Bob Bradley: The Quiet American

bob bradley coaching abroad

Domestic Roots

When Bob Bradley began his coaching career in the United States, essentially the only option was to coach university teams, as there was no top-flight league in the country. So that’s exactly what he did. He got his first head coaching job at Ohio University at the age of 22. After a few years, he returned to his alma mater, Princeton University, to turn the Tigers into a national power.

After 11 years at Princeton, Bradley took an assistant job in the newly formed Major League Soccer, where he worked under Bruce Arena with D.C. United. Together, Arena and Bradley led United to back-to-back MLS titles.

As a result, Bradley got his shot to lead a franchise. He was given the top job with the Chicago Fire and was charged with leading the club through their first season. The results were instant as Bradley and the fire won the domestic double, an MLS title and U.S. Open Cup.

After 5 seasons in Chicago, Bradley returned to his native New Jersey to coach the NY/NJ MetroStars. He would manage the Metros and then eventually Chivas USA to surprising success before the call of international football came.

Bradley was tasked with replacing his former boss and mentor, Arena, as manager of the United States Men’s National Team. It was no small task, considering the historic World Cup success that Arena had overseen at the 2002 tournament where the Yanks made it to the quarterfinals before being knocked out controversially by Germany.

Seen by many as the second choice to former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Bradley had work to do to impress a disappointed fanbase. This wasn’t helped by his pragmatic approach to the game, which bothered fans excited by the young attacking talent in the squad that included Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and DeMarcus Beasley.

Despite outside perceptions, Bradley’s reign in charge of the USMNT was highly successful. The U.S. finished second in the 2009 Confederations Cup, knocking off European champions Spain. A year later in South Africa, the United States advanced to the knockout rounds of the World Cup after winning a group that included England.

In July 2011, just a year after signing a three-year extension with US Soccer, Bradley was replaced as head coach by Jurgen Klinsmann after a Gold Cup final defeat to Mexico.

Bradley wouldn’t stay unemployed for long though.

An American Abroad

Bob Bradley did something that few American coaches have done. He left the United States and took a job abroad. When he took the head coaching job of the Egyptian Men’s National Team it set him on a career path that would set him apart from any other coach in American history.

Egypt

Bob Bradley was unemployed for just 48 days. On September 14, 2011, Bradley was named head coach of Egypt. His appointment was remarkable and historic for several reasons, the first of which was the state of Egypt as a country in 2011. 

Egypt had been in a state of revolution since the beginning of the year. Historic protests and demonstrations in Tahrir Square gripped the country and global audiences as the world waited to see what would happen next. The revolution resulted in the overthrowing of the Mubarak government, and a transitional period overseen by the military. 

When Bradley arrived in Egypt in the fall, the country was still embroiled in chaos. There were ongoing protests and riots that spilled over into the national football league, causing its suspension. Yet, Bradley, an American, was tasked with leading a team and giving the country something to get behind together and support. 

To Bradley’s credit, he was undaunted by the task at hand and embraced the role fully. While some Westerns in the same situation may have chosen a more stable environment to live in, Bradley made Cairo his home.

The move did not go unnoticed by Egyptians, who greeted Bradley as a celebrity. Bradley was mobbed by Pharaoh’s fans begging for selfies wherever he went. Despite all the positive attention, Bradley still had an incredibly difficult job ahead of him. 

While there were the odd players abroad in Europe, the Egyptian team was mostly made up of players plying their trade at home in the domestic league. The suspension of the national league for two years meant Bradley had a squad of players who weren’t playing matches week in and week out. 

Beyond that, there would be no homes matches for the national team as the army refused to secure a stadium for them to play in. And don’t think that the sectarian divisions pulling the country apart didn’t extend to the players in the team. 

Considering the circumstances, Bradley did remarkably well over his 2 years in charge. He got the Pharaohs off to a great start to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, winning their first 6 games of African qualification. 

Bradley managed 36 matches, winning 22 of them. Unfortunately, Bradley’s old nemesis Ghana, who was responsible for eliminating his USA side at the 2010 World Cup, knocked them out of qualifying in the 3rd playoff round.

Bradley won a career-high 61% of his matches in charge during his two-year tenure. Despite this, Bradley and Egypt went their separate ways in November 2013 after Egypt failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Stabæk Fotball

Bradley made more history when he became the first American to manage a club in a European top flight. That opportunity came with Stabæk in the Norwegian Eliteserien. Bradley was in charge of De Blaa for two seasons between January 2014 and November 2015. 

