Bradley works miracle, leads Stabaek to European qualification

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Bob Bradly is a miracle worker. And that is probably an understatement.

On Sunday he led Norwegian minnows Stabaek to European qualification, as De blaa beat Start 3-2 to guarantee at least a third-placed finish in the Norwegian top-flight.

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Reaching the Europa League is an incredible achievement for Bradley and his talented backroom staff — which include Tomasz Kaczmarek and Jan Peder Jalland as coaches and sporting director Andre Inge Olsen — given the limited resources available to him at Stabaek and with his contract up in the next few weeks, it caps off a wonderful two years since he left the Egyptian national team and arrived as the first American coach to ever manage in a top-flight league in Europe.

Bradley, 57, told PST in September that he isn’t sure what the future holds and despite Stabaek holding talks with him about a new deal, it is widely believed the former U.S. national team head coach will now move on to his next challenge. He has been linked with many jobs in Norway, England, Germany and France in recent months, the most intriguing of which seems to be Le Harve in Ligue 2. However things pan out, Bradley has helped the profile of American coaches grow in Europe as his exploits in Norway have not gone unnoticed.

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ICYMI, last summer I took a trip to Norway and followed Bradley and his team around at their modest home at Nadderud Stadion as well as on a road trip to play Norwegian powerhouses Rosenborg. Read all about that here on NBC SportsWorld. In Norway he has been lauded as the “greatest manager there has ever been” in the top-flight as well as often appearing on national TV, speaking at national coaching conferences and becoming a benchmark for managing at a time when the nation has seen an upsurge in success both domestically and with the national team.

Heading into their final game of the season the situation is simple for Stabaek. If they beat Bodø/Glimt and Stromsgodset lose or draw against Vålerenga, they will finish in second place and grab the silver medal as the runners up. When it comes to European qualification, finishing in second spot also has a big advantage over finishing in third. Whoever finishes second in the Tippeligaen qualifies for the second round of Europa League qualifying for the 2016-17 season, while the third place team has to start in the first round of qualifying.

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Not much of a difference, but still, a second place finish means only three home and home ties would have to be won to reach the group stages of the Europa League instead of four if Stabaek was to finish in third. Stabaek last qualified for the Europa League in three successive years from 2009-13 but lost in the qualifying rounds on each occasion. The closest they came to making the group stage was in 2009-10 when they lost to Spanish giants Valencia 7-1 on aggregate in the play-off round. The Baerum side also reached the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League in the same season but that run of three-straight runs to Europe came amid a huge cash injection into the squad which was unsustainable and ultimately led to Stabaek almost going bankrupt, plus their eventual relegation to the second-tier of Norwegian soccer.

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Bradley’s achievements over the past few years usurp those previous qualifications to Europe Stabaek had. No doubt. The New Jersey native took charge of the club on a shoestring budget in early 2014 just after they had been promoted back to Tippeligaen and in each of the last two years Stabaek have been tipped for relegation. Under Bradley’s stewardship they finished an impressive ninth last season — despite losing several players to bigger clubs and having to get creative with the transfer market with extremely limited resources — after leading the way in the early months. This season they overcame a complete roster overhaul, and endured similar issues with losing key players mid-season, to fight tooth and nail with giants Rosenborg for the title as well as reaching the semifinal of the Norwegian cup in both campaigns.

The first-ever American to coach in a European top-flight has exceeded all expectations and he should be lauded and applauded for doing so. Whether he stays with Stabaek or moves onto the next challenge, we will have to wait and see. Whatever happens, Bradley’s achievements at Stabaek have been nothing short of astounding.