The man who best embodies Jurgen Klinsmann’s philosophy—more so than even the former U.S. national team coach himself—is the man Klinsmann replaced.
Bob Bradley has tested himself, broadened his horizons and blazed new trails in his relentless pursuit of self-improvement, bigger challenges and brighter lights. He chose Egypt over MLS, stuck it out through upheaval and tragedy and was one game from qualifying the Pharaohs to their first World Cup since 1990. Bradley moved on to a modest, promoted Norwegian club and set it on course for the Europa League and then brought Le Havre to within a goal of Ligue 1.
Through it all, he never apologized for, nor shied away from, his Americanness. Bradley made himself available to supporters and reporters at each stop, recognizing that his progress and persona would reflect on the U.S. and soccer’s progress there. Ambitious and humble, he hoped to manage at the sport’s highest level. But he knew no job was beneath him.
It’s probably the case that Bradley’s nationality was a strike against him in many places. It’s also probably the case that he wouldn’t have been hired by struggling Swansea City in early October if not for the Premier League club’s American owners, who offered Bradley the position he’d been chasing. It was a job, however, that might have been impossible. Bradley, 58, was fired Tuesday.
All eyes were on him. There were the skeptics in Britain who had every right to wonder whether Bradley could make the jump from France’s second tier to the most competitive league on the planet. And there were the morons who couldn’t get over the fact that people from different countries sometimes use different terminology. Across the Atlantic, Swansea games suddenly became destination viewing. They were a curiosity for some, but many Americans believed there was more at stake than just one club’s survival. It was tough enough to get the benefit of the doubt on the field. To earn it in a Premier League dugout would be the soccer equivalent of walking on the moon. All this was on Bradley’s shoulders.
He took charge of a team in free fall. Following the sale of Swansea’s captain and leading scorer, among others, over the summer, coach Francesco Guidolin said his 2016-17 target was 40 points. Last season, that would’ve been good (or bad) for 16th place, three points above the relegation zone. It was always going to be a struggle, and the Italian was dismissed after starting the campaign 1-5-1. Enter Bradley, who probably was hoping simply to stop the bleeding and then reassess and fortify during the January transfer window. But he never got there.
He lasted 85 days and went 2-7-2. Swansea’s points-per-game average actually was better under Bradley. But the defeats were heavy and demoralizing. Bradley tinkered, hoping to find the right formula, and was reluctant to bunker. The Swans hemorrhaged goals. When they were outscored 10-2 across Bradley’s final three matches—the last straw was Monday’s 4-1 home loss to West Ham United—that was it.
“Unfortunately things haven’t worked out as planned and we felt we had to make the change with half the Premier League season remaining. With the club going through such a tough time, we have to try and find the answers to get ourselves out of trouble,” Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins said.
It’s unknown whether Bradley would have helped or hindered, and so we’re left with what we had.
“I have nothing but praise for Bob. He is a good man—a good person who gave everything to the job. His work-rate is phenomenal,” Jenkins said.
There’s no news there. And there’s still no benefit of the doubt. Those looking for a reason to dismiss or overlook an American coach can point to Bradley’s record during his 85 days at Swansea or stick with what they’d have used before. Club and coach will go their separate ways. For Swansea, that very well could mean down to the Championship. For Bradley, it can mean only the search for another frontier.