It is easy to look back on Bob Bradley’s 85 days as the first American coach in the English Premier League and say he got things badly wrong at Swansea.
Taking over a relegation-threatened team with obvious defensive frailties, Bradley never made Swansea hard to beat despite being renowned as a coach who valued organization and a strong work ethic above all else.
He regularly changed his lineups and formations, rarely going back-to-back games with the same central defense or striker. And there were some odd team selections, too, notably going with two strikers – Borja Baston and Fernando Llorente – up front against Manchester United despite both players being rarely used prior to that game.
The stats make dire reading for Bradley in his short time at Liberty Stadium: In his 11 games in charge, Swansea collected just eight points and conceded 29 goals, 19 in its last six games. The team dropped two places in his stewardship, into the relegation zone.
Newly hired managers often get an immediate upturn in results, even if only briefly, but there was no so-called “honeymoon period” with Bradley. On the face of it, Swansea was heading only in one direction under the American.
Yet, it could be argued that Bradley was facing an uphill task from the moment he took over. The seeds of turmoil had already been planted at a club that has lost much of the charm that made it a riveting top-flight success story in recent years, following its arrival in the Premier League in 2011.
To start with, Bradley’s appointment wasn’t universally accepted. The supporters’ trust, which has representation on the board, wasn’t consulted by the club’s new American owners over the decision so Bradley took control amid an atmosphere of disharmony. Some supporters may have felt Bradley only got the job because he has the same nationality as his paymasters.
Then there was the squad Bradley inherited. Swansea’s transfer dealings in the offseason have turned out to be inadequate, selling Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew – its stalwart captain and top scorer from last season, respectively – and not replacing them with the same quality or experience.
Williams, in particular, has been a huge loss, depriving Swansea of the glue that held the defense together. Swansea had four other center backs in Jordi Amat, Mike van der Hoorn, Alfie Mawson and Federico Fernandez, who have all been in and out of the team.
Baston, who joined for a club-record fee of 15.5 million pounds ($20 million) in the offseason, has been a flop so far – scoring just one league goal – while Llorente has only made an impact in recent games, mostly off the bench.
Bradley had only one real gem in his squad: Iceland midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The third major issue Bradley faced was restoring some kind of identity to the team, which he failed to do. The hallmark of Swansea sides over the past decade has been its free-flowing, possession-based approach preached by managers like Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup.
Some even dubbed them “Swanselona” over the years, a reference to Swansea’s passable imitation of Barcelona’s preferred style.
Yet, that style has noticeably disappeared over the past two years, because of both its poor choice of signings and the constant swapping of managers. It is hard to detect what Swansea’s style is these days as the team seeks its fourth full-time manager in little over a year.
Add up all these factors and Bradley had an extremely hard job on his hands.
When reports of dressing-room unrest began to surface after the 4-1 home loss to West Ham on Monday, it started to look ominous for Bradley. He was fired the following day.
Throughout his tenure at Swansea, Bradley faced some jibes – mostly from social media users and some British pundits – about his occasional use of American soccer terms, like “PK” (for penalty kick) and “road games” (for away games). Privately, that might have frustrated him while it might also have seeped into the consciousness of some Swansea fans, despite being a trivial matter.
Ultimately, though, it was a run of heavy losses, and the lack of progress shown by the team, that cost Bradley his job.
He just hopes his tough experience in the English Premier League doesn’t damage the prospects of other Americans looking to manage there.
Speaking to Britain’s Press Association Sport before his firing, Bradley said: “It’s possible that will happen, and if that’s the case that would be disappointing.
“We (American managers) have to continue to show people that we are good.”