Bob Bradley would be the first to tell you that talk is cheap. But the former U.S. Men’s National Team coach didn’t hesitate to stake out his ethos and persona on Friday in his first formal encounter with the media since becoming manager of English Premier League side Swansea City.
Speaking confidently and expansively over a solid half-hour, Bradley used his first Swans press conference to address the negative reactions to his hiring, underline his long journey to this point and his humble approach to the daunting task in front of him.
“First, I’m honored to be at Swansea City Football Club,” he said when asked about his pioneering role as the first Yank to manage in the Premiership. “The American side, I can cover in 30 seconds and then we can push that out the door, OK? With football in the United States we’ve always understood we have to earn respect. When I was with the national team, every time we got a chance to play in Europe, the players and I would understand: Today is one more day when we can show what the game is like in our country.
“If in some way, this helps, I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do, if that helps some people down the road. But this bit about ‘pioneer’ and all the rest – I’m not an American manager. I’m a football manager … I realize that there’s not one person in Swansea that could care less about what anybody in the United States thinks at the moment. They care about their football club, and man, I’m here to give everything I have for the fans, for the club, and I couldn’t be more excited about the chance.”
Weighing his words carefully but answering every query at impressive length, Bradley presented a radically different version of the man who usually brought gritted teeth and cautious, clipped responses to media interactions as USMNT coach.
“When I go into any job, I go in to get to know the people, get to know the club, get to know the supporters,” he said. “It’s not about me. I get that. I’m not a football manager that goes in with a huge ego. I go in to try to work and give everything that I have to what’s there.”
He praised his new team’s deep connections to its fans and community, and promised to work to win over supporters who publicly expressed their disapproval of the dismissal of his predecessor Francesco Guidolin.
“If they’re angry right now, I get it,” said Bradley. “I have full respect for Francesco. And now I will do everything to earn their respect. Be clear about one thing: No matter what your name is, if you come to the Premier League, you still have to earn respect. It’s not given to you.
“A name might sound good at the beginning, but I’ll tell you what – you guys [in the media] are too good at what you do. You’re not letting anybody off the hook easy. You don’t come in and get handed anything. You get tested. And I’m excited for that. In everything I’ve done in life, I have fully understood that you have to earn respect.”
Stunningly, Bradley also ended his long habit of keeping mum about his sudden firing and replacement by Jurgen Klinsmann after the USMNT’s memorable 4-2 loss to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final.
“That’s the trickiest question I’ve been asked so far,” Bradley said when asked about the warm praise and congratulations extended to him by Klinsmann this week. “From the day I got fired by the U.S., I have not said one thing publicly about their team, alright? I don’t appreciate the way it was done – I think they made a mistake.
“I’m glad that Jurgen says some nice things now,” he continued. “When he did [television] commentary on the 2010 World Cup, he was already jockeying for the job. So I’ve shut my mouth, continue to support the team. Because I of course want to see the team do well. [His son] Michael’s the captain. So if he has said something in a nice way, I appreciate it. And if at some point he chooses to try to work again outside the U.S., I wish him the best.”
Bradley opens his Swans tenure with a visit to mighty Arsenal FC on Oct. 15, after the international break. Swansea currently sit in 17th place, just outside the relegation zone, with one win, one draw and five losses to start the season.
“A very difficult list of fixtures at the start of the season. A team that has had a little bit of bad luck, loses a little bit of confidence,” he said when asked his opinion of the team he’s taken over. “Sometimes when some results go against you and you lose a little confidence, some little things slip a little bit.
“So at the beginning with the group, I try to say, ‘you guys know how to play football. I’ve seen you.’ And I’m not coming in with a new book on football. But we’ve got to find a way to restore some confidence and we’ve got to be honest that certain things need to be better again. So I think it’s normal work.”
OUTTAKES: A few other highlights from Bradley’s first press conference
On leaving French club Le Havre on short notice in order to take the Swans job:
“In a perfect world, I would’ve finished the job there. … We got to the end last year – the last match of the season, fighting to go up to Ligue 1, and we missed by one goal. And if I had my way, I’d have gotten to go to the wall with that team again. Every job I’ve ever had, I’ve gotten to the end, to try to reach the goal. But this time, it was different … when you have a club with a soul, a club that has real passion and real supporters, for me, that’s special. And so the idea of coming to a club like that – and of course, to be in the Premier League where you get challenged at the highest level … it was important to me.”
On Swansea’s new American owners and potential new U.S. fans:
“It will increase the profile in the U.S. I think that part still has a plus to it. Swansea City Football Club has gained a bunch of supporters this week. They’re not as hardcore as the Jack Army yet, but hopefully you’ll get them there. When the news came out that Jason [Levien] and Steve [Kaplan] had become majority owners, like you, I read the news. I knew a little bit about Jason because obviously he’s got the role with D.C. United. I knew less about Steve.
“But when you sit and talk with guys like this, what hits you right away is why they’ve been successful. They’re smart. And again, as new owners, as new American owners, just like anybody else, they have a learning curve. But I’m impressed by their understanding of what the club’s all about. I got a real sense that their vision is going to work nicely with what the club has always been about. And I don’t think that they’d have gotten to where they are by making decisions with their heart.”
On being mentioned as a candidate for EPL jobs in the past, but not getting offers:
“You have a lot of great managers to pick from in the Premier League, so that’s fair – I could never argue with that. And, in those kind of situations the decision makers may not know who I am, and they may not actually look very hard. So look, it would sometimes come out that I was ‘frustrated’ with that lack of opportunity. The word ‘frustrated’ was wrong. I was never frustrated about it. I always felt that look, I have to earn it. I have to continue to work. Maybe somebody someday is going to say, ‘you know what, I watched his team play.’”
On the importance of a close bond between a club and its fans:
“Listen, it’s the No. 1 thing. For a club to have any chance to be successful, you have to have a connection with your supporters, with your city, with your community. This is what it’s all about. I have not worked in the Premier League, but the first professional coaching opportunity I got was Chicago [Fire]. And when I went to Chicago, the first thing I said was, we need to have a connection with the city. The first player I signed was Peter Nowak, he was captain of the Polish national team.
“Immediately the Polish community in Chicago was all in. We won the double the first year. You looked into the Soldier Field Section 8 [supporters group], you felt a connection and you thought, OK, now we have something. It was the first year of a club, but I knew that was important. I knew it was important everywhere I’ve been.”