Bob Bradley’s debut ends in defeat but plenty of positives

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LONDON — All eyes were on Bob Bradley on Saturday as he became the first-ever American to coach in the Premier League.

From an entertainment standpoint, his PL debut didn’t disappoint.

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Dressed all in black and pacing along the edge of his technical area throughout the encounter Bradley, 58, has waited his entire career for his chance in one of Europe’s big league. Within 33 minutes he must have been cursing his luck.

Two sloppy defensive mistakes handed Theo Walcott two gift-wrapped goals but then just before half time Gylfi Sigurdsson curled home a beauty. 2-1. Game on. Bradley punched the air in delight. In the second half Swansea continued to give up easy chances as a moment of magic from Mesut Ozil made it 3-1. Swansea weren’t done. Far from it.

Bradley’s side pulled one back through Borja Baston and when Granit Xhaka was sent off for scything down Barrow, the Swans smelt blood. It was an exhausting encounter and try as they might Swansea couldn’t break through Arsenal and nick an equalizer. In truth it appeared more likely that Arsenal would grab another on the break as Walcott hit the inside of the post and clipped the bar at the end of two lethal counters.

The New Jersey native admitted afterwards that there’s plenty to work on, especially defensively, if the Swans are to drag themselves up the table and away from the relegation zone.

“That was an exciting game but obviously it didn’t finish the way we wanted. I didn’t like our start,” Bradley said. “I thought we were slow to step out, gave them too much space. That’s a team that if you let them pull you around you feel like there’s always big spaces and they play through the lines. That part of the game I didn’t like. That coincided with from our end, two poor goals.”

What about the positives?

“Somewhere in there we started to play with more confidence. The tempo picked up, we started to close down a little bit more. We saw moments when we could press and win the ball higher. You get to 2-1 at half, that’s pretty positive…. We kept at it,” Bradley continued. “At the end we are disappointed but I think the feeling among the players is that we had a very good week of training and now if we can take the starting points we saw today and keep going 30 more times then there’s a chance to become a really good team.”

Speaking to some of Swansea’s fans outside the stadium before the game, there was a real sense of positivity brewing about Bradley’s arrival.

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Fans agreed that it was the right time for Francesco Guidolin to be replaced and despite some initial unrest about Bradley’s arrival, most had no real issues with the new majority American owners (Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan) plumping for one of their countrymen to lead the team.

“No matter what, Swansea’s fans will back Bradley.”

That was the main message lifelong Swansea fans Mark Richards wanted to get across as he stood outside in the wonderful autumn sunshine in north London before the game.

“This American guy has probably come in off the back of the new owners and from my understanding he sounds like a disciplinarian,” Richards said. “I expect him to get the players training harder than Guidolin did and I expect a result out of them. At the end of the season, if he’s still got his job, he’s done his job for us.”

ProSoccerTalk asked Bradley about the reaction he received from the fans during the game as they drove their team on late on as they pushed hard for an equalizer.

“In the short time I’ve been at Swansea I know how special the ‘Jack Army’ is and the connection between those fans and the community. To look into that part of the stadium and see those people, I would expect that they’re not satisfied but maybe, like me, they saw a few things today that makes them say ‘alright, we like what we see,'” Bradley said. “That doesn’t mean that you get ahead of yourselves. The work you do to become a good team, no matter the league, is real. It is hard work and you try to convince the players every day that the reason most teams don’t become good is that they are not capable of real work week in and week out to improve in so many areas. I like this group. It has been really nice to come in and see the response.”

The response was positive but what are the expectations for Bradley’s team from the fans? Simple: stay in the Premier League.

“Just to keep us up and push for midtable. We’re a better side than where we are at the moment, by far. We’ve proved that in a few performances under Guidolin but not for a whole 90 minutes,” Richards said.

Swansea fans Alun Jones and his son stood outside the Emirates before the game and he admitted he had been impressed by Bradley’s forthright press conferences in his early days as Swansea boss, plus the snippets of training sessions Swansea’s media team have been streaming live online.

“He might make us a bit more solid, maybe some more grit to the team,” Jones said. “I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully he can bring us some success, keep us in the Premier League. That is all that matters. To play good football and stay up, that’s the key thing.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15: Neil Taylor of Swansea City (C) takes a throw in while Bob Bradley, Manager of Swansea City (R) looks on during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Swansea City at Emirates Stadium on October 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

 

Amid all of this talk of playing well and staying up, there were plenty of emotions off the pitch for Bradley on Saturday too.

