Written by Ian Colgan (@Ian_Colgan):
A losing start, then, to the Bob Bradley era at Swansea City; a 3-2 defeat at The Emirates, leaving The Swans second from bottom with just four points from eight games. Just how much significance should be given to the sluggish start is less clear. That there are at least three teams worse than Swansea in the league is an assumption very few people would dare to argue with. Regardless of how the table looks, Swansea’s odds of beating relegation remain healthier than Burnley’s and Hull’s, for instance, but the heinous start to their 2016/17 campaign has alarmed the club so badly that nobody will be able to breathe easy until there’s at least a six-to-ten point buffer between them and the Relegation Zone.
On the bright side, behind the scoreline last weekend there was probably enough for Bradley to take heart in. The fact they came back from 2-0 down to unnerve Arsenal and ensure a jittery finish; that they went to The Emirates and made more passes than the hosts and also had more possession; and that they got off 13 shots compared to Arsenal’s 16, but matched them for shots on target (6), giving them about 8 percent better shot accuracy. It should probably be kept in mind that Arsenal were playing with 10 men for the last 20 minutes, which might explain some of those passing/possession numbers, but all of the game’s goals had already been scored by the time Granit Xhaka was sent off. In other words, if the game had finished 3-3 Swansea would have been considered good value for the point, and after the initial uncertainty surrounding Bradley’s appointment at the start of the month, and the bad karma it generated, The Jack Army are a lot more comfortable with the idea of Bradley as their manager than they were two weeks ago, and the overall feeling among them about their prospects this season is shifting quickly towards optimism...Especially when the club released footage of Bradley’s first training session with the team and they saw him in action; barking instructions, getting heavily involved and ramping up intensity.
“We are trying hard to re-establish training that is going to bring that sharpness, fitness and quickness back to a really good level,” Bradley said. “But I am not a drill sergeant.”
The main grumble among the Swansea City Supporters’ Trust wasn’t anything personal to do with Bradley, but was centered on how they’d been left out of the decision-making process, offending them enough to prompt them to put out a statement voicing their resentment about how the whole thing was handled.
“The Supporters’ Trust is disappointed to say that this managerial change has happened without consultation with our Supporter Director who has been unable to report back to the Trust board on the matter,” they said. “We have been aware of the speculation thanks to the constant press reports but at no stage have we been involved in the decision to remove Francesco [Guidolin] from his position nor in the appointment of his successor. We are also frustrated and angry that the club have allowed the speculation over the manager’s future to be played out in public and want to thank Francesco and his team for their time at Swansea, in particular the professional way in which Francesco has dealt with the recent speculation. We wish them all the best for the future.”
Guidolin, whose reign at Swansea lasted just 25 league games, would have had a strong sense that his number was up immediately after the final whistle in Swansea’s 2-1 loss against Liverpool on October 1st. Before the game, when asked if defeat could mean his exit, he responded, “Maybe. Could be. It could happen.” Two days later, on his 61st birthday, he was gone, replaced with immediate effect by Bradley.
The announcement of Bradley’s appointment, in general, was not greeted warmly by the British media, the conservative mossback element in its psyche flaring up when they learned that an American they knew little or nothing about had been chosen over a young British coach like Ryan Giggs. On the whole, the press recognised that a change was necessary, but the thinking behind the hiring of Bradley, and the reasoning for why Giggs should be denied relief from his managerial blue balls, was beyond the grasp of a lot of pundits like Chris Sutton and those heard on phone-in shows lamenting “another sad day for British football”.
Which calls to mind Bradley’s first bout with the press corps four days after his appointment, when one of the first questions he had to deal with was, “What do you think you have that Ryan Giggs doesn’t?” Jesus...what a thing to lay on someone in their first press conference. Bradley deflected the question well: “Well, you can’t answer it that way,” he said, half-smiling and shaking his head, before going on to talk about himself without mentioning Giggs’ name once.
A smart move, and in general Bradley handled the whole press conference very skillfully, demonstrating a keen awareness of the fact he’s a relative unknown in Britain by seizing the chance to talk openly about himself, his values and heritage, even offering up personal details that nobody asked for about his upbringing, and striking a fine balance between confidence and humility. An impressive display that dispelled much of the concern and doubt that would have still been lingering among supporters after his dull in-house interview with Swans TV two days beforehand, where we learned absolutely nothing about him at all.
