bedoya, 27, seems to have combined what he calls the “tactical” approach of Sweden and Norway with the physicality of Scotland, and settled into the up-tempo world of France’s Ligue 1.
I wasn’t ready to go to the World Cup in 2010.
“He’s technically excellent and is also prepared to work,” is the assessment of Michel Der Zakarian, the Nantes coach whose side is tied with big-money powers Paris-Saint Germain on points.
Bedoya is uncharacteristically calm and mature for one who has shot to success like a Cape Canaveral space launch. In just ten months of 2010, he finished his first full professional club season, debuted for his national team, and made USA's preliminary squad for the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. His was one of the last names scratched in the final cut, but it did not crush him.
“I wasn’t ready to go to the World Cup in 2010,” admitted Bedoya, the son of immigrants, his father and grandfather having both played professionally in their native Colombia. “I became the team’s biggest fan. I watched and celebrated in the bars back in Sweden.”
Whatever disappointment there was became a spur. “It was the extra motivation I needed,” he said. Four years later he played in all four of the United States' games in Brazil, what he calls the “Mecca of football.” He remembers the Stars and Stripes’ World Cup opener, against Ghana in Natal, in vivid colours. “I had goose bumps in the tunnel” he said of his first taste of the world’s biggest stage. “Photographers lined up outside. The music started playing and I thought to myself ‘this is for real, this is really happening.’"
A summer to remember
His performances in the summer of 2014 put Bedoya on the map. A roving presence in midfield, his technique is superb for such a hard worker. US fans, who travelled to Brazil in waves and tuned in in record numbers to watch on TV back home, took this relative newcomer to their hearts. “I was walking around New York City after the World Cup, such a huge place, and someone shouted out ‘Hey Bedoya,’” he said. “I was shocked. It’s so humbling.”
Bedoya has already had his say as the US prepare for the far-off challenge of the next World Cup in Russia in 2018. He scored an opportunistic winner in a 1-0 friendly win over the Czech Republic in Prague earlier this month. And to hear Bedoya tell it, there are only more good things to come. “It’s great to be a part of it,” he said, a sense of gratitude in his voice. When asked about coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s ambitious target of a semi-final run in Russia, Bedoya paused once more: “There’s a lot to do.”
And signs suggest that the midfielder will continue to do what needs to be done with more than just a touch of class. This summer, the US stormed through the much-feared ‘Group of Death’ in Brazil. When the run finally ground to a halt against Belgium in the Round of 16, Bedoya felt moved to mark the occasion, which he admitted “left a sour taste in my mouth.” He presented a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch to each of his team-mates, inscribed with the words: Brazil is just the beginning.