It has been ten days since the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol released manager Miguel Herrera from his position as head coach of the Mexico national team. As of time of publication, that position remains vacant as the FMF pursues a number of different candidates, including (according to French newspapers L’Equipe) the influential Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa. One name that hasn’t been linked with the position, or even generated a single rumor is former US national team and current Stabæk (Norwegian Tippeligaen) manager Bob Bradley. While the idea of an American taking over El Tri might seem ludicrous, here are five reasons why it might just be a good idea.
As noted by ESPN’s Leander Schaerlaeckens, in the four-years and eight-months that Bradley was in charge of the USA, he posted, “a record of 43 wins, 25 losses and 12 ties for a 53.75 winning percentage. That gives him the second-highest number of wins and winning percentage of any U.S. head coach who was in charge for more than five games.” In that same stretch, he won the Gold Cup once and finished runner-up twice, thereby becoming the first American coach to reach the tournament final three times. More importantly, his US team navigated a challenging World Cup qualification campaign and managed to finish on top of The Hex. In that campaign, as detailed by US Soccer, Bradley’s men finished the qualifying cycle “by collecting the most road wins of any team in the region during the campaign, while going unbeaten at home in nine matches. With more goals (42) than any other team in the world during qualifying, the U.S. captured first place in CONCACAF for the second straight cycle and won a team-record six straight games.” Simply put, the man knows how to get the job done, be it on the road or at home, in CONCACAF. Managers dealing with their first exposure to the confederation can sometimes stumble, leading to increased pressure and media scrutiny. Bradley has faced CONCACAF before, so he knows both what to expect and how to handle it.
Serving as the head coach of the Mexico national team is a little like serving as Emperor in the declining years of the Roman Empire. Sure, there’s lots of power and prestige, but there’s also the very real threat that any day could be your last. Since 2000, Mexico has had 14 managers (two of which were interim appointments). By contrast, the United States has had a grand total of three managers over that same period. The pressure a new appointee to the currently vacant coaching spot might feel is nothing compared to what Bradley has dealt with in the past. He navigated the insanity that was Chivas USA. He handled the pressure of becoming the first American to manage in a European top flight. Most notably, he became a rallying point for the Egyptian national team as he stuck with the country through its prolonged period of political upheaval. Compared to Tahrir Square and Port Said, Mexico City would be a piece of cake.
In an interview with 442 Magazine, Bradley noted, “One of the things I said in Egypt and here [at current club Stabæk] – maybe on the first day – was ‘I don’t come here with all the answers,’ Bradley explains. ‘I come here to observe and listen. Don’t get me wrong, I have my own ideas, but I also need to get to know you.” In the past, Mexico teams (and the Mexican FA in particular) have chafed under overly stern managers unwilling to deviate from their preferred tactics. If those specific strategies fail, then there’s nothing for the coach to fall back upon, other than his metaphorical sword. Bradley’s preference for evolving his understanding of a talent pool prior to implementing plans would provide a more long-term approach. In addition, it woudn’t mean shoehorning in or (more likely) excluding key players if they don’t fit within a given coach’s preexisting system. With Bradley in charge, Mexico could bring in those players left out in the cold by Herrera whilst simultaneously exploring new tactical options.
It’s no secret that Bradley has his eye on a move to a bigger challenge, with the English Premier League appearing to be his first-choice destination. However, at 57, he isn’t an exemplar of the current hiring trends within the league: 1) young managers with fresh ideas, 2) proven foreign managers from other top leagues, or 3) re-treads and castoffs from other EPL clubs. For Bradley to realistically get a shot at a top-level job in England, he would first need to move to a larger club (perhaps in Germany, Holland or Denmark), establish a proven track record of success (minimum of two years), and then seek out bigger opportunities. By that time, he would be 60. The Mexico job is arguably a bigger opportunity than managing the United States, as Mexico is routinely expected to make it out of the World Cup group stage and into the knockout rounds. Although it wouldn’t be top tier club management, a move to Mexico would allow Bradley to pursue one of two paths: pursue a high-pressure job that could raise his international reputation or reimagine his career as a journeyman national team manager similar to men like Guus Hiddink and Bora Milutinovi?.
As recently as last summer, the Mexican domestic league (with the exception of Club Tijuana) wasn’t seen as a particularly fertile ground for American players interested in remaining on Jurgen Klinsmann’s radar. Indeed, in an interview with PRI, sportswriter Jonny Aviles indicated that part of this issue was rooted in the idea that “Mexican-American players, like Joe Corona, even ones with dual citizenship, weren’t considered ‘real’ Mexicans by their respective club teams.” Regardless of perceived ethnicity, this issue appears to have faded (at least in part) as Americans have pursued opportunities in Liga MX in even greater numbers. A report by ESPN’s Tom Marshall confirmed that “research carried out by this writer shows there are in excess of 50, including Alex Ramos, the son of U.S. men’s U20 head coach Tab Ramos, who recently signed for Pachuca… For many Americans who already have family links to Mexico, as well as the geographical proximity and the money potentially on offer, moving south of the border seems to be an increasingly attractive option for young Yanks hoping to make a career in the game.” With so many Americans already active in the country, the idea of promoting an American to head the national team isn’t completely ridiculous. In addition, having an Bradley (who reportedly speaks at least some Spanish, dating to his time with Chivas USA) in charge might make those dual nationals all the more likely to opt for El Tri over The Stars an