One of the few dissenting voices, criticising the media recoil following Bradley’s appointment, has been Jamie Carragher, who used his Daily Mail column to make the point that the re-appointment of Steve McClaren at Derby was indicative of the ‘real problem’ young British managers are struggling against. The ugly truth that a club would rather put their faith in a 55-year-old who they fired a year and a half ago than take a gamble on anyone young or unproven.
“If ever there looked to be a good role for Ryan to start out in it was at a club such as Derby,” Carragher wrote. “It is a big club with potential that needs lifting back to where it once was. But they have gone for McClaren, who has been sacked from his last two roles. Steve is a good coach who I have worked with, but he is in the later stages of his career. If clubs keep turning to men such as him that is the barrier facing young aspiring coaches.”
Bradley, the first American to manage in the Premier League, has come to prove he has what it takes to hold his own in the bear pit, which is an important distinction to make from proving Americans can handle Premier League management, as Bradley has made it known his trip is a personal one, and has rejected the notion that he’s a pioneer of some kind. “I’m not an American manager, I’m a football manager,” he’s stressed, which may be true, but hasn’t stopped some people from making an issue of Bradley’s nationality anyway, and subscribing to the thinking that the only reason he was even on the shortlist was because the club’s owners (Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan) are also American.
Bradley, 58 years old and with over 30 years of managerial experience, would probably like to think his opportunity to manage in the Premier League has been earned by now, and he would also probably think himself a more qualified coach than Giggs, and so would a lot of other people.
A native of New Jersey, Bradley spent most of the eighties and half the nineties learning the ropes as a young coach on the college soccer scene long before the sport was fashionable in America. From Ohio University’s ‘Bobcats’, to the Virginia Cavaliers and Princeton Tigers before his first proper ‘big-time’ gig when the newly created team Chicago Fire appointed him as their first head coach in ’98.
There he won the double (MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup) in his first season and was named Coach of the Year. He won the Open Cup again two years later, and eventually resigned in 2002 to join the ‘MetroStars’ – now known as the New York Red Bulls – who he guided to the U.S. Open Cup final. He was sacked in ’05, after back-to-back defeats all but killed off their hopes of making the playoffs, but reaffirmed his credentials when he went to Los Angeles to manage a floundering Chivas USA and took them to a third-place finish in the Western Conference.
The second phase of Bradley’s career, when he started gaining recognition outside America, began when he became head coach of the United States National Team, which he managed from ’06 to 2011, winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup in ’07. His other notable high point with the national team was ending Spain’s 35-game unbeaten streak, and when he was replaced by Jurgen Klinsmann he was out of work for just two months before being made head coach of Egypt’s National Team. Admired for staying despite the violent revolution, he came close to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup before ultimately being sacked when the dream died on the vine.
He returned to club football in 2014, and fulfilled an ambition to manage in Europe when he took over at Norwegian side Stabæk Fotball. A year later he moved closer again to football’s epicenter when he was made manager of Le Havre AC in France’s Ligue 2, and came within a hair of getting them promoted, losing out on goal difference by just 1 goal.
Bradley has the appearance of a very intense bald Russian or a street cop, but comes across as understated and personable. Talking in a tone that’s casual on a surface level, he can’t disguise the forceful and measured undercurrent, like a serious staff sergeant trying to make light and casual small talk at a privates’ cocktail party. He talks about himself in a very humble way, yet there’s no denying his self-assurance. In his own mind he’s now exactly where he deserves to be.
“Maybe I’m stupid, but I think I’m a manager in and around the level of Pochettino, Klopp, Guardiola and Ancelotti,” Bradley said on American radio station SiriusXM earlier this year. “I’m not saying I’m better than these guys - I haven’t had those types of opportunities but I think that people who have played for me have always felt that the experience in the team was different, that training was different, that training was challenging, that there were a lot of things done to help them become better players and better people.”
Bradley is probably a better manager than most people give him credit for, and not quite as good as he thinks he is. If the target he’s been set this season is to secure Premier League status for 2017/18, there’s little doubt that he will achieve it. Just how much farther he can take them after that is anyone’s guess, but by then he will at least be on everyone’s radar, and if nothing else he’ll have had the opportunity.