Bob Bradley ready for Premier League challenge after a career of hard work
Bob Bradley's Premier League dream has finally become reality but his appointment as manager of Swansea City is one chapter -- and not the final one by any means. There are still skeptics to win over, not just on the eastern side of the Atlantic.
As Bradley spoke via telephone about his new endeavor and his career, it's clear that he still feels like he has plenty to prove, whether it be to players, fans or even executives that have fired him from previous posts.
It makes for an interesting dynamic. Bradley's self-confidence is never in doubt. His always-ironclad belief in his methods has never been stronger; after all, he wouldn't have reached his current position otherwise. Yet it's accompanied by an undercurrent of frustration in that appreciation for his work has been slow to come, and in some quarters never came at all.
It's human nature, of course. Everyone wants to be respected for his or her work. But some old scabs haven't healed for Bradley either, for better and worse. At last week's introductory press conference, he didn't hesitate to convey his distaste over the manner in which current U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann "jockeyed" for his job, or how he was let go by U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati. But those experiences have also provided fuel, especially over the last five years.
This much is sure, however. If Bradley is successful with the Swans, the Premier League fishbowl will provide no shortage of praise and the ultimate validation of his abilities.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
ESPN FC: I'm sure it's been a bit of a whirlwind, but what have these last few days -- the reception from the club and everyone connected to it -- been like for you?
Bob Bradley: The people at the club are fantastic. And again, for all of you guys who have struggled so badly to ever figure out what I'm all about, all you would have ever needed to do was to talk to equipment men I've worked with, talk to backroom people, because the part of understanding how to go in every day, how to make people feel appreciated, how to know what's going on in their lives, asking about their kids, this is what I've always done because this is who I am.
When I go into new situations, I love getting in, seeing what's going on, getting to know the people behind the scenes and starting to give them an idea of who I am, what we're going to try to do together. Yes, it's a whirlwind, but I've done it before.
A year ago in Norway, I coached the last game on a Sunday. On the Monday, I spent time with all the players and the people in the club. On Tuesday, [my wife] Lindsay and I flew from Oslo to Paris, got picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport, a couple of hours to Le Havre, and the next morning after I landed and introduced myself to the players, I was on the field for the first training session.
When you've done this stuff before, your idea of what you say when you get there and how you go about it is pretty well established. I end up saying some version of the same thing every time. I shake their hands; I look at them, and make sure they understand that I'm excited to work with them. I say "I don't arrive with all the answers. I'm going to listen, I'm going to observe," but I also have ideas on what training should be like. I have ideas on what kind of environment we need to have. I'm going to get to know you and you're going to get to know who I am and together we're going to figure out how to make a good team.
Honestly, that part isn't too different about how I challenged guys at Princeton and every place I've been since. That's what it's all about.
ESPN FC: Obviously you win respect by winning games but given the ups and downs of the job, is what you just talked about part of the process by which you gain respect, even though it doesn't involve results?
BB: Sure. Look, when you go to work, you have an influence on people. When you go in, it's something special. I'm flattered at the number of guys who played for me that are now coaching. I'm proud of young guys that I worked with whose careers moved along.
As for the results, you don't always control the results. Sometimes, no matter how much progress you make with the team, you might end up going up against a team that is still man for man a little bit better. That's football. But the work that goes on every day? People don't forget those things.
Like I said, one of the reasons that I believe in the way I do things, and one of the reasons that I always believe in myself, is that I've been lucky. I've experienced it. When I've been fired, I've still had guys that have said to me, "You know what? This has been the best experience we've ever had." I don't worry about the rest of this s--t, quite honestly.
ESPN FC: At your press conference [last week], when you spoke about losing the U.S. job, you said you didn't like how it was done. What did you mean specifically?
BB: Look, I said everything I'm going to say about the situation [at the press conference]. I'm not going any deeper on it. You can read between the lines, but I'm not going into that in any more detail.
ESPN FC: Fans in the U.S. know you mostly from your time as manager of the U.S. national team, but that ended five years ago. How have your last three appointments -- Egypt, Stabaek and Le Havre -- prepared you for the challenge you're about to face?
BB: In every situation, you get tested in different ways. I feel that from the beginning, I've always challenged myself to get better. I've challenged myself to learn on the fly. Again, I don't go around bragging about it but I tell you that I'm pretty good at figuring out people and figuring out situations. That's always been something that has worked well for me.
When I got fired by the U.S. -- I said it at the press conference -- I don't know many people who would have taken the job in Egypt, but I was proud for that chance and [what] went on there, and obviously there are things that you can't prepare for. But then when you're in a country where terrible things are happening, and you've got players who don't know what's happening with their careers, and you don't speak their language, when you can find a way to connect with them and help them understand "Listen, I'm not going anywhere. We're in this together"... when you do stuff like that and they respond, it gets reinforced that the things you've been doing have been right.
And then when you go to a small club in Norway, and everybody tells you "You're crazy, you have no chance," you say again "Bulls---, I'm going to prove myself." And you go in and from the beginning, you start to engage guys. You find ways to challenge people, to look them in the eye. I've always done this. The ones that have known me from the beginning -- speak to some of the guys from the Fire, the guys that played for me at Princeton -- know that part has never changed.
