‘Bob Bradley in talks with LAFC’ is a headline that has started to do the rounds. And while it certainly gets attention, right now, it is just conjecture.
The bigger question before/if/when any announcement is made should be, ‘Does Bob Bradley represent what LAFC are trying to build?’
It’s a storied managerial career.
It started in the early years of MLS, notably with a league and cup double and Coach of the Year honours at Chicago Fire, before impressive results elsewhere in the league secured him the US National Team job. There he undoubtedly posted his most high-profile achievements, reaching the finals of the 2009 Confederations and Gold Cups, as well as another Gold Cup final appearance in 2011.
Arguable the most daunting challenge in world football followed, taking charge of Egypt and sticking with it in the midst of the Arab Spring uprising. He excelled with limited resources in Norway at Stabæk, then dropped into the French second tier with Le Havre to further prove his coaching credentials (he left them in fifth and three points off the top).
This is a manager who knows success through perseverance.
Then he arrived at Swansea.
Now it takes a lot of self-belief to be a manager in the Premier League these days. And Bradley arrived confident, claiming that he (while in part paraphrased, the sentiment holds true) was already on a level with Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti.
Fans weren’t too fond of that comparison, and ultimately the comment came back to bite him. But there are two ways of looking at Bradley’s 85 day tenure at Swansea: either he was a highly qualified coach who just didn’t manage to get it right, or another way of looking at it, he was the first America coach to fail.
Take the first point of view.
Swansea is a club with a footballing philosophy – they play a passing style of football characterised by keeping possession. They call it the ‘Swansea Way’. For Bradley to be given the responsibility shows the regard his football intelligence is held in. And those close to him recognise a coach who likes to be ahead of the opposition in preparation and who is committed to a core idea of playing football the right way, one committed to winning.
There is certainly something to be said about why he was brought into Swansea. Swansea wanted this to succeed. It had long-term appointment attached to it. It was meant to settle them on and off the pitch. It just didn’t work.
But there is also the second way of looking at his time at Swansea.
The Premier League has had 21 different manager nationalities during its time, but Bradley is its first American.
The fact that Bradley is American isn’t the whole story, but it does have a role to play in it. And while he was just trying to be the best manager he could be, the media went with this angle and stuck with it. In large part, he became defined by his nationality, not his footballing nous.
But perhaps best left to Bob himself to sum up the chapter: ‘I am an American Coach’.
Regardless of the evaluation, if the shoe fits…
… wear it.
Whichever way of looking at those 85 days, fact needs to be separated from fiction, and consensus favours fact: eight points out of a possible 33 and 29 goals conceded in 11 games are difficult facts to argue against his appointment being a gamble which didn’t pay off.
This is a cultural appointment.
Whatever way you look at it, Bob Bradley’s experience is a well-traveled one. But what this is not is turning up with footballing answers, this is much more. Which means past performance is not necessary indicative of the answer.
What’s important in LAFC’s progression from a brand name to a living, breathing football team is culture; one which is out to unite a city, and pull a community together around it.
And that is why the club have not rushed this appointment.
In the future, this choice will be studied and looked back upon, so it needs to stand the test of time. Bob Bradley needs to represent LAFC’s future, so the fundamental question is, ‘does Bob Bradley represent what LAFC are trying to build?