Bob Bradley sacking: How Swansea’s woes transcend the club
The dust has begun to settle on Swansea’s second managerial appointment of the campaign; the ill-fated 85-day tenure of American coach Bob Bradley. Bradley was afforded his first taste of management in the English game following the departure of Francesco Guidolin at the back end of 2016. The former US national boss was tasked with resurrecting a campaign that had started grimly for the Swans. A record of two wins from 11 games was deemed inadequate for a board keenly aware of the possible ramifications of a Premier League exit.
Bradley’s form smacked of relegation, but was by no means a downturn from an on-going trend at the Liberty. Indeed, Bradley had inherited something of a poisoned chalice (by choice and with decent remuneration granted), a club that had been on a downward trajectory for some time. Many fans would point to the sale of a stake to Americans Steven Kaplan and Jason Levien as a turning point, one without consultation and a decision that has since prompted rumours of a planned ‘Americanisation’ of the club. Hardly the ideal environment for a budding coach to become the Premier League’s first American manager is it?
Ironically, under the reigns of Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez Swansea had actually been something of a model club, developing young talents and cultivating an identity that would allow them to firmly establish themselves as a Premier League club. Yet the demise seems to have a lot more to do with boardroom level management, and less so to do with coaching personnel. Long-gone is the home town feel that Huw Jenkins once presided over, the likes of Joe Allen and Ashley Williams forming the core of the welsh club. Instead Swansea have been left with an assortment of disinterested and largely unattached footballers that appear to care very little for the club that they play for. Many will no doubt be planning a summer move of their own in the face of the clubs likely relegation this season.
Having stressed the need for identity, it seems odd therefore to provide a defence of Bradley’s nationality here. It is important to distinguish between the two things. The suggestion isn’t that Swansea need to have a first eleven full of welsh footballers, more the point that they have a squad with a care for the club and one that is willing to play and work towards a common goal. In many cases local born players more easily engender these things, but that need not always be the case. Think of Vincent Kompany at Manchester City, a foreign born player that displays the facets that both fans and management alike appreciate; injuries aside!
The issue with Bradley though is that he was given absolutely no opportunity to succeed. Hounded by the press and ridiculed for his perceived american approach, none of which should effect his ability to manage, he was facing the exit door from the very off. In fact some of the treatment he endured bordered on a form of cultural racism. Richard Keys, who is rarely mentioned on such issues of morality, made an interesting point when he questioned whether such treatment would be socially tolerated if dealt to those of a different creed or colour.
This is something that went beyond the realms of humour and became borderline unpleasant. Even more bizarre given that we currently have a crop of top-level managers that can barely speak the English language anyway (some British managers included in that group). So why was it suddenly okay to attack Bob Bradley in a way that no one else has?
The consensus seems to be that the 4-1 defeat to West Ham was a point of no return for Bradley, a performance and result that made his job untenable. The American accused the club of ‘losing their nerve’, and it was clearly a moment of weakness that saw the owners throw their manager of 11 games under the proverbial bus (ESPN):
“They lost their nerve. They reacted to the fans and didn’t have the strength to see it through,” said Bradley. “That part I’m not happy about. I spoke very quickly to Jason Levien [after losing to West Ham], I received a message from Steve Kaplan and both referenced something about ‘unfair’. But you always tell your players that the game will challenge you in all sorts of ways. The game can be cruel. In order to have any chance you have to be strong. You have to believe in your work, you have to believe in how you do things as a group. It can’t be thrown off track every time something goes against you.”
Swansea and the Premier League have almost certainly lost themselves a talented coach; one who may never unfortunately be afforded the opportunity to prove himself at this level again.
For Swansea, relegation may come as a strange blessing. An opportunity to re-invent themselves, find that old identity once more and to rebuild. If Bob Bradley had a tough task on his hands, Paul Clement’s surely represents an even harder test.