Op-Ed: Hey Bob, Pass On Pyramid Scheming…

Please say no to Middle East or bust.

Update: With news that Bob Bradley is set to be confirmed for the Egypt national team manager role, we re-issue this editorial below.


Late Sunday, the news came across the wire–Twitter, that is–that Bob Bradley was one of three finalists for the Egypt national team job.

Monday, Bradley’s candidacy assumed pole position as MLS Soccer’s Greg Seltzer clarified and corroborated the interest. Bradley, the frontrunner.

Tuesday, TSG says, “Bob, please pass on this.”

Now truth be told, TSG has not spoken to Bob Bradley (attempts to reach Bob Bradley through agent Ron Waxman via email went unanswered), however if we had, we’d nudge the former US skipper to seek out a few more opportunities.

It’s not that Egypt is a poor role.

While winning the African Cup of Nations is a more difficult challenge than say CONCACAF, Bradley would still be taking over a program that hovers around the same “Tier 2” status as the United States.

For as bunk as the FiFA rankings are, the United States sits at #30 while Egypt is on its bumper at #34.

The Pharaohs could do worse--a lot worse--than lining up with Bradley

Egypt is a new challenge, but in business this is called a lateral move.

But further, what could, would Bradley prove to himself or others?

On the contrary, there is more clean logic that Bradley should continue to email his resume around starting with clubs in Europe and South America.

First and foremost, game reps.

Just like players, managers need to practice. They need to try new things. In the five years of helming the US, Bradley scratched his way to a record of 43-25-12.

That’s a total of 80 matches. That’s it.

Five years; eighty matches. To put that in perspective, Manchester United skipper Alex Ferguson notched 72 matches into his post in just the last 13 months!

If that isn’t reason enough to gain more practice, there’s a more, shall we say, mature answer.

On national team duty, the opportunity to experiment and organically institute new tactics–and even players to some extent–was elusive. On a team thin in talent, two key players (Davies and Onyewu or Holden and Chandler) seemed to be missing ad nauseum.

Combine that with shortened camps because of international travel and Bradley’s game plans–though maligned by the fans–were probably smart. His match strategy, simple and practical.

The book on Bradley was rote. It usually led with defending the fort and concluded with trying to counter to win through the feet or Donovan or Dempsey. A scripted midfield substitution toed the touchline like clockwork when the 65th minute struck.

If player was injured, others could step in and easily understand and assimilate into the eleven and what was needed on the pitch.

In short, Bradley had little time to fail, was expected to impress, and needed to be spot-on nearly every time out. That’s not only pressure; that’s impractical.

Edu: Great experiment. Needed time. Maybe it would have worked? (photo credit: Matt Mathai)

The effects of Bradley’s attempt to finally experiment “failed” in unspectacular fashion over the past year. First it was an attempt to try Maurice Edu at centerback in a positional switch designed to play a chaser or stopper further up the pitch from the backline. Next was an aborted attempt at a 4-3-3 against lowly Colombia on low-attendance day outside of Philly.

The Egypt (ironic?) friendly was canceled in February amid unrest leading to a batten-the-hatches true-bunkering effort against Argentina followed by an attempt to dictate play against stoic-in-its-own-right Paraguay that saw the US on the wrong side of a 1-0 score.

All this led into the Gold Cup and if you paid hyper attention to the Gold Cup, what you may have seen from Bradley was shocking: a different game plan and set of starters every game except one. (Skip the next three paragraphs if you’re a face-painting fan, because it’s quick tactical history of said Gold Cup.)

Against Canada–a desire to get off on a good foot–it was the pitch ahead on the right flank to Landon Donovan and some Dempsey magic.

Against Panama,… actually let’s put the Panama game in our back pocked for a second. We’ll come right back.

Against Guadeloupe it was Chris Wondolowski asked to check back to the ball from a forward position. Against Jamaica it was a 5-man midfield with a roving Sacha Kljestan. Against Mexico, yet another configuration and set of personnel.

Getting back to the Panama coupling, game one saw Bradley attempt to take the game to a disciplined DelyVasquez side that was stout in defense. The strategy failed, less because of the personnel (Tim Ream) as was suggested and more because the US wasn’t well schooled as a group in pressing up the pitch and keeping the ball. They leaked forward on attacks and the midfield was overrun on many occassion.

So what did the now mercurial Bradley do in a do-or-die tournament match? He went back to what worked. He told his team to commit to keeping defensive shape and when Panama flinched he stole a win.

All stop!

None of the aforementioned is to indict Bradley under the same charges that were leveled a year early at the World Cup; chiefly of attempting to circulate players in the critical position of central midfield under the highest duress.

Bradley attempted to change after the World Cup. He attempted to investigate new styles and new tactics, but how much lattitude is allowed when the onus is to both win games and investigate new players and implement new tactics all typically in three-to-six-day windows?

