Bluechip Study USA Exclusive Interview with Mjällby AIF mittfältare and New Zealand International, Craig Henderson on why he chose the collegiate soccer route prior to turning professional in Sweden. "Swedish Bakeries and Lingonberries."
Bluechip: Some would say that you took the “non-traditional” route to the professional soccer scene, having come from New Zealand, to Dartmouth College, and finally Sweden. After all, you did make it! What about the collegiate fotboll avenue appealed to you?
Henderson: I had always wanted to play professionally and the choice for me after high school was to either head to Europe or play at college in the States. I fortunately had some great advice from a couple of Kiwis (New Zealanders) who had gone to the States before me and basically the combination of playing elite football while getting a great education was too good to turn down.
Bluechip: What was the biggest challenge moving from the collegiate game to Allsvenska and international play? How did college fotboll prepare you for life as a professional?
Henderson: The technical ability and decision making of players is definitely a lot higher at the professional level, and that is probably the main difference. In college football, games are physically intense so there isn't too much difference in that sense. The great benefit of college football is that most programs are run extremely professionally...the facilities are top class (often better than many professional teams) and generally players are dedicated to football all year round, and that was definitely the case for me at Dartmouth.
Bluechip: Many collegiate athletes refer to their time spent in college as “the best years of their lives!” Can you attest to this? What makes this individual and team experience so special for the college athlete?
Henderson: Without question, college in the States is so unique. There are so many opportunities available both inside and outside of football. But living together with your teammates, studying, socializing, going to dinner together after trainings, I think those are the things that made it so enjoyable for me and it's definitely something that I miss.
Bluechip: Being a top conditioned athlete is a full time job in itself! At Dartmouth you were not only an All-American Athlete, you were also an Ivy League scholar. As a student-athlete what was your experience managing the heavy demands of school and sport?
Henderson: As a student-athlete you are usually in a very structured environment with classes, trainings, matches etc. So in terms of time-management, I think having this extra commitment was actually helpful in that it forced you to keep a routine and be aware of how to give yourself time to get things done off the field. The professors at Dartmouth were usually pretty accommodating as well which is always helpful.
Bluechip: (Sorry if this is a sore subject) You just missed out on representing New Zealand in the 2010 World Cup due to injury. What are your current aspirations at Mjällby and future fotboll aspirations as in international?
Henderson: (Laugh) Yeah that was really disappointing but right now though I am just focused on Mjällby and having a good season this year. Hopefully if I perform well for my club the national team opportunities will come again!
Bluechip: Last of all, what do you miss most from the land of the Kiwi’s when you are living in Sweden? What do you love about Sweden that you’d never find in New Zealand?
Henderson: Steak and cheese pies! Would kill for one right now! And I'd say the fresh air and outdoors in NZ. Keeping with the food theme I'm a big fan of Swedish bakeries... and lingonberries.