There is a sense this has been a long-time coming.
[ MORE: Bradley hired by Swans ]
Bob Bradley became the first-ever American head coach of a Premier League club on Monday — he signed a deal to take charge of Swansea City — and his compatriots and admirers in the tight-knit U.S. soccer community rejoiced.
Many know Bradley and have either worked with him or played for him and most fans across the U.S. Soccer community collectively said “Good for Bob!” when they heard the news.
With that in mind, ProSoccerTalk spoke to some current coaches in the U.S. about Bradley’s chance to fly the American flag in the Premier League with his first game for Swansea at Arsenal on Saturday Oct. 15 (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports).
[ MORE: Major moment for U.S. Soccer ]
ProSoccerTalk spoke to the current head coach of the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer, Jesse Marsch, about his close friend Bradley getting a gig in the Premier League.
“It was about time,” Marsch said. “He has gone through a lot of trials and tribulations with his time in Europe. I count his time in Egypt as part of that because ultimately he went to Egypt because he hoped that was going to be a pathway into getting a big time job in Europe, with his eye on England. His patience and perseverance has paid off with a big time opportunity with a club like Swansea.”
Marsch was Bradley’s assistant with the U.S. national team and also played for him at Chicago Fire, with the U.S. and at Princeton back in the day. Would Bradley have got an opportunity in the Premier League sooner if he wasn’t American? Will success for Bradley open up doors for other U.S. coaches in Europe’s big leagues in the future?
“I understand why the respect level for American coaches isn’t really there because the reality is that a lot of American coaches are still developing. Bob is the anomaly in that category. He is the outlier. He is the one that is different than all the rest,” Marsch said. “His experience is different, his intelligence levels and ultimately the way his teams played and the success he’s had is what makes him different than all other American coaches. This can potentially open the doors for other American coaches down the road. All of the people that are close to Bob, we all think that Bob has been slighted and overlooked many times because he’s an American. I think now that he has the opportunity, I think he will have the chance to take the American tag away and he will be able to show everybody what an incredible manager he is.”
ProSoccerTalk also spoke to the former captain of the U.S. national team, John Harkes, who was the captain of D.C. United when Bradley was an assistant manager from 1996-97.
The current head coach of the surging FC Cincinnati franchise in the USL — the third-tier team just got a crowd of over 30,000 for their shock playoff loss against the Charleston Battery on Sunday — Harkes revealed that during Cincinnati’s inaugural season he kept in touch with his fellow New Jersey native often to talk tactics and exchanges ideas with Bradley.
“My initial reaction was excitement for Bob,” Harkes explained. “Always the first thing you are going to think about is that he is an American and people are going to talk about having an American coach in the Premier League. It is pretty amazing. Overall, for me, the main focus is that Bob is a good coach. He has been a guy who has dedicated himself to coaching in different environments and going through adversity. He has prepared himself very well and I’m excited for him. I wish him all the best. I hope it works out really well and it will be a massive challenge, for sure, but I’m sure he is excited and his family is as well.”
Harkes was the first-ever American to play in the Premier League with Sheffield Wednesday during the 1992-93 season, so he knows all about the stigmas and what Bradley will be up against in England and Wales.
“Many years ago, and especially when I was trying to get through the English leagues as an American player it was like that. I do think the game has become more global. There are more opportunities and there may be a few that may look at an American coach and say ‘how did that happen and why is he here?’ I think the game is changing and the landscape has changed dramatically and that gives the opportunities to other nationalities to come in and coach,” Harkes said.
“We’ve seen a huge influx of foreign coaches come in to the Premier League in the last 10 to 15 years. They are going to look at this as another foreign coach but he deserves a shot. Why not? I don’t see why anyone would turn down a guy just because of his nationality. If he’s good enough to do the job, then give him the opportunity. There have been many who have taken on jobs and failed and many who have taken on jobs when everyone was against them and done well.”
What about those questioning Bradley’s lack of experience in the Premier League?
“When you’ve coached the national team and you’ve represented your country at a World Cup, that gives you a tremendous level of experience,” Harkes said. “From a club standpoint he’s done it as well, he’s traveled and been to different countries and competed. At the end of the day he has an opportunity here. The door has been opened for him and we always say we wish him all the best and hope it goes well. There is a lot of pressure which comes with the job but I think he has the right temperament to manage that.”
When it comes to how Swansea will play, both Marsch and Harkes have a good idea of how Bradley’s side will look once he is settled in.
“His teams will be very organized. He has developed a reputation for being tactically conservative. Over time he has changed a lot of his tactics so his teams are more pressing and they look for more opportunities to be aggressive in the attack. One of the concepts he always taught me was that ‘when you get the ball, how quickly can you get to the goal?’ That is something he has always tried to build in his team whether that is through attacking transition or any moments of possession,” Marsch explained. “He always wants his players thinking about getting to goal as quickly as possible. It will take some time for him to take his current player pool and mold them into what he wants them to be, but I think you will see them be very organized defensively but very direct and aggressive in the attack.”
Harkes added that he’s excited to see what Swansea becomes under Bradley and although there is plenty of tough work ahead — despite the initial excitement to be given this opportunity to pit his wits against Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Co. — everyone expects Bradley to be well prepared.
“You have to understand what the expectations are and what the philosophy is of the ownership group. I’m sure he’s had many of those conversations and he feels maybe he has an opportunity and a platform there to go out and do well. It’s all he can hope for,” Harkes said. “He is going to have the right people around him. He knows that is going to be a challenge. I’m sure he’s at a point where he has to get things sorted out first but I’m sure he’s already done that. He’s a very educated man and he prepares very well.”
Former U.S. national team midfielder Stuart Holden, who played for Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League, has also chimed in and rates Bradley highly.
Holden, now retired, played for Bradley with the U.S. national team and gave a glowing endorsement of his qualities as a coach.
Alexi Lalas has mentioned that being an American has “baggage” but that players and coaches in Europe are fine with that. Bradley is no different as he aims to continues his success in a new country and at the highest possible club level.
The overwhelming reaction from the U.S. soccer community is one of pride that one of their own has finally been recognized for his incredible achievements in the game, so far, after his coaching journey began way back in the NCAA in 1981. Bradley has been overlooked so many times for Premier League jobs in the past with West Brom, Aston Villa, Hull City, Fulham and others all linked with him.
Despite some initial negative vibes coming out of Swansea, which is perhaps inevitable given their slow start to the season and some fans still skeptical about the new American owners who took charge this summer, the sense on U.S. soil is that this opportunity is well earned for Bradley.
Jurgen Klinsmann, the man U.S. Soccer brought in as the new head coach after Bradley left in 2011, congratulated his predecessor on getting the Swansea job and a general feeling of elation was prevalent. There’s pretty much nothing but good vibes flowing across the pond for Bradley ahead of what many would say is the biggest challenge of his career.
The U.S. coaching fraternity he has become a paternal figure of will now hold its breath and watch on intently as they hope things go well for one of their own in the most competitive league on the planet.