Banality Bob Returns ... And how!

By Paul Gardner

Coming up, four more years of Bob Bradley. One thing is fairly certain -- they won’t exactly be exciting years. Bradley seems to think they will be -- “I’m very, very excited to continue in the role as the head coach of the United States” is what he has to say about it.

But whatever excitement he feels is unlikely to get through to the rest of the country. One of the reasons for that is Bradley himself. Yesterday he had a press conference during which he could have said some exciting things, or described some new exciting things that he will be doing with the team, but he didn’t.

He was in fact, as boring as ever. Same old Banality Bob. This is quite remarkable, for he’s had plenty of time to do something about that side of his image -- something he admitted, four years ago, that probably needed attention -- yet nothing has changed.

Should you be in any doubt about that, you can get the full flavor of Bob’s banality by taking a look at the U.S. Soccer Federation’s website (see URL below*) where you will find a whole selection of Bradley’s “answers” to various questions raised at the press conference. I say “answers” because Bradley rarely answers a question, he simply takes it and slowly nibbles it to death with a series of increasingly tangential statements.

That, actually, may well be some sort of skill, to deflect tricky questions from the press. Maybe -- because in fact none of the questions Bradley was asked was in any way difficult or tricky.

If excitement was in the air -- and it damn well should have been -- Bradley could have let us in on some of it, told us who he saw as coming stars, projected some targets, even reminded us of a hectic moment or two from the World Cup ... hell, even cracked a joke or two.

But Bob doesn’t do humor, doesn’t do any of that. What he does do is reel off brain-numbing statements so turgid that they fall straight to the floor with a dead, dull thud. Like this one -- in reply to what he might be thinking of doing to avoid the possibility of “staleness” during his second term:

“When you continue to assess where we are with the work we’ve done, with our staff, with the environment that we’ve created, we rely a great deal on getting a sense from players, where they are with things, so we’ll continue in that regard because that’s the work necessary to continue to be successful.”

The thought itself -- basically, we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing -- is pretty flat, but could there be a duller way of expressing it?

There was some humor -- completely unintentional -- when Bradley professed to take seriously the idea that he was wanted by both Fulham and Aston Villa of the EPL. He can still keep a straight face about that, even though we now know that one of Aston Villa’s first stipulations was that any candidate must have had EPL experience.

Bradley, no doubt, means what he says. He’s satisfied with what was accomplished over the past four years, and will therefore keep plugging away with the same philosophy -- and quite a few of the same players. When he was asked about bringing in new players, or better players, we got, “We will continue to bring good, young players into the team”.

The questioner, the estimable Grahame Jones of the Los Angeles Times, tried again, asking how different the 2014 team might be from this year’s team, but Bradley stonewalled with what is really his mantra for all press questions, “I think it’s hard to give a very specific answer …”

Bradley is satisfied, then -- and so, apparently, is federation president Sunil Gulati. They have a point. Things have moved forward, the USA has had some good results (notably in the 2009 Confederations Cup), and the 2010 World Cup performance was not so bad. Maybe that sort of minimal progress was good enough for the past four years.

But should we be satisfied with that approach for the next four years? I think not. And I don’t think it will take four years because I think Bradley will have to win next year’s Concacaf Gold Cup to retain Gulati’s backing.

The USA needs to move into a higher gear, and Bradley shows no sign of wanting to do that. Asked by Soccer America’s Mike Woitalla to define his vision of the future, Bradley -- of course -- utterly failed to do so, losing himself in a miasma of tedious details, and coming to the grand conclusion that “It’s in all of these ways that we look very hard at what we’re all about, and continue to try to build our team with the qualities that we think American players have.”

Hardly inspiring talk, and just not good enough. Bradley’s idea of what “American players” have is not universally shared -- mostly because his idea of the “American player” is so narrowly based. Can we expect to see Landon Donovan continue as the key player? I would hope so. Can we expect to see Michael Bradley as a perpetual member of the team, immune to substitution? Probably -- but that is something that needs to be questioned. If the USA -- I mean Bob Bradley and Gulati -- want to “move forward,” then building a team around a player of Bradley’s limited talents is not the way to go.

Michael Bradley is a typical, traditional, American player. The type of player that has served us comparatively well over the past two decades. But there are better players on the verge of breaking through. Better because more skilled on the ball and with a much fuller soccer vocabulary at their command. Most of them are, or will be, Latino players, because that is the way they play -- they are stylistically different. Their talents are needed if the USA is to avoid stagnation.