And especially when your boss doesn’t have your back?

Again, not practical.

TSG guest columnist Kyle Martino echoes the point, but disagrees with the assessment in tweet earlier this week:

Workaholics shouldn’t take National Team jobs. Time between games builds anxiety that results in over-coaching. #readbetweenlines

Now Bradley sits at the precipice of disrupting the status quo in the Middle East. While I’m sure the coach himself would tell you he learned on the national team job, he hasn’t had the opportunity since 2006 to put a system in place, to insert and remove pieces, to shake his head “no” at the system and replace it.

Opportunities–important opportunities–to fail, fail again, and fail again, but learn and tweak haven’t been there.

So TSG says Bob, “Head northward or simply eastward if you’re still in the States.”

Develop your game further. Watch your new strategies and tactics fail, but then germinate and bloom with the proper fermentation over the course of a season.

And lest we forget, Jurgen Klinsmann’s coached even fewer games since 2006. Oh boy.



» Shame on you Sunil Gulati. You have a coach who is building for a new four year cycle and you schedule Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Spain to churn the turnstiles! And Spain game a few days before the Gold Cup no less!

Not the best environment to test out new philosophies. Klinsmann’s got it right, Belgium and Costa Rica–solid but beatable squads to practice on.

» Do we think Bradley will accept the job if offered? Yes, yes we do.

» Where would we like to see Bradley? A top team in the Championship where we can learn the competition and the play and then progress from there.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ufficio on 2011/08/09 at 11:10 PM

    Shame on you Sunil Gulati. You have a coach who is building for a new four year cycle and you schedule Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Spain to churn the turnstiles!

    And also Poland, Colombia, South Africa and Egypt, (and it’s not as if Paraguay are world-beaters). And, of course, churning the turnstiles is kind of important.


  2. Posted by SamT on 2011/08/10 at 4:28 AM

    Interesting throughout and well reasoned on the no-to-Egypt assessment, but the “shame on you” bit caught my attention as well. This makes perfect sense to me if Sunil already had one eye on Klinsmann and was looking more toward filling the coffers on the coattails of WC10 awareness. May have explained Mike’s outburst to Wynalda as the pressure ratcheted on his dad during the Gold Cup. May have even explained the level of experimentation we saw coming out of Bob in the friendlies and Gold Cup — as he sensed he needed to show a new level of progress for the program, or his contract would end early.

    All speculation of course, but if you view the Klinsmann hiring as an event that built several months before its final public announcement, a lot of things take on a different color.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/08/10 at 8:32 AM

      I think the other sign that Sunil was clearing the decks for Klinsmann was his leaving those youth coaching vacancies open for so long.


  3. Posted by matthewsf on 2011/08/10 at 6:10 AM

    SAm, Ufficiio —

    I think I agree with you guys now.

    Less sure of my “friendlies” addendum.


  4. Posted by Gregorio on 2011/08/10 at 7:13 AM

    Good stuff Matt, I loved the Kyle Martino quote, its so apt, I think the heightened anxiety gets transfered to the players who play reactively instead of proactively. How many counter-punchers win titles? Good for the interim but time to move forward.
    For Bob, I believe a Championship side or another reknowned team in a decent league would be better for him and the USA by proxy. Although Egypt is a good lateral move, it still will increase the American brand name recognition which is so lacking (OMG we used to be the Hyundai excel, I guess we’re a respectable Sonata now).
    Steve Sampson got Costa Rica to # 17 at one point. But a good showing in the championship will go a long way to dispelling the infruotaiting notion that Yanks don’t have the chops to coach or play at these levels. Bob can’t coach Blackburn?


    • Posted by Martin on 2011/08/10 at 3:49 PM

      Your argument pre-supposes Blackburn,a Championship team or “another reknowned team in a decent league” will ask BB to manage them.

      I think it would be good for me to be the CEO of Apple but, last time I checked, no one is asking me.

      If we believe the hype, BB is Egypt’s first choice,they’ve been impressed with him for some time and just like Coyle with Holden or Moyes with Donovan, in this game nothing beats having a team that really wants you.


  5. Posted by dth on 2011/08/10 at 8:31 AM

    Well, the question is whether Bradley is marketable outside of MLS for a club job. There’s the “he’s American” part; I believe he only speaks English. So these things limit him. The benefit of taking the Egypt job is that it shows his range–culturally speaking, it would hard to imagine a club job with a more foreign culture than Egypt, with the Arabic issues and the political issues. So taking Egypt and succeeding there might prove his versatility to potentially-interested clubs.


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/08/10 at 9:32 AM

      I agree that he would definitely prove something with success there. Egypt hasn’t qualified for a World Cup in quite a while even though they consistently win the Cup of Nations. If he were able to get them over the hump of qualification for the World Cup I think it would go a long way towards proving that he is a good coach and isn’t just able to understand the American player.


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