Why Bob Bradley would be the right man for Sunderland

Sunderland Gates

Stabaek's former US national team head coach is believed to have let the club know his interest in their vacant managerial position.

Whether it was Sam Allardyce, Sean Dyche or Nigel Pearson, many predicted following Dick Advocaat’s departure on the weekend that Sunderland’s next manager would be homegrown.

On Tuesday night, though, a candidate from overseas reportedly threw his hat into the ring and, given the miracles he has been performing in the Norwegian top-flight over the past two seasons, there is every reason to believe that he could end up proving an even better appointment than the aforementioned Englishmen.

Back in January 2014, former USA and Egypt boss Bob Bradley took over newly-promoted Stabaek and, in his first campaign in charge, defied all predictions in guiding the relegation favourites to a comfortable mid-table finish.

Just three years removed from a financial crisis that very nearly bankrupted them, the team were once again tipped for the drop this term after a significant squad turnover during the off-season but, instead, what has transpired since has been nothing short of remarkable.

With only four games to go in the Tippeligean, Bradley’s men sit eight points behind 22-time champions Rosenborg in second and, with a five-point cushion between them and fourth-placed Odd, a Europa League spot looks to be in the bag.

The cash-strapped club, who were forced to sell 17-goal striker Adama Diomande to Hull City just before the transfer deadline in order to support one of the league’s lowest budgets, have also conceded just 29 goals in their 26 games and came within extra-time of making the Norwegian Cup final at Rosenborg’s expense.

In short, absolutely no one predicted that Bradley’s highly unfancied outfit would be in this position at the start of the season, let alone in the top half, but the man nicknamed "Byggmester Bob" – or “Bob the Builder” in English – has kept his side punching above their weight week after week.

Unsurprisingly, with his contract expiring at the end of the campaign, the 57-year-old American’s success has led to rumours of a move to more high-profile surroundings of late and MLSsoccer.com reported last month that defending Norwegian champions Molde have their sights set on securing his services for 2016.

However, Bradley himself is reportedly aiming somewhat higher – specifically towards the vacancy at the Stadium of Light, with the likes of the Daily Star now reporting that the former Chicago Fire, MetroStars and Chivas USA head coach has let Sunderland chairman and compatriot Ellis Short know that is he interested in taking over the Premier League’s bottom-dwellers.

Stabaek chief executive Lars Hjorth has since insisted that he has received no approach from the Black Cats at this point but, speaking to talkSPORT, he was quick to stress that the club would not stand in Bradley’s way if the opportunity to move to England presented itself.

“Bob is allowed to speak with anybody if he wants. That is the contract he made with us when he came to Stabaek,” said Hjorth. “Bob has done a tremendous job here, he is a fantastic person, and if he can make the step up in his career we would wish him luck.

“We haven’t had an approach yet but if Bob got an offer from a club in the Premier League, we would be very happy for him.

“I know that one of his biggest wishes is to train a club in the Premier League so if he gets an offer, we will wish him good luck, and we will be very proud as a small club in Norway to give him the chance to do that.”

While he only made the move to European club football last year, Bradley has actually been linked with several English sides in the past, including Aston Villa, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, and was even the favourite to take over the claret and blues following Martin O’Neill’s sudden resignation back in August 2010.

The then-USA boss eventually ruled himself out of the running by signing a contract extension with US Soccer but, having since shown his managerial skills on the continent, now could be an even better time for him to make the jump to the Premier League.

For his part, the New Jersey-native has chosen to remain relatively tight-lipped on his future but, speaking to NBC Sports last month, he sounded very much like a man who is gearing up for a new challenge.

“[Stabaek sporting director] Inge Olsen has said publicly over and over that they’ve seen the work here over the last year-and-a-half and he feels very strongly about that it is at the highest level and there needs to be an opportunity at a higher league,” he said.

“But you never know when and if and how that happens. When people have asked, I have simply said right now my focus is on this season and this group of players. That is the way I’ve always worked. When we get to the end of the year we will size up everything and figure it out.”

Bradley’s Stabaek spell is not the only work supporting his Sunderland candidacy, though, as his track record since starting his managerial career at the college level with the Ohio Bobcats in 1981 is almost spotless.

As well as guiding Chicago to the 1998 MLS Cup title in their inaugural season, he achieved various milestones during his time in charge of the US between 2007 and 2011, having led his side to the 2010 World Cup’s round of 16 as group winners over England, the 2007 Gold Cup title and the 2009 Confederations Cup final with a 2-0 win over Spain – a result that ended the soon-to-be world champions’ 35-match unbeaten run.

Harshly sacked following the 2011 Gold Cup final defeat to Mexico, he then took over Egypt in September 2011 and, amid widespread political unrest brought on by the Arab Spring, somehow managed to guide the Pharaohs to maximum points in their first six 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

"We have had a revolution and then a counter-revolution,” he told the Guardian in October 2013. “We had a football stadium disaster that claimed the lives of 74 people. We had the domestic league cancelled. We had the offices of the Egyptian Football Association burnt down.

"There isn't much that hasn't happened since I got here. But the dream is still alive in what is a historic time for Egypt. Football is about the only thing that unites people in Egypt right now. So for as long as we can still qualify for the World Cup in Brazil we will keep on fighting."

In many ways, Bradley’s achievements with Egypt were even more significant than the success he has enjoyed at Stabaek and, while the team’s hopes of making it to Brazil were eventually ended by Ghana in the play-offs, he ultimately left his post following the defeat with his head held high.

During his time in charge of the US, few regarded him as much more than a placeholder until a more celebrated name could be brought in but, as time has gone on and successor Jurgen Klinsmann has begun to draw the ire of fans, opinion on his tenure has steadily shifted.

As the chorus to Joni Mitchell’s 'Big Yellow Taxi' goes: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it’s gone,” and that has certainly proven the case for many American supporters, who have come to appreciate the work Bradley did getting the best out of a talent pool that did not possess nearly the same depth as the one available to Klinsmann.

It is not just fans who Bradley has the backing of though, as virtually every player or coach who has worked under him in the past has waxed lyrical about his managerial brain – one which has continually allowed him to adapt his tactics and methods over the years depending on the situation.

Even Barcelona legend Hristo Stoichkov, who both played and coached under him at the Fire, has sung his praises, telling ESPN FC earlier this year: "Bob Bradley was first of all a coach, then a friend, and he was like a father to the players. They learned football from him, he gave them confidence. He showed them, he explained things to them.

“I think there are very few coaches who work like Bob Bradley. In the game now, the technical and video aspects are becoming more advanced and, even then, he was very prepared. He knew all about the opposing team and how each player needed to train."

Ultimately, with Premier League survival being the main goal, you certainly cannot blame Sunderland’s hierarchy for targeting a proven candidate like Allardyce but, with talks said to be stalling over his demands, they could well be forced to think outside the box.

If that proves the case then, having already enjoyed success with miniscule resources, Bradley should undoubtedly be considered a legitimate option to lead the North East outfit to safety and build from there.

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