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Bob Bradley Never Stood A Chance At Swansea City

The club was too deep in the relegation zone, and the culture too hostile to foreigners to let the American coach succeed at the Welsh football club.

28/12/2016 16:30 SAST | Updated 28/12/2016 17:59 SAST
Reuters / Rebecca Naden
Former Swansea City manager Bob Bradley.

On Tuesday Swansea City announced that they had parted company with their American head coach Bob Bradley. He had been appointed to replace Francesco Guidolin just 85 days before. His 11 games in charge makes for a pretty unwanted record: he is now the second-shortest reigning manager in the history of the Premier League, behind Les Reed who managed Charlton Athletic for just seven games in 2006.

"We are sorry to lose Bob after such a short period of time," said Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins in a statement posted on the club's website. "Unfortunately things haven't worked out as planned and we felt we had to make the change with half the Premier League season remaining. With the club going through such a tough time, we have to try and find the answers to get ourselves out of trouble. Personally, I have nothing but praise for Bob. He is a good man; a good person who gave everything to the job. His work-rate is phenomenal and we wish him well for the future."

Bradley, a New Jersey native and a Princeton University graduate, has previously managed the US Men's National Team, the Egyptian national team, Le Havre in France and Stabæk Football in Norway, where he became the first American to manage a first division European side. He was also the first American manager in the Premier League. His record wasn't awful either — a managerial win record of 49.5% is nothing to sniff at.

Yet his sudden departure from British football wasn't surprising in the end. He had too much against him to succeed. His predecessor Francesco Guidolin — sacked by the club on his birthday on 1 October after a loss to Liverpool — left him with too much to do. Swansea had won just one game in the opening weekend of the season, and were hovering just above the relegation zone on goal difference alone. This was simply not good enough for a club that had not finished lower than 12th in the five seasons since joining the top flight.

It is not a secret that the league is brutal, and underperforming managers are shown no mercy. Remove Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger (still going strong after 20 years in charge) from the equation, and the average manager's tenure between 1992 and 2015 was just 1.3 years. The cutthroat nature of the business meant that Bradley had to get results, and fast. But he managed only two wins and two draws, whilst shipping 29 goals in the process. The Swans defence was shambolic, even by the most gracious of standards, and the team with the worst defensive record never survives the drop. The American may perhaps feel hard done by, getting the chop just barely a week before the transfer window opened, when he could have gone into the market to find reinforcements.

The Premier League's well-documented xenophobia meant that he had few friends outside of the club too. This is something that — sadly — every single foreign-born manager has had to deal with down the years, and not even the success of the likes of Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez has dampened this atavistic aspect of English football culture.

Barely a minute after the Swans had announced his appointment, an aghast Paul Merson asked: "Yeah, but does he know the league?" As if success in the league could only come to those who'd been born on the island.

Robbie Savage couldn't help himself either. When his buddy Ryan Giggs wasn't appointed in October, he penned a bafflingly ill-thought column in the Daily Mail, arguing that "Giggs played nearly 1,000 games for Manchester United spread over 24 years. What he doesn't know about the Premier League, and what Swansea need to do if they want to stay in it, probably isn't worth knowing."

Get that? A man who has had the barest sniff at top flight management is definitely worth more than a competent manager with years of experiencing because... he's from around these parts?

"His accent isn't helping him," sneered pundit Dean Saunders in late November, as if "Billy Bob Bradley" had spent his tenure whooping yee-haw and doffing his Stetson everywhere he went.

Which is not to make excuses for Bradley, of course. Even Pep Guardiola has had to put up with this nonsense. Other managers have fared better and have been sacked nonetheless. But it's hard not to feel a slight pang of pity for the man from New Jersey. He inherited a broken team in a hostile country. He deserved more of a chance — and he was never going to get it.

One can only hope that this doesn't spell the end of the the Premier League's experimentation with American coaches. (Who knows, rock-bottom Hull City might give Bruce Arena a call... Why not?)