Bob Bradley at a crossroads
It has been little more than a month since Bob Bradley’s 2010 journey came to an end in South Africa. Enough time, in other words, for the U.S. national team coach to have pondered his options.
What next? That’s the question facing Bradley.
There are all sorts of examples for him to follow — some good, some not so good.
He could, for instance, try the Diego Maradona tack and lash out at all and sundry in the event that U.S. Soccer decides not to renew his contract when it expires in December.
But that’s not Bradley.
It is impossible to imagine him emulating Maradona’s meltdown of the past week after Maradona was shoved out the door as Argentina’s national coach.
Maradona comes from the wrong side of the tracks in Buenos Aires, and the us-against-them attitude of Villa Fiorito still clings to the Argentine icon.
After Argentina’s soccer federation offered him the chance to sign a new four-year contract, he snubbed Julio Grondona, the federation president, and flew instead to Venezuela to fawn upon that nation’s president, Hugo Chavez.
“It’s an honor to be at his side because he fights for his ideals, for the people, for the country,” Maradona said in Caracas. “I am with him until death.”
This is much the same sort of rubbish that Maradona spouts every time he visits another old leftist buddy, Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
Maradona’s dismissal after less than two years in charge was hardly surprising. He was offered the chance to keep his job on the proviso that he got rid of his staff of yes-men. He swallowed the bait, refused and was fired.
“I defend my people … because I have values and I’m not going to change,” Maradona said, blasting Grondona and Carlos Bilardo, the coach who led Argentina to its 1986 World Cup triumph and to second place in 1990.
“While we were in mourning [after the 4-0 quarterfinal loss to Germany], he was working in the shadows to have us thrown out,” Maradona said of Bilardo. “Grondona lied to me. Bilardo betrayed me.”
The whole sorry mess was best summed up by Argentina’s team trainer, Fernando Signorini. “I have no doubt they didn’t want him,” Signorini said of the ouster. “Maradona is like a stone in the shoe of power.”
So, no, Bradley will not be following Maradona’s example. If his contract is renewed — and the belief here is that it will be — he is more likely to consider tracing the course outlined by Brazil’s new coach, Mano Menezes, and try to rebuild the national team.
In his first act as coach of the Selecao, Menezes cleaned house, naming 11 players to his roster for an Aug. 10 game against the U.S. in New Jersey who have never played for Brazil before. The only holdovers from the World Cup squad were Dani Alves, Ramires, Thiago Silva and Robinho.
Bradley could, if he were gutsy enough, follow suit. When he names his own roster for the match this week, he could take the opportunity to give the U.S. a whole new look and send a team of younger, perhaps hungrier, players out to do battle.
Chances are, they would be put to the sword. But what will have been lost? It’s just an exhibition game, nothing more. And if only one player emerges from the wreckage who can help down the road, that would be a positive.
But it won’t happen. The conservative ethic will prevail. A tie or a rare win over Brazil would be seen as more important by the federation suits and their corporate bosses than the chance to venture into unexplored territory.
The same tired old faces will make up the U.S. team, just as they will when the 2014 World Cup in Brazil rolls around.
When that time comes, the end result is likely to be the same as it was in South Africa. Reaching the second round and perhaps, with luck, the quarterfinals, is the limit for American soccer given the current feeble state of player development in the U.S.
In the last 20 years, American players have advanced far more than American coaches, and most of them have done so by leaving for Europe or Mexico.
Which is where Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s manager, enters the equation.
Speaking in Houston, where Manchester United’s reserves obliterated the cream of Major League Soccer in the annual farce known as the MLS All-Star game, Ferguson suggested an option for Bradley.
“I think he would do well” coaching in Europe, Ferguson told reporters. “I like Bob. I like his approach. I think he has a steely determination about him and he goes into a lot of detail in his coaching.
“I think he did a fantastic job [in South Africa], and I’m surprised the U.S.A. has not sprinted to his house and given him a new contract. I think that what he has achieved with the U.S.A. has been very good. … I don’t think it [Europe] is beyond his boundaries at all.”
Your move, Bob.