On Monday, Premier League club Swansea City fired its manager and announced it had hired Bob Bradley. Not only is he the first American to manage a top-flight British side, he’s the first American to manage in any of the top European leagues.
Bradley will face plenty of skepticism during his tenure. While American players have earned plenty of respect on the field, American coaches remain essentially an unknown quantity in Europe. It doesn’t help that Americans own Swansea.
The seemingly hasty firing of Francesco Guidolin (on his birthday, no less) and hiring of an American does Bradley no favors either—especially when Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs looked like a more logical choice for the job. The managers he’ll face have vast experience playing, managing, and winning either in the English leagues or in Europe. Bradley has relatively little.
Bob Bradley’s Path to the Top
While Bradley arrives in the Premier League using a decidedly different route than most coaches, he’s proven himself at the minimum capable of handling whatever’s thrown at him. He played and coached college soccer before spells at four MLS clubs. He enjoyed success with the U.S. men’s team and arguably only lost his job once Jurgen Klinsmann became available.
He then took over the Egyptian national team in 2011, staying with the team despite the turmoil in Egypt and suspension of the Egyptian domestic league following the Port Said Stadium riot. He came within a game of qualifying The Pharaohs for their first World Cup since 1990. His time in Egypt inspired not one, but two documentaries.
Unsatisfied with just one stint abroad, Bradley moved to Norway and became the first American manager in a European first division. He took Stabaek from a relegation side to a spot in the Europa League (the Champions League’s little brother). A year after Bradley’s departure, Stabaek finds itself in the relegation zone. Unsatisfied with just two stints abroad, Bradley moved to second-division French side Le Havre. They only missed promotion to the French first division last season on a tie-breaker.
It’s a Heck of a Time to Move
Bradley chose a heck of a time to move to England. He moves to the richest and most competitive league in Europe. It’s a league where six or seven sides entertain legitimate thoughts of winning everything. The Premier League now features the strongest managerial stable in the world, with Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp, Claudio Ranieri, Ronald Koeman, and Arsene Wenger all pushing for a minimum top-four finish. Five of Bradley’s first seven matches are against sides in the top half of the table. A rough start, combined with the initial skepticism of an American manager, could make for a very short time in England.
Fortunately for Bradley and Swansea, he’s enjoyed some success (or at least relative stability) wherever he’s gone. He joins a side that sits above the relegation zone on goal differential alone. For now, at least, the Welsh club could use some stability. Survival for Swansea would likely ensure Bradley at least another season at the top.
A successful coaching stint could help the United States mature even more as a soccer nation. Bradley could do for American coaches what Claudio Reyna, Steve Cherundolo, and Clint Dempsey, and others did for perceptions of American players abroad. And he deserves that chance.