Starting his coaching career in the NCAA in the 1980s, he’s now worked his way up to the most watched and most competitive league on the planet. As he looked around the Emirates Stadium before kick off, he was drinking the atmosphere in. Bradley admitted it was a proud moment for him to arrive in the PL.

“It’s not like I spend all day thinking about it but it was a proud moment to walk out there today. I don’t get ahead of myself,” Bradley said. “I was also trying to figure out the sections in the stadiums because over the years I’ve been able to look around and find my wife and my daughters but I couldn’t figure out what section was which so I couldn’t find them today.”

Even if he couldn’t find his family, the “Jack Army” in the far corner kept on his side and there’s a steady feeling that they not only respect Bradley’s honesty but were happy with the soccer they saw on Saturday.

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It seems that despite some initial trepidation from Swansea’s fans towards a manager with no previous Premier League experience being hired, most are warming to Bradley and his methods.

So, what about some Star Spangled Banners being held up by Swansea’s fans soon in honor of Bradley?

“I’m not sure about that. We wouldn’t mind a having a few Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perhaps coming along to our games,” Richards joked.

Despite plenty of excitement around his first game in charge, Bradley knows there’s still plenty of work to do.

“There is not one of us that walks out today and feels good. No chance,” Bradley told ProSoccerTalk. “But I think we can still look at some of what happened on the field today and say that’s what we need to be about. That’s the kind of football we play, that’s the kind of mentality we can build on. It’s a start. Whenever you go in to work you try and establish your players a starting point.”

The starting point was a ruthless lesson against one of the best teams in the Premier League but Bradley’s Swansea showed enough to suggest they’ll be more than fine this season. Modou Barrow was a constant pest out wide, Sigurdsson dangerous and Leroy Fer broke forward from midfield. Defensively it needs to improve, but it’s a start.

Bradley can now start to shake off the endless questions about becoming the first-ever American to coach in the Premier League and get to work.

After this performance most at Swansea, both on the pitch and in the stands, are on his side.

Burning Question: Who is the best player in North America right now?

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It’s a question many have tried to answer recently, and now it’s ProSoccerTalk’s chance to give a verdict of their own: Who is the best player in North America right now.

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Knowing the loyalty of the devout Liga MX fan, the following statement may make a few onlookers cringe, or become enraged: Carlos Vela is currently the best player in North America. Period.

Truthfully, it shouldn’t take more than 15 seconds to generate such an answer. The question should instead be: What player comes at a touching distance from 31-year-old Vela?

Carlos Vela has been on a legendary streak since arriving in Los Angeles from San Sebastian, scoring for fun. Literally, scoring for fun – when he wants, how he wants: long or short range chips, stunning volleys, headers, from the spot, 30-yard runs leading to gentle tap-ins, free kicks, you name it. In numbers, it reads more like a humble 57 goals in 71 appearances.

That’s a healthy goal-per-game-ratio.

And to be clear, goalscorers aren’t the only type of players that qualify for the sweepstakes – supreme talent doesn’t discriminate. But in this case it just happens to be that an inverted winger, with a penchant for goal, happens to outdo not only every player in MLS, but in every other North American top-flight contest, including Liga MX.

And perhaps scoring goals isn’t his ultimate quality – Vela’s dynamism, agility and tenacity are at the core of his magic. There’s a reason why he’s considered the most talented Mexican player of his generation.

Still tough to accept? Ask yourself this: Who was the last player in North America that Josep Maria Bartomeu and Barcelona went after?

You guessed right – Vela. The Spanish giants know a thing or two about scouting elite talent, don’t they?

Transfer news: Kane to Real Madrid, Alexis Sanchez to West Ham

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The latest transfer news continues across the Premier League and here’s a look at some of the juiciest rumors.

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According to Sport, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has his sights set on signing Tottenham striker Harry Kane this summer.

With Luka Jovic failing to impress at the Santiago Bernabeu, Los Blancos are set to make some moves to consolidate the presence up top. Kane, 26, and Wolves striker Raul Jimenez are some of the few names to have been mentioned thus far.

