Bob Bradley deserves his chance, but he’s still looking for a connection

When Bob Bradley made history in October and became the first American to manage in the English Premier League he, more than anyone, knew he would have fight harder than ever to prove himself.

Fast forward almost two months and, with his first win behind him, he knows that is still the case more than ever.

At his first press conference Bradley, who was born in New Jersey, made it clear he knew what the protocol was going to be.

“With football in the US, we have always known we needed to earn respect. It’s the number one thing. For a club to have any chance of being successful, you have to have connection with supporters and community,” admitted Bradley.

And with three points bagged, albeit only just in the topsy-turvy 5-4 win over struggling Crystal Palace, the 58 year-old again emphasized that a connection with the fans was crucial.

“We have some good guys and they are good to work with every day,” beamed Bradley at The Liberty Stadium on Saturday

“I’ve enjoyed what each one is all about and I try to create an environment where everybody is part of something – the players, the staff, everyone. I am trying to find a way of connecting to the supporters too.”

It’s a connection that unfortunately due to his New Jersey accent and, more comically, his fashion sense is yet to take hold.

Match of the Day host and former England striker Gary Lineker recently pulled Bradley up on his ‘jumper’.

It was water off a duck’s back though for Bradley, as was the fun poked at him on social media for his American pronunciation of Alan ‘Pardoo’.

“I’ve already heard I’ve failed the dress test. My daughters told me they thought a pair of black slacks and a nice black sweater was fair enough, but obviously Gary Lineker didn’t,” said Bradley after defeat in his first game against Arsenal.

“I thought a jumper was something a little girl wore to kindergarten!”

Although that was light-hearted, Bradley has and will have to face up to more sinister attacks aimed at the American stereotype with a common Twitter phrase being “he’s out of his depth”.

Far from it.

Taunts and jibes on social media are far from a balanced overview of the Swansea fans, but it’s safe to safe generally there was not too much cheer when Bradley was handed the reins on October 3. There was a feeling of apathy.

With two American owners at the helm in Wales it was an obvious starting point for his detractors, but Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien admitted to not knowing and never meeting Bradley before his interview, which reportedly went very well. What’s more they were adamant that Bradley was the best man for the job and with Ryan Giggs the other major candidate it’s hard to disagree.

Would Manchester United and Wales legend Giggs had to put up with jibes about his appointment being down to his playing exploits at Old Trafford? Certainly not from the mainstream media, who had tried their best to get Giggs the job. But with no coaching experience to his name, Bradley’s resume must have stood out a mile from Giggs’ list of winner’s medals.

And looking deeper into Bradley’s achievements it’s not hard to see why Kaplan and Levien hung their hats on their compatriot.

His management career started in 1981 but he rose to prominence with a near five-year spell at the helm of the US national team, where he boasted a win percentage of 52.5%.

That was eclipsed by his time in charge of the Egypt national team, where he became a respected figure after his efforts to galvanise the country in the aftermath of the uprising that engulfed Cairo. He was also in place when the Egyptian Premier League was suspended in the aftermath of the Port Said Stadium riot of 2012, where 74 people died and 500 were injured. He has seen and experienced hard times.

It was then Bradley showed his compassion and leadership facets, visiting the injured and loved ones of the deceased. He had after fully immersed himself in the Egyptian way of life and he just missed out on 2014 World Cup qualification, losing in the play-offs to Ghana, finishing with a 67% win percentage.

Bradley then led Norwegian club Stabaek to the Europa League before joining French club Le Havre in November 2015 and just missed out on promotion to Ligue 1 by a single goal.

He was torn to leave the French side but a move to the EPL was a dream he could not turn down and he’s convinced Saturday’s remarkable home win will be the turning point for the Swans’ season. More of the same will help get the fans on his side, but for a manager that built his teams on firm rocks, the 5-4 scoreline last time out was not what Bradley is about.

His USA team was strong and resolute and his expertise was squeezing more from inferior players, and with that in mind he seems a good fit for the Swans, who sold two of their best players from last season Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams to leave them with a modest squad.

In the summer they did not really replace the pair, although Fernando Llorente scored twice in the last few seconds to sink Palace and Bradley is hoping the Spanish focal point can be the man to step up and fire them to safety.

If Llorente can find his feet, and he has admitted to struggling to adapt, then Bradley has a chance of leading his team to mid-table. But Bradley deserves a fair go at proving he can do the job.

