EXCLUSIVE: Bob Bradley eyes trophies in Norway with Stabaek, as pivotal stretch arrives

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Bob Bradley continues to work miracles as the first American to manage a club in the top-flight of European soccer.

His latest Houdiniesque act has seen Bradley, 57, take tiny Stabaek into a title challenge and the Norwegian Cup semifinals with two months of the 2015 Tippeligaen season to go. The former U.S. national team head coach exceeded everyone’s expectations in his debut season in Norway last year, leading his newly promoted side to a midtable finish and a semifinal spot in the cup. In Year Two, despite a huge turnover of players at the club with little resources, he’s bettered it, considerably.

[ LONGFORM: NBC Sportsworld on Bradley – “That’s Football” ]

With eight games to go in the Tippeligaen, Stabaek sit in second place and eight points behind Norwegian powerhouse Rosenborg. Stabaek face “The Troll Boys” twice in the next 10 days away from home in both the league and the cup, with the first match coming up in the league in Trondheim on Sunday. Stabaek is no flash in the pan. They’ve been in second since Week 6 of the current season, while Rosenborg have been top for all but one week. These two teams are on opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of finances, infrastructure and historical success, but tiny Stabaek, led by the only non-Nordic head coach in Norway’s top-flight, are capable of punching well above their weight.

In an extended interview with ProSoccerTalk, the former head coach of the U.S. from 2007 to 2011 revealed how he has built this Stabaek side for second-season success, their mindset going into a crucial 10-day period and Bradley also speaks about his future in Norway as his contract is up at the end of the current campaign.

After traveling to Norway last summer to write this longform piece for NBC Sportsworld, it’s been fun to watch Stabaek’s progress under the guidance of the former Princeton, Chicago Fire, USA and Egyptian national team coach.

I, JPW, am asking the questions below, Bradley is answering them.

Enjoy.

JPW: Bob, as always, pleasure to speak with you. Can you sum up what this second season has been like so far in Norway? How has the team progressed?

Bob Bradley: We couldn’t bring anybody in, we had to sell. So we went through most of preseason with some of the returning guys from last year but working to build on that result we had last year, trying to have a picture of what the team would look like but also thinking and trying really hard to make sure people knew we were going to push and improve on that season. We had to bring in some players, especially with some of the attacking players we had lost. Eventually we sold Franck Boli to a club in China and for Stabaek we made good money back and right at the end of the last transfer window we were able to bring in some interesting attacking players, including Adama Diomande who is Norwegian and had parents from the Ivory Coast. He had been at other Norwegian clubs like Stromsgodset and somehow had gone from Dinamo Minsk then he needed a version of rebuilding his career a little bit. He knew how good, in a similar situation, it had been for Kofi Adu’s career, and we were able to get Dio here.

I watched him a lot on tape and my first impression was that in the group here he was a good teammate, he made very hard runs, worked very hard for the team, good teammate. As a striker he had a physical dimension, something we didn’t have last year. We didn’t know in pure goalscoring how it would work. We told Dio in the beginning that he had a lot of good qualities and we didn’t want to lose any of what he had going for him. But we wanted to try and add to the package and push him. His response was great. In 21 league matches he scored 17 goals. He has been fantastic when you combine him with the other two players we brought in. Ernest Asante who is a fast winger from Ghana who was at Start. We ended up getting Yassine El Ghanassy who is a project as well. Most recently in the summer Muhamed Keita, who is a similar story to Dio. But we gave our team a different look. More athletic, more dangerous. We scored some great goals. Of course when you add it all up, people were again talking about our football, able to press a little bit higher. All this kind of stuff. The only thing that then happened is we lost Diomande to Hull.

How big of a blow was it to lose your top scorer, Diomande, right at the end of the transfer window to Hull City?

We have eight matches left, we are in second place and are in the semifinals of the cup. On one hand I certainly always understood that when I came to Stabaek the club, financially, had hit rock bottom and the work we had to do had to help the club rebuild financially. You can always get a mix between getting good football, results and good players, and then when all that happens it also means the possibility of getting players to the point where they are attractive to other clubs and bringing money back in. It all goes hand in hand. But to lose an important player like that is also hard for the team. It means that our challenge going forward is greater. He missed the game with Odd that we lost 2-1 last week, he had an injury at the end of the Sandefjord game so we already started working last week how we play without him. Lot of the same football ideas and how it’s not one guys responsibility but more a collective. Trying to be a little more mobile. We lost the physical presence but we still have some interesting attacking players.

