What does Bob Bradley's firing mean for the future of American managers?
Bob Bradley's hiring by Swansea City was cheered in the United States. While American players had broken through in Europe and could be found in many of the top leagues across the pond, the same wasn't true of managers. No American had ever been in charge of a team from one of Europe's top five leagues. But Bradley had finally made it.
Unfortunately, Bradley only "made it" for 11 matches. On Tuesday, he was fired by Swansea, ending the second-shortest managerial tenure in Premier League history.
Just as Bradley's hiring made people question, "what does this mean for American managers?", his firing begs the same question. What's next for American managers?
There is no question it is a massive blow, but not so much because the next American manager won't get a chance. It's because there isn't another American manager really in the mix.
Bradley didn't get his chance at Swansea coming from MLS or even the United States. He tried to, and it didn't work. He had to go manage Egypt, then Stabaek, then Le Havre. Only then, after time in Africa, Norway and the French second division did he finally get his chance in a major European league. Bradley had to prove himself in (and near) Europe to get a look.
Right now, all of the best American managers -- someone like David Wagner, who played for the U.S. national team, but was born in Germany and has always been a part of German soccer doesn't count -- are managing in the U.S. Whether it's Bruce Arena with the national team or any of the talented MLS coaches, they're not in Europe. They're not near it. They're not following Bradley's path and getting on the radar of these teams.
The problem now, for someone who wants to see an American managing in a big league, is Bradley's 11 matches in charge of Swansea and quick firing leave a mark on Bradley no matter how awful the situation he walked into with the Swans. He remains the best chance for an American to manage in a major European league and, at least in the immediate future, that looks unlikely. Without him, there isn't really another candidate to take over in the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A or Ligue 1. There isn't really even an obvious candidate to take over in the second and third tier European leagues.
Even looking at Arena and the MLS managers doesn't inspire hope. Arena is 65 years old now and unquestionably the best manager in American soccer history, but even after making a World Cup quarterfinal, he couldn't get much of a look in Europe. There's little chance to think he will now, even if he does well with the U.S. at the 2018 World Cup. It's tough to see Sigi Schmid or Dominic Kinnear, part of American soccer's older generation of managers, cracking through now either.
That leaves it to the likes of Jason Kreis, Caleb Porter, Gregg Berhalter and Peter Vermes. But their successes in MLS -- three have won MLS Cup, while Berhalter took his team to a final and drawn praises from players and observers -- hasn't garnered them much interest abroad. Even Berhalter, who managed in the Swedish second division benefitted from a closer relationship with Hammarby owners AEG and didn't even last two years. But continuing to win in MLS, or even getting the U.S. job and succeeding probably won't bring them opportunities.
Why European clubs won't respect the work managers are getting in MLS is another question. Some of it is unquestionable bias and xenophobia, while cultural differences also play a legitimate role in it. But while we can parse out why American managers in MLS aren't getting looks and whether that's fair, the reality is they aren't. Right now, winning in MLS, no matter how spectacularly or what brilliant tactics you use, won't get an American manager a chance in a top European league.
To get a look, American managers will have to go to Europe and climb their way up the continental ladder. That may require starting with a team like Egypt, or in Norway. If a job opens up in the French second division, which they may not even get a look at to be frank, they have to take it.
Bradley never hid that his dream was always to manage in a big European league. It's why he took the long, hard road to get his chance when MLS teams would have begged him to take their job and made him one of the league's highest paid coaches.
With Bradley now out of a job and his chances for a major job looking a bit bleaker, the question for the future of American managers in Europe becomes, "who's going to take the leap next and start at the bottom?" They have to follow Bradley's route to get there, and it's not a route for everyone. It may not even be a route that should even be recommended for any American manager. But that's the route; a route Bradley paved.
In the meantime, the Americans' best managerial chance is still Bradley, as unfortunate as that is. The future isn't so bright.