Forget his Americanisms and referring to a penalty as a ‘PK’, the goalkeeper as a ‘net minder’ and the Premier League as the EPL, Bradley has established himself as a hard-nosed manager and not ‘an American manager’ as he pointed out from day one but ‘a football manager’.

And as he admits, his slacks, jumpers, accent and Americanisms won’t matter if he starts turning over positive results: “If we win, no one will care.”


Oliver Burke on top of Bundesliga after broadening horizons

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

While young Scottish international Oliver Burke’s ignorance could be excused for not knowing who French author Andre Gide was, the unlikely pair certainly hold the same values.

There were plenty of sneers and noses turned up when 19-year-old Burke moved from Nottingham Forest to Red Bull Leipzig in the summer. It was almost cast as a crime in some English quarters when Burke opted to chance his arm in the German Bundesliga and turn down the lure of the English Premier League.

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Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal were all tracking the Melton Mowbray prospect, but it wasn’t the right fit for Burke who decided to head for a club founded just seven years ago, but a club very much on the up.

John Hartson, who played all his career in the UK, was baffled, he could not believe it and pointed the finger at his agent.

“He’s gone over to Germany and I can’t understand that, to be honest with you. I think that stinks of agents more than anything else.

“How much German football do we all see? We see highlights of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and that’s about it.

“The Premier League is the place to be. I thought that was the next step for him,” said Hartson.

It wasn’t though, and just what foundation Hartson had to suggest that Burke may not progress in Germany because the exposure of their rival European league in the UK was poor was a somewhat small-minded approach.

Burke, who is trying hard to learn the German language, cannot be accused of having a closed mind. The Scottish-born right winger is enjoying life and the culture in a new country and at the top of the Bundesliga to boot.

Don’t be mistaken; this is no fairytale story. The £13million deal to take Burke from Forest was the biggest ever involving a Scottish player. It’s not a rags to riches story, but a tale of boldness, and the desire to experience something new.

And just three months later Burke is already reaping the rewards after RasenBallsport Leipzig, to give them their full name, moved three points clear at the summit.

They remain unbeaten since their promotion to the top flight and if they can topple Freiburg on Friday they will march six points clear of Bayern Munich on the back of four straight promotions up the German ladder.

Burke might well be congratulated for snubbing the EPL’s elite and good on him for refusing to join the 40-plus players out on loan ‘developing’ at other clubs – the Chelsea model.

“For a young man I don’t want to go somewhere that is a big club but, really, am I going to play? Am I going to progress? Or are they just going to stick me out on loan, which happens a lot at English clubs nowadays,” Burke told the Daily Mail in September.

“You can only look at your Chelsea, and see the amount of talent they have, but they’re all on loan, not getting used.”

His decision though is paying dividends.

“It’s obviously proved everybody wrong and now I’ve really shown that I’ve come to a fantastic club. I don’t really need to say much really – look at where we are,” Burke told The Set Pieces.

“It’s been very positive. Every day I’m learning something new and I can only get better at this club,” said Burke.

Burke will be the first to admit he has plenty to learn and he’s far from the finished article, but he has moved on considerably from the teenager that was loaned to Bradford in 2014/15.

Then 17, he was sent north to pick up some first-team experience in the third tier of English football, but after two appearances and two defeats he returned to Forest having failed to show much of the potential that Forest suspected he heralded.

Burke though returned to the City Ground even more determined to improve and the following season he made 23 appearances, scoring twice, and his performances were getting noticed. Scouts from all over England were tracking the powerful forward and when he scored four times at the start of this season, Leipzig had seen enough to make him their joint-record signing.

He’s been far from a first-team regular for the upwardly-mobile German new boys. So far he has played only 193 minutes, making just one start, but he has made an impact.

His only start at Cologne saw him find the net, while he has provided two assists, but he knows he has plenty to learn.

“I have the right people around me and I’m still at a young age.

“It’s all about learning now and becoming a better player. I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”

Comparisons to Britain’s greatest ever football export – Gareth Bale – maybe premature but Burke’s future is a bright one despite being axed by Scotland recently.

Gordon Strachan dropped the youngster from the squad for the recent 3-0 defeat by Slovakia, just days after subbing Burke in the 1-1 draw with Lithuania. It will prove as a reminder to Burke that his journey has only just begun, but one player who made a similar move in 1996 – former Scotland skipper Paul Lambert – is convinced Burke is on the right path.

At the age of 25, Lambert moved from Motherwell to Borussia Dormund and he recently told the Daily Mail he is sure Burke will benefit from a similar move.

