On Tuesday I woke up to some pretty amazing news, starting with the fact that Francesco Guidolin had been sacked by floundering Swansea City. That was part one of the good news. Part two was his replacement, Bob Bradley. Initially I was ecstatic but I knew what was coming: all the American hate. Every pundit out there and many supporters were going to laugh and say that Bradley is unqualified, with no facts to back up their statement. A prime example is Chris Sutton of BBC Sport, who asked, “Is Bob Bradley better qualified than Steve Bruce and Ryan Giggs to get this job? I don’t think so.”
Okay, Chris, why isn’t he?
Let’s start with Steve Bruce, who has been relegated twice and has a career win mark of about 38 percent. He is known for playing an ugly style and is relatively poor in the transfer market, especially in recent times, with the signing of Abel Hernandez at Hull a clear example. This is also a man who said Sunderland sacked him because he is a Newcastle supporter, not because the club was 16th and had just lost to bottom-dwellers Wigan Athletic at home.
The next man mentioned was Ryan Giggs, whom we can’t judge based on his mere four games as Manchester United manager; it would be unfair to him. What we can fairly say, though, is that if you think hiring Bob Bradley was a risk, then hiring Ryan Giggs is even more of a risk.
Bruce and Giggs both are British, so it makes sense that folks would want a homegrown talent to fill the void at Swansea. But maybe the backlash against Bradley is because people are scared that he not only can do the job, but can do it better.
Bradley has been a manager or assistant manager for roughly 35 years, dating to 1981. From 1998 to 2006 he managed in the MLS and won three trophies in that time. He then became manager of the USA Men’s National Team and quickly recovered from the poor showing the squad had at the 2006 World Cup to win the 2007 Gold Cup. Arguably his greatest feat as USMNT coach, however, came two years later in the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa. At this tournament, the U.S. made it all the way to the final, beating the top-ranked team in the world at the time, Spain. The 1-0 victory ended Spain’s 35-game unbeaten streak and 15-game winning streak. In the final, the Americans held a 2-0 lead over Brazil, and even though they lost 3-2 it was some of the best and most inspiring football the United States has ever played.
Bradley then took Team USA into the 2010 World Cup against England, Slovenia and Algeria. In the opener against England, the consensus was Team USA would be completely overmatched. After Steven Gerrard’s goal four minutes in it, looked like they were. However, the Americans stuck to their game plan and played well, the sides were nearly even on possession and England had just five more shots than Team USA. Yes, it took a horrific error from Rob Green for the Americans to draw level, and England wasn’t as clinical as usual. But neither were the U.S. as Jozy Altidore missed a golden chance in the second half to give us the lead.
In the second game, Slovenia capitalized on the space Team USA left between the midfield and defense to take a 2-0 halftime lead. But yet again, they weren’t clinical and missed many opportunities in the first half. The second half came and so did changes, something Bradley is known for. The USA switched from a 4-2-2-2 with Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan pushed high and wide as narrow wingers into a 4-1-2-3, with Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber coming on for Jose Torres and Robbie Findley. Viewers were confused: A holding mid for a striker when trailing by two goals? But Bradley knew that although his group needed a goal, it also needed to make sure it didn’t concede again. The change was a masterstroke. It cut off that space with Edu, yet still invited Slovenia forward, creating the gaps for Dempsey, Donovan, Feilhaber and Michael Bradley to operate in. This was how the USA found the net.