Run me through how the second season has gone, how have you managed to continue the upward curve and challenge for a title just a year after returning to the top-flight?

The challenge for us now is on September 13 in Trondheim against Rosenborg. They are eight points ahead. To make this interesting we have to win. Then 10 days later we go back to Trondheim for the semifinal of the cup. There has been a lot of work this week both on the field and with video, and also just some meetings with the team to make sure everyone understands we are excited for Dio and proud of what he was able to do with us. But people are writing us off, they’ve done it before. It is our job to try and make things better and compete at a better level and make sure everyone understands if we go on the field and play our football, push games, then every single time we step on the field we can always win. Another challenge, it is not easy sometimes when a part of the message you are spreading with the players from the beginning… I said to this group after the end of preseason when we had finally brought in Dio and Asante and El Ghanassy, I said to our team ‘I think we have the chance to do something special this year. There is real talent. The personality of the team is different.’ We are more athletic than last year and to build something that was going in a strong way, part of that message every day was ‘how far can we go?’ Then when you get to a moment like this, then obviously the long-term good of the club, that doesn’t necessary go hand-in-hand with the message we’ve been trying to build on every day this season. That’s a challenge. You have to look at these players and make sure they understand that people have written us off before and I don’t buy it. They don’t see the way the work every day and the way we work with each other and the way we push the football. This is the next goal, this is the challenge.

I remember being in Trondheim and watching your side win at Rosenborg last year. How difficult will those two games (league game on Sept. 13 and cup semi on Sept. 23) be and this is the pivotal moment in your two-seasons in Norway, right?

When you win and you move forward as a team it gets exciting because you get bigger games. For us, within 10 days to play Rosenborg twice, and they’re having a fantastic season, they have been very strong and very good going forward. We lost a very disappointing 3-2 game against them at home earlier in the year when we went up 2-0. Somewhere around 35 minutes they got a corner, the referee ends up giving a PK on a soft handball. They score right before half, so it’s 2-2. Second half we turn the ball over and they score on the counter so its 3-2, then they have a man sent off and we push but lose 3-2. That was a very good game. We were very disappointed with ourselves. What happened that day, for 20 or 25 minutes we pushed the game pretty hard but when we went up 2-0, in some ways we backed off a little bit and that gave them a push and they’re a good team, so when they’re behind they are also going to respond. That led to them being in our end a little bit more… we remember that game. It was a game that we felt we didn’t finish off. We first get the chance to go there in the league and as I mentioned, when you’re eight points back with eight games to play, to give yourselves a chance you have to win. A tie does no good in the battle with Rosenborg. Obviously a point in terms of still getting a medal at the end of the year could come in handy but our mentality from the first game is to really go up there and try to throw everything we have at them and come away with three points. Then based on how that game goes we can look closely at everything and figure out 10 days later what is our best way for the cup.

Former USMNT head coach Bradley is making quite a name for himself in Norway.
Former USMNT head coach Bradley is making quite a name for himself in Norway.

With eight games to go you are in the Europa League spot. How big would that be for the club, to qualify for Europe?

For us now, we need to finish this season in a strong way. The starting points would be to win the league and to win the cup but the way things work in Europe is that the possibility of still getting a medal and still qualifying for the Europa League qualification, there is still a lot to play for at the end of the year. Even if you’re not in range for the Championship. But that is one step at a time. First and foremost, for us it’s been a week of dealing with things with Dio. Late on Monday someone in the club said ‘looks like you’ll keep everybody’ and I said ‘we’ll see’ because obviously the window in England shut a day later. We never heard anything from Hull until Tuesday morning, this thing came at the last second and I’ve said many times, there are different factors that need to be considered. Smaller clubs that rely on selling players, that means that at the end of windows there is usually a price. We have had some conversations with others clubs and they were not in the ballpark of what we had said. Then when Hull came in, it was the case. As I said before, in the two years here, first year everyone predicted we would go down, a team that came up from the second league and we finished in midtable and made the semifinals of the cup.

