With his first season as a club manager in Europe in the books, all in all, it was a very successful start to life at Stabaek for Bob Bradley.
The former U.S. national team coach became the first-ever American to manage a top-flight team in Europe when he took charge of the Norwegian minnows and in their first season since promotion to Norway’s Tippeligaen Bradley guided his team to a ninth place finish out of 16 teams.
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Not bad considering every pundit in the country had picked Stabaek to finish rock bottom at the start of the campaign. After a run to the Norwegian cup semifinal — they went out to eventual winners Molde who were also the runaway winners of Tippeligaen — and finishing a comfortable 15 points above the automatic relegation zone, s
Speaking to ProSoccerTalk on the phone from Norway, Bradley is pleased with how things panned out for his young squad.
“First and foremost it was important to stay up. I think we gained a lot of respect,” Bradley said. “We played good football, had a very positive approach and the young guys got better. In many cases I would run into coaches and even players from other teams and people were really positive about the way things went. There’s a good part to all that, but of course the fact that you still want to get better.”
The key to Stabaek’s success was hard work and overcoming adversity as a tough stretch arrived during the middle of the season. A summer break meant 56-year-old Bradley could make plans to kick on in the second half of the season, and Stabaek did just that.
“In this kind of situation you have to realize that nothing is going to be given to you, so you have to make sure everyone is on board,” Bradley explained. “After the first 10 games we had a critical period. We had some players we knew would be leaving, we were coming up to the break and had some tough results. Our goalkeeper Sayouba Mande went to the World Cup with the Ivory Coast and we had a young back up come in, so we had this tough stretch and I remember reminding the guys that ‘it’s not like we were a different team than we were a few weeks ago.’ A lot of people expected us to drop off at that point, but we managed it in a really good way. We added players in the summer window and actually had more experience in the second half of the season.”
After spending the last seven years in charge of the USA and Egypt, how has a return to club management been for Bradley, and how did he adapt to the differences in managing a side in Europe as opposed to MLS?
“There are parts of being in Europe that are different. In Norway with a 16 team league there are a traditional 30 fixtures and cup games. Then you don’t play on international breaks. That part works well and enjoyed that,” Bradley said. “Also, the work with the sporting director to constantly address needs in the team in the transfer windows. Obviously a lot of that is slightly different than MLS for example, but still the overall concept of how we work everyday and finding out how we get better, that part is not different. I’ve always enjoyed that part, even when I was with the U.S. and Egypt. Even with the national teams, that day to day work is somewhat easier at the club level, but it would still happen with the national team.”
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So, what’s next? Well, he has a two-year deal at Stabaek and still feels very strongly about the job he has to do with the club from Oslo’s western suburbs until his deal runs out at the end of the 2015 season.
“There was some attention from other clubs in different places across Europe,” Bradley said. “I’ve lost count this year of how many coaches from across Norway who have turned up this year to observe training. I have done some things with the Norwegian FA that have been well received. There was a seminar at the cup final and I was on a panel and I also did a training session. I came here [Stabaek] with the objective that this was a two-year project and I expect to be here next year. But, that’s football, and when there are opportunities for discussions you go into it and try to size up everything and the other side size you up too. I definitely have the feeling that there is still work to be done here.”
There have been opportunities to move on given his great first season with Stabaek, as Bradley confirmed reports that he had spoken with Swedish club IFK Goteborg but talks broke down as he couldn’t agree on his backroom staff.
“It was leaked from the other side, I’m not sure who or why, but it became big news here in Norway. At a certain point there was some discussions and during the process I was very strong how I felt things needed to be done in order to be successful,” Bradley explained. “That included the ability to bring one coach with me. Whether that be Tomak or Pierre, my ideas was to work with someone who knows what I want. Whenever I get the chance to speak with these clubs, I am very firm on how that part needs to be. That’s done with an understanding that in most of these situations you are not going to bring in a whole staff. I’ve had a great experience this season with Jan Peder Jalland who has been tremendous in everything here. But nonetheless I was firm that I needed to have the ability to bring one person and at a certain point I was told that wasn’t possible. So, that was the end of that discussion.”
Speaking to Stabaek’s Sporting Director Inge Andre Olsen during a recent trip to Norway for my Sportsworld exclusive, he spoke about Bradley moving on.
“I hope that will happen. That is the purpose of bringing Bob here,” Olsen said,. “All the knowledge he has, we need to take care of it, store it and use it every day. We know that Bob at one time will go to a bigger club, he is already on a different level than the Tippeligaen level. Way above it. We will be really happy if Bob can get a good club in Spain, France, Germany, England, then we can say we did a good job with Bob as well. That’s what Stabæk is about, we want to develop good players and good coaches.”
With Bradley looking increasingly likely to remain with Stabaek as things stand, plans are already being made for next season as the squad return to training just a few days into January. As for Bob, he is flying back to the U.S. to spend some quality time with his family before the 2015 season begins… but will still have his ear to the ground in Oslo.
“We start quickly, we start on January 5. It is a long preseason but that is the way it works in Norway. We had meetings with players and trained for 10 days after the season ended,” Bradley said. “Now everybody is off, I’ve still been around here everyday as we organize ourselves. Next week I am heading back to the USA and I am really excited to see the family, Michael and Amanda now have a little girl to go with Luca so we are excited to see our granddaughter. I am looking forward to seeing my Mom and Dad, my brothers and my daughters, so this part is really important. But while I am there I will stay in touch with the people at Stabaek to make sure we are on top of things.”