Raise, Call or Fold – The Bob Bradley Edition

Rumors in and out of the executive suites of professional and international soccer are a perpetual game of partial information.  There is usually some truth, some falsehoods, and some bluffs being run through the press.  It’s a lot like Texas Hold ‘em poker in that executives, agents and managers have to make player acquisition decisions based on some information, but not quite all of the information at hand.

This column will rate some of the rumors going around the world of soccer as either Raise (strong likelihood this is true… bet on it), Call (probably true… but don’t wager any more than you have to), and Fold (false…  don’t make the mistake of telling your friends this is going to happen because it’s not).

In the United States most of the rumors floating around recently concerned Bob Bradley, a man with the ultimate poker face, and the U.S. coaching job.

Randy Lerner being an American would have made it easier for him to hire Bradley at Aston Villa.  FOLD.

The American owner Randy Lerner recently hired Gerard Houllier which was a far safer choice than Bradley.  Lerner, who only after buying an English football club learned his name was fodder for English school yard ridicule, is in a bit of pickle.  Not only is his name easy to make fun of, he’s also an American owner in the Premier League.  He needs only look at the Glazers at Manchester United (or the fiasco in Anfield)  to understand American leadership has had toxic results so far.

Lerner simply by being a Yank hasn’t turned away all of the fanbase yet, but bringing in an American to run the team could have destroyed their tentative trust.  Had he hired Bob Bradley and Bradley failed, fans, even if they were in favor of hiring Bradley in the first place, would change their tune.  In retrospect many would have said Lerner just gave him an opportunity because he was an American.   It turns out Bradley probably wasn’t much of a candidate for the Aston Villa job anyway.  The Gerard Houllier hire makes far more sense from Lerner’s perspective than hiring an American.

Therein illustrates the catch 22 inherent in England football in terms of coaching opportunities for Americans.  There have been zero American managerial hires by English, European, and foreign Premier League owners, so logic follows it might take an American owner to hire an American manager (and we’ll ignore for a moment the paucity of qualified candidates).  Only problem is American owners in today’s climate have at best a tentative trust with their fans.   So, the most likely opportunity, in a way, is also the least likely.  Despite the glowing endorsements of Sir Alex Ferguson, and others, of Bob Bradley’s coaching mettle, an American hire is always going to be an unlikely one.

However, if Lerner and his staff felt that Bradley represented the best chance for sustained success at Aston Villa, they would have been foolish not hire him.  In retrospect now that Bradley has reupped with the U.S. National team we’ll never know if Bradley was compelling enough of a candidate to override the potential stigma he’d bring to the club had he failed.  It’s obvious that there were, and are, safer choices for Lerner such as Houllier (and arguably better choices too).  Bradley ultimately was probably more risk than reward.

Bob Bradley is qualified to coach in the English Premier League.  CALL.

First and foremost he’s a winner.  He’s won everywhere he’s been.  He’s taken the American team to a Confederations Cup final, he’s won a World Cup group, and he has won in the MLS with multiple teams.  We can denigrate the quality of the MLS but far more renown managers have failed in that league where Bradley’s succeeded in multiple stops.  To put it simply:  than man just wins.  He and his teams also have shown a knack for producing when the results are most needed.  True, his teams have dug a lot of holes for themselves, but they’ve shown Bradley’s resilience in getting out of them.  That is a skill set that translates everywhere.

He also eats, breathes and lives soccer.  He’s a film room junkie and has a passion for the sport that rivals only the best managers.  Bradley has won wide international acclaim for his job as U.S. manager with many big names praising his decisions.  The acclaim is not just overt, but also subtle.  It’s interesting that a lot of American World Cup players have had difficulty in finding jobs recently despite the relative success of the team.   Granted it’s a depressed market, but it seems more so for Americans including those who have already proven themselves at European clubs.  It took Damarcus Beasley far too long to get another opportunity.  It’s not hard to extrapolate that insiders give more credit for the U.S. success to the manager than to the players.

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