A Little On Bob Bradley And Why He Should Not Be The Next Aston Villa Manager

Written by Dan on August 25, 2010

If you don’t read Richard Whittall’s ‘A More Splendid Life’ regularly you’re doing yourself a disservice. Richard is a Canadian Villa fan – albeit one I suspect is becoming increasingly jaded with what life in the Premier League has become – based in Toronto and today he’s weighed in on an element of the Bradley-for-Villa story that I also find egregious in ‘This Bradley to Villa thing is embarrassing‘.

It’s a good read and Richard might not be using “embarrassing” in the context you assume.

That is if you’re one of the many commenters I’ve seen on various blogs and forums getting what Americans describe as “your panties in a bundle” over the mere suggestion of Bob Bradley being the next Aston Villa manager based on nothing more, so far as I can determine, than his nationality.

Apparently the idea of an American manager is absolutely unthinkable to a significant proportion of fans, but very few, if any, have offered any real critique of Bob Bradley the coach or manager to explain their position. On that basis, it’s difficult not to see it as racism, plain and simple.

My Two Penneth

I’m with Richard on this, I don’t support the idea of Bob Bradley managing Aston Villa and for what I think is the same reason: I don’t believe he’s suitably equipped with the requisite experience. Not because he doesn’t know his football.

In fact, I’m also going to counter “The Gaffer” at EPL Talk for his tactical assessment of Bradley:-

The only weakness I see in Bradley is tactical. With the United States men’s national team, his tactics have been far too negative in my opinion. He’s a coach that would often play a 4-5-1 instead of being more adventurous with a 4-3-3.

Actually, Bob Bradley is a well known proponent of 4-4-2 most recently and variations on it in the past.  In my assessment of Bradley the tactician that follows (a piece I wrote some time ago as past of an unpublished post) I draw some parallels with a certain recently departed manager.

Coach Bradley

As a coach, Bradley is undoubtedly a scholar of the game, a talented tactician. My own feeling is, if anything, he tends to over-think his approach to matches and ends up second guessing himself. On several occasions during the World Cup we witnessed Bradley getting his starting line-up and strategy wrong, but he also displayed an impressive ability to recognise that fact and respond positively with changes that turned games around.

My suspicion is that the job of national team manager affords the luxury of time to over-think that club management does not, but that’s pure conjecture on my part, I’ve no first hand knowledge of how he did as a coach at teams such as Chicago and New York.

Ironically though, from a tactical perspective, Bradley appears to share some traits with a certain Martin O’Neill. He favours a 4-4-2, although is not entirely adverse to utilising different systems, frequently when necessity dictates. It may be as much to do with working with the best he has available, but Bradley prefers to employ skillful, reasonably pacey wingers in Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, who will swap positions at times during a game. Sound familiar?

In the centre, Bradley frequently sticks with a pair of traditional “box-to-box” midfielders and has been accused of nepotism in the past for selecting his own son, Michael, although the younger Bradley’s performances almost always prove he’s there on merit. Alongside Michael, you’ll generally find a more defensive minded central midfielder; frequently Ricardo Clark, but when his performances were below par during the World Cup, Bradley didn’t hesitate in replacing Clark with Rangers’ Maurice Edu who scored what should have been the winning goal against Slovenia, but for some astonishingly inept refereeing.

Up front, and again, this may be largely due to working with the player pool available, Bradley seems to like the bigger, slower one coupled with a smaller, faster one. Where have we seen that before? Jozy Altidore has been likened at times to a young Emile Heskey, not unfairly in my opinion, but I’m talking about Emile Heskey when he was young, not a younger version of the Heskey we have the pleasure of seeing today.

A tragic accident robbed the USA of Altidore’s regular pacy foil for South Africa, Charlie Davies, but it was noticeable that Bradley seemed to favour raw speed over technical ability by selecting Robbie Findley in Davies’ place. At times it worked, at others it seemed Findley would have been better employed later in the game when legs were tired and his speed could have maximum effect.

For a more detailed overview of Bradley’s tenure of the US national team, I recommend Match Fit USA’s excellent timeline.

How Bradley Can Blaze A Trail Into Europe

Bob Bradley is perfectly capable of coaching at a reasonably high level within Europe, I’m not convinced that level is the Premier League, but that’s not necessarily where his weaknesses lie. The world of football management in Europe has little in common with the same job in North America and without any real exposure to the day to day life and culture of European football management, I struggle to see the appointment of Bradley being anything other than a modern version of Dr. Venglos.

On the other hand, Bradley may be a little too high profile to drop too far down the ladder of club management in Europe, so is there another way in for a talented coach who has expressed his desire to work within Europe?

I would suggest that he could do a lot worse than sticking with national team coaching, but perhaps with a middle tier European nation. Forgive me, but for some reason Switzerland leaps immediately to mind. A two or four year cycle would allow him to extend his experience and skills within an arena he knows, albeit in a different part of the world, while simultaneously gaining exposure to players, coaches, managers, directors and clubs in Europe.

Another option, perhaps, would be to work in the capacity of a head coach in partnership with a director of football. The weakness of that approach, I often feel, is that it can work if you get the partnership right, but if one of the pair moves on, if the replacement isn’t right, the whole thing can fall to pieces. If everyone is on the same page though, that would definitely be a way for someone like Bradley to cut their teeth in Europe.

It has to happen eventually. We have plenty of American players in Europe, the coaches and managers have to make the breakthrough at some point.

Just not Bradley at Aston Villa please. Not yet.