In what is obviously the greatest American victory over English tyranny since the Battle of Yorktown, former USMNT head coach Bob Bradley has become the first American manager of a Premier League club.
Bradley was named the new manager of Swansea City in a statement concurrently announcing the departure of Francesco Guidolin. The Italian boss was appointed manager midway through last season and managed to guide the struggling Swans to safety, earning himself a 2-year contract. But a poor start to the 2016-17 campaign left him vulnerable— including this weekend’s home loss to Liverpool, which left Swansea above the relegation zone only on goal difference— forced the owners to act.
Bradley, of course, got his start coaching NCAA soccer, with his most successful tenure from that period being the 11 years at his alma mater Princeton. From there he made the leap to Major League Soccer during its “1.0” period, guiding the Chicago Fire to their first (and so far only) MLS Championship during their inaugural season. After stints with the Metrostars (now the New York Red Bulls) and Chivas USA, Bradley was named head coach of the USMNT U23s and, later, the senior team. He guided the Americans to the Round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, only to lose his job the following year after an embarrassing loss to Mexico in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final. From there he had a brief but memorable run as Egypt manager— in which his side only just missed out on World Cup qualification— followed by stints at Stabæk in the Norwegian Tippeligaen and Le Havre in Ligue 2.
Swansea’s new American ownership consortium, who also hold stakes in DC United, say they were impressed with the former MLS and USMNT boss. Bradley is said to have beat out several candidates lined up for the position in advance of Guidolin, including former Manchester United assistant coach Ryan Giggs, whose relative lack of experience ruled him out.
As might be expected, reaction to the news was mixed.
The expectations Bradley will have to contend with are very high. It won’t be enough to help Swansea avoid relegation— which is difficult enough. Bradley will, arguably unfairly, be held up as a symbol and a cipher for the strength and sustainability of American soccer. There are a not-inconsequential number of fans and observers on this side of the Atlantic who are deeply invested in whether soccer can “make it” in America, even as the definition of “making it” is constantly in flux.
In a way, Bob Bradley has become the soccer equivalent of Hulk Hogan. During his peak in the WWF/E in the 1980s, a loss for the Hulkster, or giving up the championship belt, wouldn’t just be seen as a simple loss. It would be the end of a movement, the end of the fans’ hopes and dreams for the future. The Death Of Hulkamania. That’s why he had to keep winning, or else lose only by dirty tricks. Similarly, Bradley is being set up for a high-stakes game where he has to succeed in the Premier League— a tall order even for football’s elite class of managers— or else the American soccer experiment will come to an ignominious end. This isn’t fair at all, to Bradley or to Swansea or anyone else. But in American soccer, as in American politics, those with the most fragile egos also tend to have the loudest voices. All this sets the stage for either a job done competently if unspectacularly, or else an unmitigated disaster.
Bradley’s first official game in charge will be October 15th away at Arsenal, while his first home game will come a week later against Watford.