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Oct 24, 2012

Backwards to go forwards

Charlie Davies is back in Scandinavia, where it all began. Before a car accident that left a fellow passenger dead and Davies with multiple fractures, severe facial injuries, a lacerated bladder and his World Cup hopes dashed.

Before a loan spell at DC United, during which time Davies was "devastated" to be omitted from the US's Gold Cup roster. Before a rocky second spell at France's Sochaux, when a change in manager relegated Davies to the bench - if he was lucky.

But the Scandinavian region in Northern Europe that ignited Davies' career could lead to, in soccer terms, a rebirth. "That was the exact thought in my mind: Going to where I started to get back to where I was," Davies said in an interview. "In my mind you're taking a couple of steps back when you're leaving France to go to Scandinavia. At the same time, sometimes you have to take one step backwards to go two forwards."

For now, Davies is waiting in the queue at Denmark's Randers. Not fit enough when he arrived in the summer, Davies wasn't an automatic starter under Colin Todd, the former England defender. He still isn't.

With fellow strikers, led by ex under-21 Danish international Ronnie Schwartz, excelling and promoted Randers doing better than expected - sitting fifth - the pacey 26-year-old hasn't started in any league fixtures. Instead he's had to settle for more playing time in the reserves and Danish Cup. Todd wasn't afraid to admit, too, that Davies' attitude hasn't been entirely sound.

"It's been a bit up and down," Todd said. "I want to be honest. I speak to him regularly. He had a game in the reserves where he scored twice, but I felt before the game his attitude wasn't right. I felt his mind was on football, but looking too far ahead instead of having his attitude right for the training and that game.

"I think when he first came to the club, like anybody he thought he would be first choice. But it doesn't always happen. The opportunity will come for him. He hasn't got to get himself down."

At least, in this instance, Davies has no complaints about Todd. In a radio interview this year, after DC United opted not to purchase him or extend his loan, he labeled head coach Ben Olsen "hard-headed." "I have a great relationship with Colin," Davies said when relayed Todd's comments. "He's making me work for everything. He's not going to give me anything, and that's exactly what I need, a coach that will push me every day."

Davies' relationship with a manager was central to his fortunes when he resurfaced in Sochaux. Told by a team-mate that he'd been watched closely by his parent club while at United, Davies couldn't help but be excited. Prior to the car crash in October 2009 in Northern Virginia, he was a starter and establishing himself in Ligue 1. Davies spent January boosting his fitness, preparing for the second half of the season, and was assured by manager Mehmed Bazdarevic he'd get the call. He entered as a 77th-minute substitute at Rennes on Feb. 11, showing promise in his cameo, and subsequently became a squad regular. On Feb. 26, he played 13 more minutes at Toulouse.

"Then the coach told me he was expecting me to get some minutes from the beginning," Davies said.

Just what Davies wanted. But with Sochaux last in the standings in March and winless in four months in the league, Bazdarevic, a former Bosnian international, was fired. Reserve team coach Eric Hely stepped in.

Not what Davies wanted.

"He and I hadn't gotten along before I went to DC United, so I knew it was going to be one of those times that no matter how well I did in training or how well I played, I probably wasn't going to get an opportunity," Davies said.

Why hadn't the two bonded?

"Just coming back from the accident I wasn't strong mentally, and training with the reserves, I wasn't myself yet," Davies said. "He was the coach and he saw that, and he saw I wasn't having fun because it was so hard for me. It was very strenuous on my mind playing with the reserves."

No matter how well he trained, according to Davies, Hely wouldn't budge. When he wasn't named in the squad for a game later in the campaign, despite being Sochaux's only healthy striker, Davies said the "writing was on the wall." In July, his contract was terminated by mutual consent. That after Sochaux surged under Hely to finish 14th.

Davies revealed he drew interest from Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, the second tier in France and the second tier in Germany. And yes, Hammarby, where Davies shone to earn his move to Ligue 1, was willing to take him back. Now, though, Hammarby isn't in the top flight. "I wanted to play in a top division," Davies said. "Randers had been watching me for a long time." Davies' stint at Randers will be crucial: Produce as he did at Hammarby and a major league, like France, is sure to swoop again; don't produce and Davies could see out his career in a less prestigious league.

There's no doubt, in Davies' mind, that he'll rediscover - or exceed - his pre-accident form. "I feel just as good as I did right before the accident, physically," Davies said. "Then playing with the confidence I was playing with ... the only way I'm going to get back to that is with games. I'm in a good place right now. I'm not too worried. I know I will succeed here."

"From what people said before the accident, if we can get that Charlie Davies again, then it would be great for all of us," added Todd. Nor does Davies think his days of playing for the US, managed by a prolific striker in his time, Jurgen Klinsmann, are over.

"I know if you're successful in Europe you will get your chance," Davies said. "I know all it takes is a string of great games with a lot of goals and link-up play and things he's looking for. It's all about really taking the chance and succeeding in Denmark. I think when I do that, it will be an easy decision for Klinsmann to hopefully give me a chance."