Bob Bradley gets set to leave Norway with higher aspirations in Europe
LONDON (AP) — At another career crossroads, Bob Bradley is leaving Norway on a high.
The American coach not only re-established Stabaek in the top division during his two seasons in charge, but he has also qualified the tiny club for next season's Europa League.
Now, the 57-year-old Bradley is preparing for a new challenge, possibly at Le Havre, a second-tier French club owned by American businessman Vincent Volpe.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Bradley is wary about discussing his next move until after Sunday's Norwegian league season finale. But amid the joy of guiding Stabaek to a top-three finish, there is a clear frustration over why he has not yet been entrusted with a more illustrious European team.
The former United States and Egypt coach is careful not to belittle his two years with Stabaek, which draws fans from an Oslo suburb with a population of about 100,000. But he believes in his own abilities and his capability to achieve at a higher level with a bigger budget.
While accomplishing noteworthy results during five years with the U.S. and then managing Egypt through the Arab Spring uprising, Bradley was a candidate for a variety of coaching vacancies, particularly in the English Premier League. But a job offer never came.
"I think that in many cases decision-makers play it safe," Bradley said during a 40-minute telephone interview. "There's certainly a network. There are still a lot of good managers. There are also a lot of bad managers. It's not to say that sometimes you don't shake your head at how certain guys keep popping up in jobs."
No names are mentioned by the diplomatic Bradley as he speaks between watching Champions League games from his Norwegian home. But he has a clear message to potential employers: "Think a little bit outside the box and look a little closer to see how a person manages, how the teams play."
German-born former U.S. international David Wagner was hired by second-tier English club Huddersfield on Thursday. But Bradley is the trailblazer, the first American to coach in a top division in Europe when he was appointed in January 2014 by a Stabaek team that had just gained promotion.
Stabaek finished ninth in the 16-team league in his first season. Heading into Sunday's season finale against Bodoe Glimt, Stabaek is third. It clinched a Europa League berth by beating Start last weekend and can still finish second.
"When I came to Stabaek it was at a time when the team had just come up from the second league and there had been some tough financial days," Bradley said. "The work the last two years had to be done in a creative way because we certainly didn't have great resources.
"If you had said at the beginning of the year that Stabaek was going to win a medal and qualify for Europa League, I think most people would have said you were crazy."
But being in one of Europe's smaller leagues means it's harder to get recognition as a coach.
"I just figure if I keep at it then maybe somebody will really take a close look and figure it out," Bradley said of his job aspirations. "Maybe then there's an opportunity at the next level. It's a strange one because sometimes people say, 'Well it's (the Norwegian league)' ... it doesn't make sense."
Stabaek provided a calmer environment for Bradley to focus on coaching for the last couple of years after the tumult of Egypt. Despite failing to qualify Egypt for the 2014 World Cup, the "American Pharaoh" gained admiration there by sticking with the job even as Egypt was being shaken by deadly fan disorder, part of the wider anarchy in a nation going through violent street protests and bloody security crackdowns.
The Egypt post came after he was fired by the U.S. Soccer Federation and replaced by Jurgen Klinsmann. Bradley's tenure included the 2009 Confederations Cup, where the Americans beat European champion Spain. The U.S. team reached the second round at the following year's World Cup.
"When I say what I am all about and what I bring as a manager, I think if anybody looked back ... maybe somebody could connect a few of those dots and think this didn't just happen by accident," Bradley said. "You could look back at Chicago Fire (1998 MLS Cup winners). You can look back at the U.S. team. You can look back at how what happened in a difficult period what happened in Egypt, and I think now in a small club like Stabaek you can see it again."
And he isn't giving up hope of getting an opportunity to shine in a top club opening one day.
"You go about trying to show people and prove it every day," Bradley said. "You hear sometimes, 'Yes we respect what you have done but you don't have (English) Premiership experience.'
"In those moments there is nothing you can do about that. For me, fine. I am just going to keep working and maybe somebody will figure it out."