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In opting for Stabaek job, Bob Bradley has grander visions than playing it safe

Bob Bradley Bob Bradley could have returned to MLS, but he has visions of blazing a path for American coaches in Europe. (Luc Gnago/Reuters)

Bob Bradley could have made a lot more money had he accepted the Vancouver Whitecaps coaching job instead of turning it down to take over at Norwegian club Stabæk on Friday.

So why did Bradley, 55, the former coach of the U.S., Egypt and three MLS teams, opt for a team that just got promoted from Norway’s second division and plays in a 7,000-seat stadium?

It wasn’t done as a slap at MLS and U.S. Soccer, though Bradley knows that some people from both organizations will view it that way. American soccer is still a relatively small world, and tensions linger from Bradley’s firing by U.S. Soccer in 2011 and the feeling among some MLS types that Bradley should have picked more MLS players for the 2010 U.S. World Cup squad.

But Bradley’s decision to go with Stabæk is all about one thing: The desire to blaze a trail for American soccer coaches in Europe and perhaps eventually become the first U.S. coach in one of the top European leagues.

The safe move for Bradley would have been to accept the Vancouver job, make more money, live in a fantastic North American city and come home to a league where he knows he could succeed.

But Bradley has already done that before. And he knew that if he came back to MLS, his chances of ever coaching a European club were almost nil. Offers to coach bottom-of-the-table Premier League teams didn’t come after Bradley’s solid work with the U.S. and Egypt, and so he finally chose Stabæk, a team that just returned to the Norwegian top flight and had an open position.

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For all the gains made by U.S. players in Europe over the last two decades, U.S. coaches have barely achieved anything over there. It’s remarkable that in the year 2014 Bradley is the first U.S. coach in the modern era ever to manage a European top-flight soccer team.

*(Brief aside: I can’t tell you how many of the world’s best soccer coaches, including José Mourinho, have told me they’ve read the books of U.S. sports coaches like Phil Jackson, John Wooden and Vince Lombardi. Wouldn’t at least some European soccer clubs be interested in hiring a coach from that very same U.S. sports culture?)*

And while Bradley doesn’t think the Norwegian league is necessarily better than MLS, he does view Norway as a better place to be if he wants a chance at bigger European jobs.

Just look at the news in the last week, where another coach from the Norwegian league, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, moved from Molde to Cardiff City in the Premier League. England manager Roy Hodgson also coached in Norway (with Viking) for one-and-a-half seasons as recently as 2005. With a dozen or so scouts from all over Europe at most Stabæk games, Bradley is making the calculation that he’ll be on the European radar screen more over there than in Vancouver, and it’s hard to argue with that.

It would be unfortunate if Bradley’s decision caused any resentment from MLS and U.S. Soccer. The fact is that Bradley feels deeply connected to American soccer and is rightly proud of his U.S. tenure and his MLS achievements, which include an MLS Cup and two U.S. Open Cup titles with Chicago, the start of the lone positive stretch in the history of Chivas USA and the smart drafting of U.S. talents in Chicago (Carlos Bocanegra), New York (Michael Bradley, Mike Magee, Ricardo Clark, Eddie Gaven, Jeff Parke) and Chivas USA (Sacha Kljestan, Jonathan Bornstein).

Can Bradley open up Europe for other American coaches? All I know is I can’t wait to follow his story over there. Right now, at least, the best place for Bradley to represent the U.S. game is in Europe — and perhaps in a few more high-profile destinations down the road.
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