Bob Bradley exclusive interview: LAFC is 'what I want to do from here on out'
It was Friedrich Nietzsche -- and Rustin "Rust" Cohle from HBO's "True Detective" -- who said, "Time is a flat circle." Everything we do, we'll do over and over again, forever. As Bob Bradley takes on the head-coaching job with Los Angeles FC, it seems he's intent on proving that theory correct.
To be clear, Bradley has the most unique managerial career of any American. He's coached two different national teams on two different continents (the U.S. and Egypt). He remains one of the few Americans to manage a top-flight team in Europe and is the only one to take over the reins of a Premier League side. But in terms of LAFC, the parallels to previous points in Bradley's life are almost uncanny.
This isn't the first expansion team Bradley has taken on. Back in 1998, he got the Chicago Fire off the ground and won an MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup double. He's also spent considerable time in Los Angeles, having managed Chivas USA -- the very team LAFC is replacing -- for a solitary season. He then remained in California when he was in charge of the U.S. national team.
There are other, more subtle similarities. Throughout his career, Bradley has searched out people whose ideas are in alignment with his own. That appears to be the case here. LAFC's executive vice president of soccer operations is John Thorrington, whom Bradley coached briefly on the U.S. national team. When asked why he chose to become the first manager of LAFC, Bradley spoke of how the passion and commitment "just poured out" of the people already in the organization.
"In all the years that I've worked, I've really valued the opportunity to work with talented, intelligent people, where there's a real vision of something," he said in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC.
"In this case, for me, with all of the different experiences that I've had in the game, my ideas, my vision on a club, what kind of football to play, how that club has to have an identity and be something that people can feel part of -- those are things that mean so much to me. And I love going into every situation and trying to take my ideas and create something that's different and special. So as I worked through things here, I just felt that that part of it was so exciting."
Bradley said he stopped by the LAFC offices a year ago just to see what the burgeoning club was about. He was in charge of French side Le Havre at the time, and soon afterward he began his hugely difficult (and ultimately unsuccessful) spell in charge of Premier League side Swansea. He was out of a job after just 85 days, and Bradley and LAFC soon gravitated toward one another.
"All of these things need to run their natural course," he said. "LAFC had to go through a process of their ideas, their vision, who might fit, timing ... and while that was happening I was doing the same thing. Then it was always clear that as they got into the middle of 2017, and they were going to try to move things along, and it just happened that the end part of it connected in a really good way, and it happened quickly."
When Bradley last spoke to ESPN FC in the wake of his firing by Swansea in December, it was clear his emotions were still raw. He felt that the club's ownership lost their nerve when things went poorly. The ensuing months have given him some time for reflection, but his belief in his abilities remains unwavering.
"I was confident and will always be confident in what I would have been able to achieve," he said. "But I also know how the game works. I also recognize I was putting myself in a challenging spot, and the most difficult part was going to be the points in the short run. You look back, you think, but the game also gives you new chances.
"I've not been one ever to dwell on things. The experiences that I've had ... I'm strong, I've come out of every one feeling very confident about how I go about things and the way I was able to impact people."
In the wake of Bradley's dismissal, many thought that coaching in Europe, which had long been a goal of his, hadn't completely gotten out of his system. He didn't want the Swansea experience to be his epitaph overseas. Bradley didn't dismiss the idea that coaching in Europe is an itch he still needs to scratch, but right now he has motivations that he finds to be more compelling.
"I think more than anything, at the moment, what drives me is this idea of trying to put all of my experiences into action, into a situation where maybe we can really do something that we're all proud of," he said. "That doesn't take away the different goals that I've had along the way, but that is still the part that drives me the most."
He added, "This last period has been still important for me to think, 'Where can I find a place where I can really take everything and go?' As the discussions moved along [at LAFC], I really felt that this is the situation that absolutely fits everything I've done and what I want to do from here on out."
Bradley's resume certainly fits. Nearly 20 years ago he took his first professional head-coaching job with the expansion Fire, and he acknowledged that MLS is a different league now. There are more teams, more purpose-built stadiums and, yes, even more arcane roster rules. But he still feels there is plenty upon which he can draw, be it finding players or putting together a staff.
"That experience of now starting from scratch, piece by piece, everything counts to get it right," he said. "My wheels are spinning, and I think all of us will be hard at work in all of those different ways."
Bradley's experience with Chivas USA should also serve him well. The Chivas side had a strong Latino influence thanks to players like Paco Palencia, Ramon Ramirez and Claudio Suarez. But it was fused with U.S. performers as well, like Ante Razov and Sacha Kljestan. Given LAFC's location in the heart of the city, Bradley could do worse than to go that route again.
During that time, Bradley also came face to face with competing against the LA Galaxy, in a rivalry that back then showed some potential.
"All over the world, these rivalries are important," he said. "The best ones are developed over time. But in one short year, I still remember that playing the Galaxy was special and you could feel something different in the stadium. If you take that and magnify it by 1,000, that's what is going to happen starting next year."
Of course, Bradley hopes this nascent rivalry will endure, at which point the flat circle will be broken.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.