ESPN FC: Obviously the Premier League creates considerable pull and that's what makes jobs attractive, but what else about the Swansea job made it so enticing?
BB: It's a club with soul. All you've got to do is watch the documentary "Jack to a King" and understand that in a place like this, at a certain moment when the club was maybe going to go down a wrong path, that people put in their own money and the kind of connection existed between the football club and the community. And I said in the press conference, on a different scale [it was the same at] Stabaek.
You know what? When you are around people like that, it sticks with you.
So yeah, in addition to the fact that it's the Premier League and these opportunities don't show up every day, you get a real sense of people here, and that gets reinforced every time I go to the training center. People have been working for the club for a long time, really warm, good people, and I'm very excited to be part of it.
ESPN FC: How many interviews for top-flight jobs did you actually get?
BB: I don't know what you would call an interview but there are times when a club is doing reconnaissance, trying to figure out which direction they might go. I've had these kinds of discussions. I've had them when the team turned it around and started winning games; every time that happened, I thought "Good for them."
I've had it in situations where they came back to me and needed an answer and I said no because I'm still committed to something else. I've been in it in all different ways. But I've been in that situation enough times.
As I said before, in those situations, I'm very confident that when I talk to people, I'm going to make sure they know who I am. Maybe it will work. If not, maybe down the road they'll remember that when spoke there was something about me. But that stuff happened enough times. I don't know the exact number.
ESPN FC: So in this particular interview process, did you get the sense right away that this was a real opportunity and that your candidacy was being taken more seriously?
BB: I think in many other cases, the discussions were serious too. For one reason or another, it didn't happen. A couple of discussions this time around, when I left, I left feeling good, just like most of the other situations. Whether it was going to work out or not, I had no idea. But I certainly felt good that I gave them a real picture of who I am.
ESPN FC: At what stage did you think "This is different, it's going to happen this time."
BB: Monday morning [Oct. 3], I told my wife "You still need to understand that this thing might still fall apart. You have to keep steady in all this." We had a game that night so I had gone into the club to do a few things and get organized. I typically would get a workout and while I was working out, I saw the team had called and I heard that it was going to move forward.
It was a couple of days of intense discussions. On Monday, if I had heard it was going in a different direction for one reason or another, that chapter would have closed. As it was anyway, I coached the game that night and I would have been continuing to put my complete focus and energy and concentration into everything at Le Havre.
ESPN FC: How tough was it to leave Le Havre?
BB: It was tough to leave before the end, and I had never done it before. Obviously everybody knows we went to the last game [of the season] last year, missed [promotion to Ligue 1] by a goal. And I was ready this year to go to the end again. But this time the discussions that I had with [Le Havre owner] Vince Volpe, I needed him to understand that this was an opportunity for me that was different. I asked for his understanding and he gave it me. I'll always appreciate that.
ESPN FC: Obviously it's early days, but what thoughts have you had about the transfer market? There's a lot of speculation that you're going to be looking at American or MLS players. What, if any, thoughts have you given to that at all?
BB: Some of the speculation that you read on social media, some of the names that get thrown out and some of the people that are writing it, they don't know anything. That's my first comment.
What do you do in any transfer window? You analyze your team, you discuss it with the people that you make decisions with and you try to see what the possibilities are. Look: there are good American players. Nobody understands that more than me. Nobody has more respect for some of these guys than me. But when I make the first comment, the media in the U.S. and the stuff that starts spinning is totally out of control.
The sense of where we are and what we'll need to do has not been determined yet other than that will be part of the work.
ESPN FC: What have the first few training sessions been like? What's been the response of the players?
BB: The response has been very good. The first day, the number [of available players] was so small that you're limited in what you can do. But still, you could tell they were excited. I still have good ideas on working with small numbers. [Now] the numbers are a little more, so it makes it where you can accomplish more, it can have a little more of a tactical element.
[Friday's training] I thought was very good, and we'll continue tomorrow. But again, my experience everywhere is that if you run the right kind of training sessions, you challenge players the right way, they like that. I also feel like players want to get better, they want to be coached. You have to know the right way to do it but I've had good experiences where players see themselves getting better and are excited about what is happening in training.
I think it's different than other things they've been doing and so my ideas on training and general ideas haven't changed, but the little details of how I do things? Obviously I've been able to add way more ideas and different ideas on how to work on different things. My notebooks are full. That part has always been good.
ESPN FC: Can you give some examples of little details that have crept into your sessions?
BB: I have different ways to construct sessions that have tactical elements, encouraging one team to have to extend itself in attack, but then when they lose the ball to have to make decisions about whether they press or how they reorganize. It's easy to give a team structure when you don't move, but to be able to extend yourself in attack and then regroup and not always have perfect structure: this is what the best teams can do. They can do it fast and they can do it consistently throughout a game.
Those kinds of things need attention. I think I've always understood that, but I've certainly come up with different ways of doing things.
ESPN FC: What are your thoughts on the Arsenal game coming up?
BB: On one hand, Arsenal have had a very good start; they always play great football. It's never easy to win at the Emirates but most of these guys have played there. They've had some success in the past and from a standpoint of a footballer, these are the kind of games you love. So we're going to find a way to make sure that we're prepared and organized but also ready to go for it. That will be the kind of work that gets more detailed as the week moves along.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.