Bob Bradley Reappointed Due to Experience and Record, Sunil Gulati Says
During a conference call with reporters, Gulati refused to reveal whether or not he had spoken to Jürgen Klinsmann or anyone else about the job. "We're here to talk about Bob's appointment as national team coach. I'm not going to talk about any conversations we may or may not have had with any other candidates," he said. Bradley, meanwhile, admitted that he never actually spoke to either Fulham or Aston Villa about their vacancies, confirming that returning to the national team was always his best option.
The question since Monday evening's announcement, however, was whether Bradley was Gulati's best option. The internet vitriol targeting Bradley's World Cup player selection, the second-round loss to Ghana and Gulati's apparent lack of ambition or creativity has been intense, as if the United States was a country like Brazil or Germany that has a de facto bye to the quarterfinals every four years. Gulati has always been about the long view, insisted he never intended to make a decision based on the result of one game, and said Tuesday that Bradley's "record speaks for itself."
Gulati said, "I think Bob's done a great job of putting a group of players together, not just at the World Cup but developing that group over 3.5-4 years, and we're looking forward to building on that."
Bradley went 38-20-8 with the U.S., finishing first in the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the regional World Cup qualifying competition that concluded last year and the first-round group at the World Cup. He also took the Americans to the 2009 Confederations Cup final, beating European and eventual world champion Spain along the way. Bradley brought the junior varsity to two other major competitions during his reign, the 2009 Gold Cup and the 2007 Copa America, leaving his detractors with two targets -- the loss to Ghana and the general sense of malaise and lack of excitement the monotone, seatsuit-wearing coach seems to inspire.
Gulati said his principle concern was the "staleness" that might accompany a second four-year term. Many felt that factored into the national team's failure at the 2006 World Cup under Bruce Arena, and both Gulati and Bradley admitted that it was a topic they discussed several times. Gulati said the pair reached an agreement on Monday morning.
"In the end I came to the conclusion that the experience and the record, the work over the last four years, overcame any issue about staleness. We can overcome that," Gulati said. "Teams go up and down. It's not just down to the coach. Italy and France (who kept their coaches after successful their 2006 World Cup then were eliminated in the first round in South Africa) would attest to that ... We put ourselves in the best possible position to continue the growth we've had in reappointing Bob."
Bradley, who said he was "very excited" to retain the job, promised he would do everything he could to keep things fresh and focused.
"The ability as a coach to continue every day, every year, to challenge your players the right way, to know how in some moments to re-energize yourself, refocus, in some ways re-invent yourself ... I think that's what coaching is about," Bradley said. "Credibility is put to the test every day as a coach, whether you've been on the job for four years or four days."
Bradley certainly will provide continuity for a player pool that likes playing for him and that will have considerable consistency over the next four years. Key contributors on the road to South Africa like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and Oguchi Onyewu will form the backbone of the team through the next cycle and have significant experience and comfort with the coach.
Perhaps more importantly, Bradley and Gulati probably each represented the best option for the other. Even if Gulati did speak to Klinsmann, there certainly is no guarantee that the German/Californian would have done a better job. His third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup was matched this summer by Joachim Löw, who as an assistant four years ago was credited with the team's tactical development. Klinsmann's only job since then was a nine-month stint with Bayern Munich that ended with his termination in the spring of 2009.
Gulati reiterated his position that American coaches have an advantage when dealing with American players and the unique development system in this country, that includes college soccer and the stricter acquisition rules in MLS.
"I don't think there's any doubt that having some knowledge and understanding of the American setup ... and the things that make American young men tick, I think that's a plus," Gulati said. "That doesn't mean that we wouldn't consider an international coach. It just means they'd bring different strengths."
And Bradley was never that close to landing a job in Europe, where club board members and fans still have a very long way to go before trusting an American coach with their team.
"Without a doubt in the last couple of years I have been fortunate in different situations when I came across soccer people around the world, players, coaches, people have taken notice of our team. I think we're all proud of that," Bradley explained. "The timing after a World Cup is interesting. Most club teams are set, and as I've said you have to just assess the possibilities going forward. It's a nice thing if to some degree clubs like Fulham or Aston Villa or anyone in a top league thinks a little bit about you at that point, and those types of discussions also included teams around the world in other leagues, some national teams.
"But without a doubt I'm a product of coaching in the United States and MLS ... You try to see going forward what those possibilities (abroad) might be. I think whether it's American players or American coaches, we do understand that as much as we continue to grow, as much as people can see the World Cup or the types of players we have, it's still a challenge for all of us. That's just the way it is."
And so whether it was a marriage of convenience, a default decision or really the best option available, Gulati made it clear that the known quantity was preferable. He discussed several times the benefits of stability, of how he was proud that U.S. Soccer was not the sort of organization that discarded coaches mid-term or suffered the sort of drama that set back other national team programs. Klinsmann may be brilliant, or he may have been lucky. Other big-name coaches looking for jobs like Martin O'Neill, Sven-Göran Erikksson, José Pékerman and others have just has many potential strikes against them and represent only the longing of American fans hoping for something more exciting.
Gulati didn't want exciting. He wanted stability and a coach who has many more wins than losses. In Bradley, he found his man.