From the first half of the season last year to the second half of the season the team changed tremendously because we sold Morten Thorsby to Heerenveen last year and we lost Adu after a six month loan and went back to Brugge and then on to Malmo where he is playing in the UEFA Champions League. The second half of the year we had to come up with some new ideas. Andrew Jacobson was here on loan, Magne Hoseth came for the second half of the season. We had an interesting a different look in the second half of the season. At the end of the year, for a number of reasons, if you look at the team who started the games in the second half of the season, when we started this year seven or eight of those guys were not here. Fredrik Brustad and Franck Boli weren’t here and those two guys were our top goalscorers from last season. When we were in Portland in preseason and people saw us play and said ‘boy, you guys play good football’ but we were a young team and didn’t really have strikers at that time. But then we added some players and we’ve seen great development from a few others from last summer, a young Norwegian left back Birger Melling. He had come through Viking and Middlesbrough as a young player. He plays left back and when we go behind sometimes we push him forward to left wing and he has just been called into Norway’s U-21 squad. 

The fact is that you take Morten Thorsby and Franck Boli, then we sold the young midfielder Anders Trondsen to Sarpsborg and now Dio, we have sold four players in the last year and I think if you add all that up it is over $5 million. For Stabaek that is a big deal. That doesn’t always help in the fight for trophies so again you have to focus everybody on the job in hand. Everybody believes we can still do this.

How difficult is it to be creative with new signings and for a club like Stabaek to cast the net far and wide? 

Stabaek is a small club. Franck Boli, Luk Kassi and Mande Sayouba all are young players from the Ivory Coast that were here before I arrived and were part of a relationship with an academy in the Ivory Coast. Some of the other players are just in different situations. We have to be creative. Jan Peder Jalland and I certainly look at a lot of video. Inge Andre Olsen bring us names and does a magnificent job working with agents. We have to look in a lot of directions and be creative about how to bring players here because compared to most clubs our resources are not too great.

Crunch time has arrived for Bradley and his Stabaek squad.
Crunch time has arrived for Bradley and his Stabaek squad.

With Diomande leaving for Hull, is that the harsh reality the club faces? In the past Sporting director Inge Olsen told me that he hopes the players and coaches like you develop and then move onto bigger and better things. Are people taking notice of Stabaek?

I mentioned how Dio saw the way how things worked for Adu. I think that the word has gotten out a little bit. People see the way we play, have found out about the way we train. They see that guys have improved. We still  have an awful lot of games were players from opposing teams, after the game they say ‘I really like the way you guys play football.’ So I think there’s a positive vibe about the way we work. The players here, when they talk with other players they speak in a good way. There have been so many examples [of players moving onto bigger leagues] and when these guys now step up a level and improve, people see that and it will also help the word get out. As I told you last year we have a lot of scouts at every game and they see what’s going on in terms of the football. I will run into scouts and they say they enjoy watching the team and how certain guys have improved. So those are good things. When the word spreads in those areas that can help in terms of attracting other players. That doesn’t mean you now have the money to spend, we are still limited in terms of what we can spend, even with the money we’ve made.

The money gets used in other ways, there is already talk about one of the fields in the back that we use with the academy as well, it needs a new artificial surface. When the money comes in from Hull that will be one of the first things on the list. In a small club the money gets spread a lot of ways. Of course when the club financially had some trouble there is also some debt to paid off. Unfortunately it’s not like all of that money gets put back into player acquisition but it is part of the way it works. The football, developing players, helping the club rebuild itself where the word about the club, finances and everything has improved. Those of us who have been part of this project in the past two years feel good about that. But that doesn’t make everything perfect. There is still the part where you are competing for trophies and we want to feel like you have just as good a chance as everybody else. In this window for example, Rosenborg added a number of players and they are clearly in a position to do that. Everybody in Norway knows that financially Rosenborg is on one end and Stabaek is on the other. Again, I don’t say any of that as a complaint because I knew all of this before I got here. I’m not complaining about it. I knew.

With Molde and Rosenborg both qualifying for the Europa League group stage and the Norwegian national team doing well, what does that mean for Tippeligaen? Is the level rising?

It says that Rosenborg and Molde are both good teams and both played well and now can hopefully do well in the group stage. I think the potential in Norwegian football is great. Obviously everyone knows about Martin Odegaard but there are other talented young players and the federation they are trying to make sure the national team program here has a common philosophy. We have all of the national team coaches here watching our games and those of our younger teams. There is a lot going on in Norwegian football and like any place, you try to make the need for each club to do stuff at the highest level possible. Talent is being developed and pushed. That is no different than a small country like Norway or a big country like the United States.

Bob, what about your own situation: you are coming towards the end of your two-year project. Have there been talks about a new contract?