During his time, he led the historic yo-yo club to a 9th place finish and a third-place finish, respectively. During the 14-15 season, Bradley led Stabæk to the qualifying stages of the Europa League, another first for an American. 

The club also had back-to-back semi-final cup runs in the Norwegian Cup, their best finishes in the tournament since they won the cup in 2008. 

His success in Norway did not go unnoticed around the continent, and it was announced that Bradley would leave the club at the end of the 2015 season to seek a new job. 

Le Havre AC

That new job would come in a new country, this time in France with Ligue 2 side Le Havre AC. 

Bradley led France’s oldest professional club to a finish that found them tied for the third, and final, promotion spot in the league. However, it was Metz that received promotion over Le Havre due to the tiebreaker being based on the number of goals scored.

It was a heartbreaking result for Le Havre and Bradley. It would have been a real feather in his managerial cap. 

Le Havre started the 15-16 season brightly, but Bradley wouldn’t be in charge to see it through. Just a few months into the season, Bradley’s phone rang with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Swansea City

After just 11 months in charge of Le Havre, Bradley received the call that American football fans had been waiting years for. He was offered the chance to manage a Premier League club, something no American had ever done before.

The offer came from Swansea City in October 2016. The club had been a shining example of a well-run football club after their promotion in 2011-12. However, after a trip to the Europa League and multiple top-half of the table finishes, Swansea was in obvious free fall.

Just two months into the season, Swansea had fired their manager, with none of their previous 6 having lasted two years in charge. This time it was the American’s turn.

Looking back, Bradley was doomed from the start. 

To begin with, the fanbase was unhappy with the way the appointment occurred. The Swansea supporters trust owns 21% of the club but were not informed or consulted about the decision to hire Bradley ahead of the decision going public.

Then there was the American connection. The current majority owners of Swansea City are two Americans, and the thought was, despite his strong resume, that the American owners hired Bradley because he was American and not because of his qualifications.

With this cloud of negative energy surrounding the club, Bradley oversaw the second-shortest reign of any manager in Premier League history.

Bradley just lasted 85 days and was in charge of only 11 matches. The club continued their terrible form, taking just 8 points from a possible 33. The club gave up 29 goals in those 11 matches, the most in the league during that stretch.

Bradley had reached the summit for American coaches but was kicked out before he had a chance to settle. Swansea would be relegated that season and have yet to return to the Premier League.

The Return Stateside and Beyond

The Swansea debacle hurt Bradley’s reputation abroad, there’s no doubt about it. So where do you go when you need to rehabilitate your reputation? You go home.

That’s exactly what Bradley did.

In July 2017 he was named the first head coach of the expansion Los Angeles Football Club in Major League Soccer that would begin play the following year. 

In LAFC he was given the building project he was in Swansea. Backed by an ownership and management group, Bradley’s LAFC took the league by storm.

Led by star winger Carlos Vela, LAFC finished third in the Western Conference and 5th overall in MLS. They were upset in the first round of the playoffs by cross-town rivals Los Angeles Galaxy, who were led that season by Zlatan Ibrahimović.

In their second season, 2019, the team dominated the league. They finished 1st in the Western Conference and won the Supporter’s Shield, given to the team with the best record in the league during the regular season. Carlos Vela was named MVP as he scored a league-record 38 goals.

Playoff success eluded them yet again as they were eliminated in the Western Conference Finals at the hands of the Seattle Sounders who would go on to win the MLS Cup.

In Los Angeles, Bradley has built one of the league’s most exciting teams. The club has one of the league’s best fan cultures and plays in a beautiful new stadium. It’s hard to see him leaving the club anytime soon, but he’s always been a driven coach unafraid to make a move if it advances his career.

Could Bob Bradley return to Europe?

It’s impossible to overstate the hit his reputation took after the Swansea job ended so abruptly. Unfortunately, it was so bad that other American head coaches have likely been set back in their quest to manage in the Premier League.

With that said, it was a job Bradley couldn’t turn down. It was a chance to manage in the Premier League, something no other American had done before.

It’s that drive to coach at the highest level that could see Bradley leave his comfortable job in sunny Southern California for another shot at the big time. However, at 62 years old it’s unlikely Bradley is looking for another foreign adventure.