Wednesday, May 16, 2007
ESPNsoccernet: May 17, 10:51 PM UK
Bradley hire nothing to celebrate
Jeff Carlisle, ESPNsoccernet
So Sunil Gulati, president of the United States Soccer Federation, didn't get the dream coach he has pursued since firing Bruce Arena last summer, and the result is that Bob Bradley has been given the U.S. national team head coaching job on a permanent basis. While this development will be praised in many quarters, the only good news I can make out of it is that this sad, tortured process has now reached its fitful conclusion.
Let's face it; there really isn't much worth celebrating here. All along Gulati wanted to make a statement with this hire. Boy did he ever, with his complete mishandling of the process all but shouting his ineptitude from the rooftops. And after betting the ranch -- and losing it -- on Juergen Klinsmann, he has been forced to settle for a coach who was probably his fourth or fifth choice. That by itself is no crime, but Gulati has missed a golden opportunity -- again -- to hire a coach with international experience who would cause a serious rethink about the way the federation and the U.S. national teams operate. Granted, hiring such a coach would have required one of the candidates not named Juergen to show more than just casual interest, and in the end, that appears to be all there was. Carlos Queiroz re-upped with Manchester United, while the immediate future of Lyon head coach Gerard Houllier would appear to lie with another European club. As for Jose Pekerman, no one knows, although a South American side seems a likely destination. So now Gulati is left to hand the reins to Bradley because no one else really wanted the job. Gulati fired Bruce Arena for this? So much for making a statement. By naming Bradley on an interim basis in December, I'll venture that Gulati thought he was buying himself some wiggle room, but it now looks as if it had the opposite effect. Once Bradley took over, it seems that with each passing day the pendulum continued to swing further in his direction. Some will claim that Bradley's performance in four friendlies this year was the reason for this. Am I the only person who thinks they proved little? The U.S. has been winning such games on a regular basis for over a decade now, and it would have been an upset if the Americans had not done well. Gulati implied as much during a roundtable with reporters prior to the Mexico match when he stated that he had known Bradley for 20 years and that it would be "tough to learn something about Bob Bradley that I didn't know already." In this instance, I'm in complete agreement with Gulati's sentiments. Four friendlies, all of which were on home soil, are not going to provide much of a litmus test for being an international coach. Did Bradley do everything he could in the short time he was given? Absolutely. It wasn't as if he had the luxury of dialing up a high-pressure international tournament just to see how he would do. And he did plenty of things that I liked, especially bringing in new players like Benny Feilhaber and (spare me the charges of nepotism) his son Michael. He did toss out his share of head-scratchers, like pairing Chris Rolfe and Landon Donovan up top against Mexico, but those missteps have been rare. There is no doubting he will work his tail off, and he has also conducted himself with an immense amount of dignity and class throughout a process that has been awkward from the get-go. So why am I not sold on Bradley's selection? In my opinion, a coach with international experience is going to have a better idea of what it will take to get it done in 2010, not just in 2008 and 2009. It's one thing to build a team to beat the likes of El Salvador and Guatemala, but the team that's needed to succeed at the World Cup is not exactly the same thing. That's why I am hoping that Bradley, now that he has been given the job full-time, will continue to play the Feilhabers and the Ricardo Clarks of the world, not only during this summer's crowded international calendar but also beyond. Because if he doesn't, the team may find itself in the exact same position that it did in Germany last summer, heading home after three games, which would make the machinations of the last 10 months a waste of time. Of course, one line of reasoning I've heard trotted out is that the U.S. has the luxury of making a change in 18 months or so if things don't work out. This kind of thinking is as dangerous as it is foolish. It's like saying, "We don't have time to do the hire right, but we do have time to do it over again." This is something that national federations do out of desperation, not because they are in a position of strength, which could describe the entire hiring process, but I digress. If it were to happen in Bradley's case, it would only be because there was a real danger of the U.S. not qualifying for the finals in 2010, which is frightening to think about. I don't think it will come down to that, however. Given that CONCACAF has three qualifying slots for the World Cup, with another possibly coming its way via a playoff, I fully expect the U.S. to qualify, at which point the question of whether the safe choice was the best one will be revealed. In the meantime, Bradley's first real test will begin in June with the Gold Cup, and later with Copa America. Then the USSF can begin to surmise whether Bradley's appointment is something worth celebrating after all. Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.