My contract is up at the end of the year. There has been way too much talk about it. It’s a daily topic over here in the media. We are at the start of a discussion here. Inge has said publicly over and over that they’ve seen the work here over the last year-and-a-half and he feels very strongly about that it is at the highest level and there needs to be an opportunity at a higher league. But you never know when and if and how that happens. When people have asked, I have simply said right now my focus is on this season and this group of players. That is the way I’ve always worked. When we get to the end of the year we will size up everything and figure it out.

Finally, what would winning a piece of silverware mean to you?

We feel very good with the way we’ve worked and the football we’ve played. The idea that we could top off all of that with a trophy this year, that would be an incredible achievement for everybody involved in this club in the last two years. Of course, we are not there yet. The idea that in both cases making it happen goes through Trondheim on a year when Rosenborg has been excellent, that’s quite a challenge. We’ve earned the right to go there and believe  in what we’re doing. Now, it’s up to us.

Crystal Palace – Everton: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Crystal Palace – Everton: It’s a battle of perfect teams on Saturday when Everton visits Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park (Watch live at 10 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

The Eagles have knocked off Southampton and Manchester United to open their 2020-21 Premier League season while Everton has handled Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

Two legends of the game will be at the helm when Roy Hodgson and Carlo Ancelotti match wits on Saturday. Can the former continue to coax unexpected results of his Eagles against the strengthened and powerful Toffees?


Team news: Crystal Palace – Everton (INJURY REPORT)

James Tomkins (thigh), Nathan Ferguson (knee), Patrick van Aanholt (shoulder), Christian Benteke (ankle), Gary Cahill (thigh) and Jairo Riedewald (undisclosed) are all set to miss out for Roy Hodgson’s Eagles.

Fabian Delph returned for the midweek League Cup game but Everton won’t have Jarrad Branthwaite (ankle), Mason Holgate (ankle), Cenk Tosun (knee), and Jean-Philippe Gbamin (calf).


What they’re saying

Roy Hodgson on how the Eagles won (again) at Old Trafford: “We made certain and kept them playing in front of us and they could not profit from those spaces they are skillful enough to find. And when we had the ball I thought we looked very dangerous and threatening so I don’t think it was a big surprise that we scored three.”

Carlo Ancelotti after Jordan Pickford made a gaffe against Fleetwood Town: “I think the first goal was not an individual mistake because we passed the ball back to Jordan, it was a really difficult ball and we could behave differently. Of course you have to improve there. We want to build up from the back, but when there’s no risk. If it’s risky it’s no good because we can concede a goal like we did. It can be a good lesson for the future. I didn’t speak to him and, as I said, I have to speak with players that were involved when we build-up.Jordan was not the only one.”

Jordan Pickford
FLEETWOOD, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 23: Jordan Pickford of Everton is challenged by Josh Morris of Fleetwood Town (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images).

Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Palace is an underdog despite beating United and it’s perhaps a bit surprising to see them at +275 with a draw at +220. An Everton win delivers +110.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Crystal Palace – Everton prediction

Hodgson has coaxed some tremendous midfield performances out of James McArthur, James McCarthy, and Luka Milivojevic in his tenure at Palace but out-performing Abdoulaye Doucoure, Allan, and Andre Gomes is a big ask even for that steely crew. James Rodriguez is in incredible form but so is Wilfried Zaha. Couldn’t this one go either way? Yes, but if Everton’s moving in the direction many believe it will be able to take all three points in a composed 2-1 win.


How to watch Crystal Palace – Everton stream and start time

Kickoff: 10 am ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Brighton – Manchester United: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

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Brighton – Manchester United: Impressive Brighton and Hove Albion hopes to continue Manchester United’s winless league season when the Red Devils visit the Amex Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

It will be the first two meetings in several days, as Brighton’s win at Preston North End and United’s takedown of Luton Town set up a League Cup fourth round date at the Amex.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

United handled Brighton well last season, winning 3-1 and 3-0, so this will be a great test at the acumen of both managers: Graham Potter in his second full season with the Seagulls and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer attempting to prove his doubters wrong.


Team news: Brighton – Manchester United (INJURY REPORT)

The Seagulls will not have Yves Bissouma, who was suspended three matches for his no-look, studs-up kick into the face of Newcastle defender Jamal Lewis. Brighton manager Graham Potter revealed that the long-term recovery of Jose Izquierdo is about two weeks away from being complete.

Manchester United will be without Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones.


What they’re saying

Potter on the League Cup win setting up consecutive Man United tests: “It’s a big week for us with those two matches and then Everton before the international break. That’s what we wanted because we wanted to go through in this competition. Players always want to play and the best thing for them is to be out on the field on nights like tonight to keep everyone in the group ready for when they’re needed. You saw that today. There was a willingness to run and fight for the team and get the result and that’s why I’m very happy.”

