There have been numerous red letter days for American soccer in recent times.
The standard and outreach of Major League Soccer continues to race upwards on a very positive trajectory. Franchises are stronger, playing standards have improved immeasurably. Yet the elevation of former national team coach Bob Bradley to Premier League manager at Swansea will surely go down as a seminal moment for the game on these shores.
The 58-year-old is the first American to land a post in England’s top-flight. Players such as Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey all enjoyed solid stints in the supposed finest League in the world.
Further afield the precocious Christian Pulisic has made an excellent start to life in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund.
American players don’t raise suspicious eyebrows anymore. A manager however is different. To be the focal point of a team, going head-to-head with the biggest guns sees the focus and attention become razor sharp – and brutal.
“I am not a pioneer,” claimed the New Jersey native during an impressive unveiling in South Wales on Friday before desperately trying to shatter age old, misguided stereotypes about American soccer culture. “I am not an American manager. I am a football manager.”
Swansea have replaced Francesco Guidolin with American coach, Bob Bradley. As gambles go this is right up there!— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) October 3, 2016
The predictable paranoia of fans here instantly came to the fore. Some are so protective of their product, the fear of becoming a laughing stock distorts reality.
Media reaction has been positive with Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post and ESPN among those wishing Bradley well and emphasising what a key moment it is for the game. The fact he also took a swipe at US boss Jurgen Klinsmann for ‘jockeying’ to get his job in 2010 also went down very well with the masses who want to see the German quit his post.
Either way, the new Swans manager won’t care. His focus is sharp. Deep down, though, Bradley knows his spell at the Liberty Stadium could help US soccer like never before. A successful reign would open doors for his peers on this side of the Atlantic. Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Swansea are struggling and will be fighting relegation. Dropping into the Championship would be a monumental blow for the club and also the reputation of Bradley and his American paymasters. Both are taking huge risks.
Yes, MLS has improved, though there is understandable scepticism from fans in the stands and chief executives in the boardroom.
There were more than a few groans from Swans followers once Bradley was appointed. To the uninitiated, the notion of an American who’s never set foot in the Premier League was unnerving to say the least. It wasn’t a shock move considering the club now comes under American ownership – co-owner Jason Levien has long been associated with DC United and was desperate to taste the action in England – and their special advisor is no other than former Everton striker Donovan.
“Bob has dreamed of this opportunity and now it’s arrived we are absolutely thrilled,” Bradley’s younger brother Scott, the former New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners player told Sport360. “He is an inspirational figure – he was so helpful to me when I was playing in the majors – and he deserves his chance.”
Having done the hard yards in MLS, Bradley’s experiences in Egypt, Norway and most recently in France with Le Havre will stand him in good stead.
Nothing will faze him in the pursuit of excelling in the job he’s craved and, whether he agrees or not, perceptions of American soccer in England and beyond will loom over his every move.
Levien and partner Steve Kaplan will be only too aware that their fellow countrymen who’ve taken root in England before them have hardly covered themselves in glory.
The Glazers and their controversial financing systems remain reviled at Manchester United while Aston Villa fans couldn’t wait for Randy Lerner to pack his bags.
Ellis Short’s time at Sunderland has seen no improvement in fortunes while Arsenal’s have stagnated under Stan Kroenke’s stewardship. The less said about George Gillett and Tom Hicks’ spell at Liverpool the better.
This, however, is Bradley’s time to shine. Americans will look on with excitement and trepidation in equal measure. Either way, it should be fascinating.
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