Kane, who has a running contract with Spurs until 2024, recently mentioned that he wouldn’t rule out a move out of north London, if Tottenham were unable to capitalize on winning silverware.

“I’m an ambitious player, I want to improve, I want to get better, I want to become one of the top, top players,” Kane said earlier this month. “It all depends on what happens as a team and how we progress as a team. So it’s not a definite I’m going to stay there forever – but it’s not a no either.”

As far as transfers go, nothing gets bigger and more “ambitious” than a summer blockbuster move to Real Madrid. Kane has a promising project spearheaded by Jose Mourinho himself at his boyhood club, but the opportunity to represent Real Madrid – at such a prime age, with an astronomical amount of hype – may only come around once.


Alexis Sanchez’s time at Inter Milan is coming to a close, and his next destination may be a Premier League team not named Manchester United, according to FC Inter News.

The 31-year-old Chilean’s agent, Fernando Felicevich, has reportedly been inquired by West Ham, who are considering placing a bid to lure the winger out of Old Trafford.

Sanchez arrived at Inter last summer on loan but has failed to impress when healthy, recording a mere goal and three assist in 15 appearances this season. With the possibilities of Sanchez remaining at Manchester United past the summer getting slimmer by the day, the Hammers are hoping to land the South American at a reduced price.

Sanchez, one of United’s highest earners, is reportedly also gathering interest from other unnamed Premier League and Bundesliga sides.

Belarusian Premier League roundup: FC Energetik-BGU edge FC Minsk, moves to top of league

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The Belarusian Premier League – the only active European top-flight league at the moment – continued on Sunday despite the coronavirus pandemic.

FC Energetik-BGU 2-0 FC Minsk 

FC Energetik-BGU are the new leaders of the Belarusian Premier League, following a 2-0 victory over FC Minsk, who were atop of the table prior to Sunday’s bout.

Aleksey Nosko broke the deadlock in the 21st minute, while winger Jasurbek Yakhshiboev sealed the victory for the hosts in stoppage time.

With the victory, Energetik-BGU are the only unbeaten team in the league after three matchweeks, winning all three matches. The positive spell began with a 3-1 against Belarus giants BATE Boristov. Since, Energetik-BGU have scored three goals, while managing to concede none.

Slutsk, who also featured on Sunday, moved up to second on the table following a hard-earned 3-2 victory over Isloch, which saw them play the final minutes of the match with 10 players.

Elsewhere in Belarusian Premier League 

Smolevichi-STI 0-0 Vitebsk

Isloch 2-3 Slutsk

Spanish players criticize league’s call for furloughs

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MADRID (AP) Soccer players in Spain on Sunday criticized the Spanish league’s decision to ask clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs during the coronavirus crisis.

The league on Friday said the furloughs were needed because there was no agreement on the size of the salary cuts players must take to reduce the financial impact of the pandemic.

“It is strange that the Liga supports (the furloughs),” Spain’s players’ association said in a statement.

It said the league should have created a financial cushion for this period considering it always boasted about its “economic control measures” and the “well-balanced economy” of the Spanish clubs. The association said it also should be taken into account that the league has been temporarily suspended and not yet canceled.

The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.

The players said they agree with a salary reduction to help the clubs during the crisis, but not to the extent the league wants, which could amount to nearly half of the total losses if the competition is not resumed.

Players said they want to keep negotiating directly with the clubs instead of being forced into furloughs.

“The clubs and the players have been reaching agreements regarding the salaries,” the players’ association said. “What footballers are not going to do is relinquish labor rights.”

Barcelona and Atlético Madrid are among the Spanish clubs requesting furloughs, but both directly negotiated the amount of the salary reduction with players — 70% in both cases. Both clubs and their players are contributing to guarantee the wages of non-playing employees being furloughed.

The government furloughs help reduce the clubs’ labor costs while also guaranteeing players their jobs once the crisis is over.

Spain has more than 130,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nearly 12,500 deaths. The nation is expected to remain in a lockdown until April 26.

There is no timetable for the return of the Spanish league.

Players maintained their position to only resume competing when health authorities deem it safe for everyone’s heath, a view also shared by the Spanish league.

The league has suggested it will recommend teams start mini-camp while the lockdown is still in place, if it’s possible to do so within the restrictions imposed by authorities.

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