“He has been ambitious in going over there and I’m full of admiration for him. The easiest thing for him would’ve been just to stay in England.

“OK, he might not have played as many minutes as he would have liked so far. But he’s at a team that is absolutely flying, second in the Bundesliga.

“They are wiping out everything that’s in front of them, and, trust me, he will learn more there in six months than he would in a couple of years in England.”

Burke, who signed a five-year contract, will be hoping for a longer stay than that but all the signs are that if he decides to move on, his football education in Saxony will have stood him in good stead.

Matthew Briggs

No decision to make; USMNT and Klinsmann’s fight has gone

USMNT captain Michael Bradley was as diplomatic as he could have been in the wake of two damaging World Cup qualifying defeats this week, but even then his feelings were evident and coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s time looks to be up.

A 2-1 reverse to Mexico in Columbus was followed up by a 4-0 mauling by Costa Rica to leave Jurgen’s men bottom of their qualifying hex.

All is not lost with four automatic qualifiers from the group and two of the hardest games down. USMNT are still fancied to reach Russia in 2018 but whether Klinsmann will still be at the helm is very unlikely.

Whether it was a 3-4-3, which Klinsmann claimed or a 3-5-2, the switch from the usual 4-4-2 left the USA vulnerable and it was no surprise when Mexico pinched the points at the death. The change – the first time Klinsmann has used a three-man defence in competitive action – in such a big game was a gamble that did not pay off and Bradley afterwards admitted that Mexico’s spacing gave the USA clear problems and made it difficult to defend.

“The way they space themselves out and do a few things tactically, means that you have to have clear ideas about how you’re going to go about dealing with it,” said Bradley.

“I thought in the second half we were able to, just by virtue of rearranging ourselves and a little bit more intensity, get after them a little bit more and really close things down and really tilt the bar in our favor.”

The USA’s switch back to a 4-4-2 in the second half, whether it was prompted by Bradley and co. or not, gave USA a footing back into the game, but afterwards Klinsmann made it clear where he thought the blame lay.

Klinsmann called out Bradley and Jermaine Jones for not playing well enough in the first half and the very fact that he has decided to point the blame at the players may well be his final call because his goose looks cooked.

The second-half performance in Tuesday’s 4-0 defeat by Costa Rica was described as a ‘chaotic, ragged performance’, by MLS Soccer and raises the question whether Bradley and the rest of the players have given up on the German coach.

There has been tension between Bradley and Klinsmann recently with Bradley keen to play as a defensive midfielder, while Klinsmann has preferred to use him as box-to-box No. 4. Regardless of the history between them his second-half showing – matched by many of the USA side – was gutless.

“On a night like this there is no point in trying to look at it any other way,” Bradley said after his team’s second straight loss. “We have to be big enough and strong enough to say we weren’t good enough.”

When asked why the US weren’t good enough, Bradley paused for another 15 seconds before claiming the team wasn’t ready for “what the game was going to be about”.

Again hardly a glowing tribute to the coach, who afterwards admitted it was the most painful defeat of his reign.

“This is the defeat that hurts the most in my five years here, there’s no doubt about it,” Klinsmann told reporters as he took full responsibility for his team’s inability to bounce back from the Mexico setback.

“We had some chances but I think they gave us a psychological knock with that goal right before halftime,” he added.

“There’s always things you look back on and think you should have done differently,” Klinsmann said when asked about his game plan. “It’s not about the system.

“It’s about the willingness to fight back, and after the second goal they didn’t have that power or that drive to get back into the game.”

Has the fight gone from Klinsmann? Those comments suggest exactly that and a coach that is unable to rally his players usually finds himself dumped and pretty quickly.

His mood after Mexico was downbeat but he managed to post a thank you to fans for their support. His mood after the loss to Costa Rica was darker and his Twitter account has been silent ever since.

The trust and close bond between coach and the players looks to have disintegrated.

Asked whether time was up for Klinsmann, US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati would not be rushed into a decision.

“We won’t make any decisions right after games,” said Gulati inside the Estadio Nacional.

“We’ll think about what happened today and talk with Jurgen and look at the situation. Obviously it’s not a good start to the Hex, and today in particular was not a good performance.”

Unfortunately for Klinsmann though there doesn’t look being much of a decision to make; the media have also decided he must go, and Gulati’s decision has almost been made for him.

Koeman blunder ruthlessly exposed by Conte’s flexible Chelsea

Chelsea would have swept away just about anyone put before them on Saturday night but Ronald Koeman’s decision to match-up Antonio Conte’s line-up was his worst yet as Everton boss.