United’s Solskjaer after goalkeeper Dean Henderson starred on his senior debut: “The goalkeeping department and training level has been really high, of course, you can see driven and dedicated people and I’ve enjoyed watching them. Dean in goal, good save, you can see he’s having to concentrate and it’s a different job to what he’s done a few times last season and he came up with the save when he had to.”

League Cup results
LUTON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 22: Dean Henderson of Manchester United saves a shot at Kenilworth Road (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Brighton is +375 to win at home, while a draw nets the wagerer +260. Manchester United is expected to win and thusly -130 to take all three points.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Brighton – Manchester United prediction

The only thing keeping us from pegging a very impressive Brighton team to collect another win is the shadow cast by Manchester United’s 2019-20 season (and long tradition of winning). United was rusty in its loss to Crystal Palace and had to work hard to defeat Luton Town in the League Cup. If that rust was there last week, how do the legs feel after a week? Anyway, the Red Devils still have Bruno Fernandes and it just doesn’t seem like this team starts 0-2 (or even 0-1-1). I grimace as I write 2-1 to Manchester United.


How to watch Brighton – Manchester United stream and start time

Kickoff: 7:30 am ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Lampard gushes after Thiago Silva debut, Havertz hat trick

Frank Lampard reaction
Photo by ALASTAIR GRANT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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Chelsea rebounded from its weekend loss to Liverpool by getting the good vibes going through a number of new faces Wednesday in a League Cup blowout of Barnsley.

Kai Havertz scored three times, Ben Chilwell came off the bench to chip in an assist on debut, and Thiago Silva went 60 minutes in his first match in a Chelsea shirt as the Blues pounded the Championship side 6-0.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

We’ll start with the longtime PSG defender, who had four clearances, an interception, and a tackle while winning both of his duels.

He passed at 94 percent including six-of-seven long balls. Even accounting for the competition, that’s solid.

Lampard called Silva’s outing “a perfect 60 minutes” via Football.London:

“He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others,” Lampard said. “He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight. Yes, I am very very pleased with Thiago. It is what I expected of a player of his level but it is very refreshing to have him here at the club.”

ProSoccerTalk talked about Chelsea’s need for a leader at the back during this week’s “Unfiltered,” and Lampard has clearly been waiting for someone like Silva.

As for Havertz, you only needed the box score to see his influence on the game.

Two of Havertz’s three goals were assisted by Tammy Abraham and a third from Mason Mount.

The German phenom also racked up five tackles and two key passes against Barnsley.

“He makes the recovery tackle for Ross (Barkley)’s goal, but then to also just have some freedom on the ball in central areas roaming behind Tammy,” Lampard said. “The combinations he had with Tammy, the way he grew into the game and had confidence and the three goals. It was a great night for Kai and the first of many for him.”

Havertz scored seven braces for Bayer Leverkusen, but this was his first hat trick. Barnsley may play in the second tier, but they had allowed three goals in their last four games.

Whoops.

Actors Reynolds, McElhenney bid to invest in Wrexham AFC

Wrexham AFC
Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images and Jim Spellman/WireImage
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“The Gang Buys a Football Team?”

“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” actor Rob McElhenney and “Deadpool” star Ryan Reynolds are said to be in talks to buy National League side Wrexham AFC, reports The Guardian.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

The Welsh club, nicknamed the Red Dragons, was founded in 1864 and made it to the European Cup Winners’ Cup eight times between 1972-96.

They’ve since been relegated out of the Football League, dipping out of League Two in 2008.

McElhenney and Reynolds have bid to take over the club, and the Wrexham Supporters Trust says 97.5 percent of their members voted to allow the actors to propose their vision for the club before a second vote.

From wst.org.uk:

As a result, talks with the proposed bidders will now continue and we are in a position to confirm the two people interested in investing in Wrexham AFC.

Rob McElhenney is an American actor, director, producer and screenwriter, best known as the creator of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Ryan Reynolds is an award-winning Canadian actor, writer, producer and business entrepreneur whose credits include Marvel’s Deadpool.

It’s gotta get McElhenney’s goat that Reynolds gets the “award-winning” adjective added to his name.

Either way, this is definitely an intriguing club for investment and the potential addition of Reynolds and McElhenney to the fray would only increase the interest in Wrexham AFC.

Deadpool and Mac would be quite a combo in the transfer market.