In the 48th minute, Jay Demerit and Steve Cherundolo passed the ball back and forth from right half channel to right wide channel. Altidore checked from deep during the exchange in the space that had been created, pulling out Slovenia’s left back and giving Donovan the opportunity to run in behind Bostjan Cesar. Cherundolo picked up his head and played a beautiful ball, Cesar’s last ditch effort wasn’t enough, Donovan was through and Slovenia couldn’t recover as Donovan fired a rocket into the roof of the net and over Samir Handanovic’s head. Back in the game, the Americans kept piling on the pressure and got the equalizer in the 82nd minute. Dempsey checked all the way back to the defense to receive the ball in the center channel and played it out wide to Donovan in the right channel. Donovan picked up his head and noticed forward Herculez Gomez – who subbed on for center back Oguchi Onyewu just two minutes earlier – had made a forward run, pulling one center back and isolating Altidore for a 1-on-1 against Slovenia’s center half. Altidore nodded the ball down to Michael Bradley, who was in acres of space after Slovenia’s midfield had switched off due to Donovan and Dempsey both being around the halfway line. The coach’s son finished it, and the US were finally level.
The U.S. knew what was at stake against Algeria: Win the match, win the group. In the 20th minute, Dempsey had a goal disallowed for offside, although replays showed otherwise. The USA piled it on from there with 10 attempts on target, but Algeria’s Rais M’Bohli stood on his head between the sticks. He was also fortunate as Altidore missed a sitter 36 minutes in, Algeria started to sit in, so the attacking changes came as Bradley adjusted. He again tried the 4-1-2-3 again as Feilhaber replaced Gomez at halftime, then reverted back to the 4-2-2-2 nearly 20 minutes on as Edson Buddle replaced Edu. With 80 minutes gone, DaMarcus Beasley came on for Bornstein to provide more width and speed out wide, but despite chance after chance, the US just couldn’t break through – until the first minute of stoppage time.
Tim Howard saved a backpost header and threw it out to Donovan to launch the most historical counter attack in US football history. In a 4-vs.-2 set-up, Donovan received the ball and attacked the space, forcing the Algerian defenders to play on their heels and make a decision. When they stepped, Donovan played it wide to Altidore, who cut it across the face of goal. M’Bohli was there to deny Dempsey yet again but could do nothing about Donovan, who trailed the play and tapped the rebound into the net.
Although Team USA ultimately lost to Ghana in the round of 16, the 2010 World Cup was truly the best and most exciting football the USMNT has ever played, and Bradley was a big reason why. He didn’t just get the most out of Dempsey and Donovan; he maximized the contributions of his son Michael, Edu, Cherundolo, Feilhaber, Torres, Findley, Ricardo Clark and many other players along the way. And his tactical changes illustrated that he could match strategy with the best coaches in the world.
From 2011 to 2014, Bradley managed the Egyptian national team under circumstances that would discourage many of his peers. The country was in revolution in 2011, leading to the suspension of the Egyptian Premier League after the Port Said Stadium riot. Not only was Bradley managing the team, but doing well; Egypt was on the verge of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, he had given the people hope to grasp onto and earned the nickname American Pharaoh. However, Bradley again was done in by his nemesis Ghana in the two-leg qualifier for the 2014 World Cup. Although he was dismissed following their elimination, the people of Egypt will never forget what he did for the country when they needed it most.
Although Bradley had shown – twice – that he could get national teams to overachieve, critics still pointed to his lack of experience leading a top-flight club. From Egypt, Bradley moved to Stabaek of the Norwegian Tippeligaen, making him the first American to manage in a top European league, where he again defied the odds, guiding Stabaek to the Europa League, After a year with Stabaek, Bradley moved to France’s Ligue 2 to manage Le Havre and in one season just barely missed out on promotion.
Bradley believed he would need another season in France to manage in one of Europe’s top five leagues but achieved another first for American managers when he was appointed by Swansea City, winless in six matches since beating Burnley in its opener. As the BPL’s first American manager, he undoubtedly will be second-guessed by those like Sutton who believe others are “better qualified.” The truth is that Sutton and other British pundits and managers are terrified. They are scared of Bradley doing well, because if he does, it opens the door for all of America to manage in England and creates even more competition for Premier League jobs. That is one of the biggest problems in management in English football. Instead of embracing competition to improve, they try to avoid it.
By Andrew Bernucca, Guest Writer for TFN on 08/10/2016 at 13:43
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Bernxcca