Ahead of the game it was certainly a bold move against a Chelsea side who had won their previous four games, including a 4-0 demolition job on Manchester United, but in the aftermath of Everton’s 5-0 defeat it now looks naive.

A switch to 3-4-3 is paying dividends for Conte – a manager whose success in Serie A with Juventus was built on three at the back. Five straight wins, 16 goals scored and none conceded and a performance on Saturday evening which befitted the Bonfire Night date.

“This was the best 90 minute performance I have ever seen in the Premier League,” said legendary commentator John Motson.

“It was a great game, a good performance,” claimed Conte in the immediate aftermath – however after some time to reflect the Blues boss rightly upgraded the display and after being asked to use an Italian word – ‘fantastica’ was his considered response.

Conte was right to crow too because Chelsea were simply breathtaking, but Koeman’s attempts to nullify the hosts with a like-for-like formation was suicidal. Not since the opening day of the season had Everton gone with a back three and although they managed a draw against Spurs on that day they were never going to get a repeat once Eden Hazard had put Chelsea ahead.

Playing a three-man defence and a rearguard with limited pace too against Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro was always going to be risky and it proved more than that as Chelsea’s three frontrunners tore Koeman’s men apart.

Playing against two strikers a back three can be very effective, because it gives you a man over in defence while you can then try and outnumber the opposition in midfield. Playing three vs three though, and away from home when you are likely to see little possession is and was a very different story.

Everton had seen only Spurs concede fewer goals ahead of the Stamford Bridge clash but it soon became clear that switching from a back four to a back three was not as easy as it may seem.

Koeman afterwards claimed the formation was irrelevant because Chelsea’s pressing, hard running and quick passing would have prevailed whatever, but his 3-4-3 failed to give his men a footing in the game.

The Dutchman switched to a back four on 36 minutes with the arrival of Kevin Mirallas and he will point to the fact that his men fared no better to prove the point that the system was not a factor.

However, starting a back four would not have left his defenders three on three against a revitalised Chelsea.

Hazard looks like the player he was the year before last and much of that has to do with him being further forward and able to vacate any defensive duties. It’s no coincidence the Belgium star now has seven goals this term, eclipsing the six he grabbed last season after admitting he has got his football mojo back again.

“I am enjoying playing now, my position is a bit different from before, I go inside more and I try to shoot,” he said after scoring twice on Saturday.

Costa, who also netted leads the scoring charts, looked a yard sharper and is thriving on two quick players either side of him, while Pedro looked like the player he was at Barcelona for years – rampaging up and down the right flank.

Koeman will point to the absence of the suspended Idrissa Gueye. He leads the division on tackles won (44) and was a big miss at the Bridge but Chelsea would have found a way through with or without Gueye.

For Chelsea David Luiz put in another rock-like display in the middle of the back three.

His return to the Bridge was met with some scepticism and he was surely not Conte’s first choice as he returned somewhat out of the blue on transfer deadline day. Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli was rumored to be Conte’s preferred target, but the Brazil defender was the man drafted in and he has been molded into a reliable kingpin.

His ability to bring the ball out of defence was always undeniable but the fans and pundits that once sniggered at his lackadaisical tendencies have been forced to take note of his improvement – a man coached the right way.

Ahead of the season in his first Chelsea press conference Conte placed his emphasis on being flexible.

“When I was in Italy I liked to say that the coach is like a tailor,” he said. “You must build the best dress for a team, and respect their characteristics and talents. Then you decide. In the past I started seasons with one idea and then changed it because I saw this system wasn’t good. Three at the back? Four at the back? It’s not important.”

And he’s done exactly that with Chelsea – aborting a back four after the mauling by Arsenal to adopt a three-man defence which has suited his squad thus far.

The Italian tactician, who has long-term plans and is soon hoping to bring his family to the capital, employed an attacking 4-2-4 formation at Bari between 2007-09 and he won the Serie B title in the latter of those two seasons, before using the same line-up with two high-playing wingers at Siena en route to another Serie B promotion two years later.

The 46 year-old attempted to play a similar way at Juventus before the arrival of Arturo Vidal and then he went to a 3-5-2 system to suit the Chile star, which brought him three successive Serie A titles.

He’s modified that again at Chelsea. Employing a 3-4-3 line-up and his ability and willingness to be flexible will be a major advantage as Chelsea bid to get back to where they once were.

Matthew Briggs