Simply put, Bob Bradley was up against it from the start.
[ EXCLUSIVE: Bradley’s first statement ]
When he became the first-ever American coach in the Premier League on Oct. 3, Bradley, without wanting to be, became the ambassador for U.S. soccer in the UK and in his first press conference he was visibly annoyed when asked about becoming the first U.S. coach in the PL.
Overall, you can argue that heaped extra pressure on his shoulders and quite simply (apart from the first few weeks when you heard “that Bob Bradley, he’s a nice bloke”) he was never accepted with open arms in the British soccer community. It was as if he wasn’t worthy of being in charge of a Premier League team and there was no respect for American soccer.
Bradley, and other American coaches and players, have always come up against that stigma in Europe. I spoke about it with him at length back in 2014 in Norway. That’s the reason he had to jump from a tiny Norwegian team he turned into title challengers to a French second division club before Swansea “took a gamble” on him as most British pundits put it.
[ EXCLUSIVE: Bradley’s first words as Swans manager ]
Despite the results on the pitch, which he accepts weren’t good enough, throughout his 11-game spell in charge of Swansea City (which yielded two wins, seven defeats and just eight points) he was up against vocal support from his own fans against the new American owners in place since the summer.
That ill-feeling morphed into fans turning on Bradley and he was lumped into the disdain towards owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien. The former U.S. national team coach very quickly became a scapegoat. Ask yourself if the same would’ve happened if a British manager, or Italian manager, would have had the same results he did. Seriously. Imagine in a few years the NFL puts a team in London and has an English coach. How would an English American Football coach, with an English accent, be treated if he was given a job in the NFL?
In the defeat against West Ham, his final game in charge, chants of “we want Bradley out” emerged from some sections of the home fans. The tide had turned incredibly quickly. It didn’t take much as fans jumped on the bandwagon.
[ LISTEN: The 2 Robbies special on Bradley ]
Bradley was always having to defend himself for his use of American soccer phrases in press conferences (even if they were few and far between) and pundits in the UK spoke about not being able to take him seriously, while others completely dismissed his credentials because he was American. The whole idea that the U.S. is somehow an inferior soccer nation seemed to grow stronger. There are managers from France, Spain, Italy and Germany in the PL but none of them have to justify why they’re in the league. Bradley is 58 years old and had put in the hard graft to get to this point. He deserved his chance in the PL, based on his credentials alone, a long time ago.
Speaking to talkSPORT radio in the UK following his firing, Bradley had a message for those who questioned him simply because of where he comes from and how he talks.
“I think I earned respect from inside the dressing the room every day,” Bradley said. “The media… the media has different agendas. There are some very good pundits who understand the game and write through experience. Then there’s others that want headlines. I understand that when you come in from the outside, especially as an American with American owners, there are going to be people who look to take shots. I don’t think that affects who I am and it doesn’t affect my work. I never carried any of that in front of the team. I couldn’t care less.”
Even if Bradley couldn’t care less, him being an American was a big deal in England and Wales.
Soccer AM, a Saturday morning TV show on Sky Sports in England, poked fun at Bradley from the day he was appointed with satirical videos (see below) commonplace throughout his time in the Premier League. TalkSPORT radio hosts nicknamed him “BobCat Bob” and churned out American accents on cue. There are many other examples too, as the Daily Mail also pointed towards Bradley wearing a $50 watch, compared to Jose Mourinho’s $32,000 watch, as perhaps a reason he’s “time ran out” in the PL.
Following his firing, Bradley was asked if it would now be more difficult for American coaches to get chances to manage in the Premier League and the UK.
“It’s possible, but I think it’s sad and ridiculous if that’s the case,” Bradley told BBC Radio Wales.
I’m an Englishman who has been educated and has lived in the U.S. for most of the last decade. I have American family, friends and a close affinity for the nation, plus have now been lucky enough to be involved in the American soccer community for a long time. But I’m proudly British.
Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed at the way some of the British media, and general public, has reacted towards Bradley since he arrived at Swansea.
I’ve seen it firsthand from living in London. At times the attitude towards Bradley has been borderline xenophobic.
Below are just a few of the many messages I received from Swansea’s fans for stating on Twitter that I didn’t agree with Bradley’s dismissal.
I understand that ultimately the results on the pitch weren’t good enough for Swansea’s owners, but it’s unlikely that Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho or even greats such as Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger would’ve been able to turn the Swans’ sinking ship around in just 11 games. What did they expect?
As many have pointed out, Swansea’s problems have been 12 months in the making.
Ever since Garry Monk was fired and then Francesco Guidolin was halfheartedly appointed they’ve been in trouble. Add in selling Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew in the summer and not properly replacing them and there are huge issues throughout the club as long-term chairman Hew Jenkins is trying to save them with the American owners trying hard not to interfere but also having just enough of a say.
Bradley was handed a squad woefully weak in defense and lacking in confidence. He wasn’t given a transfer window and he wasn’t given time to stamp his authority on the club.
“I’m a little pissed off,” Bradley told talkSPORT radio. “I’m a little bit frustrated because every place I’ve been I feel I have been able to put my stamp on a team, in terms of the mentality, in terms of the football, tactics. I knew when I arrived in Swansea, in the short term the most difficult thing was just to secure points. Any new football ideas needed to be introduced very gradually. What we needed more than anything was to do well enough with points that we had a little bit of a platform to try to now make the team play more of the way we wanted. I’m disappointed in myself that in the short run I couldn’t make that happen.”
The New Jersey native admits the rub of the green was against his team and the nature of the heavy defeats against West Ham, Middlesbrough, West Brom and Tottenham were not helpful in sealing his fate.
Yet, there’s on overriding sense that he was treated unfairly. Other Premier League managers have since said as much with Hull City’a Mike Phelan not happy at all.
“I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Bob because what on earth can you be expected to achieve in the short space of time he has been given at Swansea?” Phelan said. “Every manager needs a decent crack at it. And that means being given a proper opportunity and the right amount of time to bring his message to the table and get his ideas across.
“All too often these days, managers don’t get the chance to build something good at a club. And Bob has suffered on that score alright. I have got to know Bob pretty well. We speak a lot, and it’s clear he has a good knowledge of the game built up over many years of experience. He is a good guy with good ideas on the game and a good ethic. It’s sad what has happened to him.”
Slaven Bilic, West Ham’s boss, had a drink with Bradley in his office at the Liberty Stadium following their 4-1 win at Swansea on Boxing Day. He was asked on Thursday if Bradley had enough time to turn things around.
“No, he didn’t,” Bilic said. “It was just a short space of time. You basically depend on luck, people are expecting you to do something in a couple of months, and that’s not with the preseason. I know he [Bradley] is a good manager, he’s got a good CV, he’s hard-working and he believes in himself. I saw them play with confidence in those games, which is hard, when you are down. To change so many managers in two years, if we are talking about Swansea, for me it is not the solution… We spoke after the game in his office and of course his whole life is in football. He was not shocked but disappointed, and so was I.”
Bradley was disappointed with himself. Others were disappointed he was given such little time. I’m disappointed that he wasn’t judged solely on his quality as a coach.
If anyone says that’s the case and the eventual fan vitriol towards Bradley was only because of the performances on the pitch and nothing to do with him being the first-ever American coach in England’s top-flight, I’d have a tough time believing them.