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My Preference: What’s Best for Bob Bradley

November 27th, 2016 · No Comments · English Premier League, Football, soccer

I realized this weekend I have moved into a form of Premier League partisanship that revolves around a single question:

What is best for Bob Bradley?

Bradley is the coach of Swansea City, a club already mired in a fight to avoid the disaster of relegation.

Bradley is the American coach of Swansea City, and the first U.S. citizen to coach a team in any of Europe’s “big five” national soccer leagues — that of England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France.

It is a ground-breaking appointment, and I believe it is important that Bradley be seen as not failing in his one clear assignment — keeping Swansea in the Premier League.

Hence, my new approach to Premier League results.

Start with the craziest game of yesterday’s Premier League matches.

In his sixth match as coach of Swansea, Bradley’s team was home against Crystal Palace, which was mired in a five-match losing streak.

Bradley’s team, however, had not been much better over the same span, drawing twice and losing three.

Swansea had settled to the bottom of the 20-team league, after 12 of 38 matches, and the bottom three at the end of the season are demoted to the second division. Things already looked dire. Questions of “is he over his head?” were being asked by English media.

What teams at risk of relegation do is look for three teams they can finish ahead of, and Crystal Palace looks like one of those. Thus, Swansea at home to Palace, well, that’s a game Bob Bradley pretty much has to win.

It was chaotic. 1-0 Palace, 1-1 at halftime, Swansea up 3-1 on goals by Leroy Fer, on their way to victory … then three goals by Palace, one of them a particularly freakish own-goal, and it was 4-3 Palace after 85 minutes.

Swansea conjured two Fernando Llorente goals in added time to win 5-4. It was an astonishing end to a crazy (if not well-played) game. The crowd erupted. The players celebrated.

Bob Bradley did some punching of air.

Swansea’s three points took them to nine and out of the cellar, one point ahead of Sunderland, only two behind Palace and Hull City. Lot of work to do, but it doesn’t seem hopeless, at least for the moment.

Today, watching West Ham play at Manchester United … and normally I never mind when ManU loses. But in this case I didn’t want West Ham to win — because they are in the bottom half of the standings and could be in the relegation picture, too, and them winning would not be good for Bob Bradley. It finished 1-1, and West Ham went to 12 points instead of 14.

Bradley’s trial by fire is analogous to those experienced by early U.S. players in Europe. First, they had to prove they were competent — despite their U.S. passports.

Players like John Harkes, the first American to play in the Premier League (with Sheffield Wednesday, in the 1992-93 season). Players like Eric Wynalda, the first American to play in Germany’s Bundesliga (with Saarbrucken), and Alexi Lalas, the first Yank to play in Italy’s Seria A (with Padova).

If anything, the pressure is higher on Bradley because coaching jobs are far harder to come by than a spot on a club’s first team.

So, I find myself pulling for him as an American trailblazer … and also because I covered him as a journalist, and am convinced he is a pretty good guy.

If Bradley can survive the relegation battle — and the odds probably are against him, given Swansea’s poor start and marginal talent — a few more Europeans might say “hey, the Americans know something about the game” and the door may be easier to open for the second American coach of a big-five-league side.



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