At one point in his press conference, Bradley did flirt with reality. He brought up the USA’s recent exhibition game with Brazil -- a 2-0 loss that could easily have been a 5-0 rout. A fiasco, with Bradley’s team looking slow, inept and heavy-footed against a new, frisky young Brazilian squad. A warning for Bradley, one that he acknowledged with, “That game served as a good reminder to all of us that to get to that level will take improvement in all areas.”

It will. But it will also take a basic rethink of who the “American player” is. No longer the workhorse midfielder. We can do better than that. And if we are not as advanced as we could be with those sort of players, it is partly because Bradley, for four years, has not been receptive to them.

* U.S. Soccer's transcripts of the Bob Bradley contract-extension press conference HERE.

25 comments about "Banality Bob Returns ... And how!".
  1. . Lev, September 1, 2010 at 8:36 a.m.

    Agree. The American Player anno 2010 (male and female) lacks charisma. The (selected) national players are mainly workhorses with little spontaneity or originality.
    Bradley need not be an 'entertainer' at press conferences, but unfortunately his position demands an ability to sell soccer, if not off, then at least on the field.
    He IS responsible for inspiring us to watch the American version of the beautiful game.
    That is not happening.

  2. Ian Plenderleith, September 1, 2010 at 9:26 a.m.

    Maybe some tricky questions would have been in order after all. Heaven knows how BB thinks he would have survived in the media-intense EPL.

    In a way I admire his old-style dourness and refusal to get caught up in the hype. All he wants to do is his job - coaching. But he doesn't seem to sense that it comes with a greater responsibility nowadays, especially in the US, where the game still needs promotion and personalities. Bob, sadly, has all the charisma of an aging sloth woken up early from its afternoon nap.

    Killer, belly-laugh piece - thanks, Paul.

  3. Jim Hougan, September 1, 2010 at 10:12 a.m.

    The USA is two soccer nations, rather than one - and the real task of a successful national coach will be to integrate them. In the U.S., Anglo and Latino players toil in parallel universes, with very little overlap - except, of course, at the non-collegiate, recreational level which is becoming increasingly (if not completely) integrated. Bradley's aversion to Latinos is shocking, especially when one considers the contributions players like Tab Ramos and Claudio Silva have made to the national team under other coaches.

  4. Maria Soronellas, September 1, 2010 at 10:15 a.m.

    A major drawback to the US Player development system is that like the other American sports they assume that "Bigger is better". I think the Spanish National Team has proved that SKILL can beat SIZE. Until the USA acknowledge that these smaller, more skillfull, technically sound and dynamic players will be left out of the US focus.

  5. Gus Keri, September 1, 2010 at 10:16 a.m.

    I have a vision. The US will win some games against mediocre European teams and then go on a rampage against the mighty CONCACAF teams and win the Gold Cup and qualify to the Confederation Cup and every thing is rosy and beutiful.

  6. Colborns , September 1, 2010 at 10:29 a.m.

    Paltry Paul Rechurns

  7. Tom Kondas, September 1, 2010 at 10:29 a.m.

    Aston Villa's gain is our loss! US Soccer just took a big step backwards.

  8. beautiful game, September 1, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.

    Prior to WC 2010, the USMNT never had serious consideration on its radar of several Hispanic and European immigrant players who played in the DP and who moved on to represent their countries of origin...that alone should signal Bradley's inability to locate and recruit quality players...i foresee WC 2014 as being stacked with 30 yoa+ players from the WC 2010 team...Bradley is too conservative and overly loyal to marginal veterans just as his predecessors were. Selections should be based on quality first.

  9. Paul Lorinczi, September 1, 2010 at 10:31 a.m.

    Wow! You should send your essay over to Ives. This is the only sensible response I have read. My biggest complaint is that we have another 4 years of building a team around Michael Bradley. The selection of Bob Bradley ensures that the politics of youth soccer continue to supersede the inclusion of talent in your national team program. The US has the greatest potential to build a "style" that is very unique to the rest of the world. Solid defense, with creative midfield and speed up top - a hybrid of European Discipline with Latin Flair. Yet, the only thing we will get is a watered down version of English Football. A style that has won nothing, since 1966 - the only trophy the nation has won. We somehow ignore the most successful nation in Football and the professionalism of their player development, in favor of carpet bagging English blokes with CVs have more holes than swiss cheese. Boo to US Soccer - I am thoroughly disappointed.

  10. Mark Sutton, September 1, 2010 at 11:14 a.m.

    I feel Bob Bradley for 4 more years is moving US Soccer backwards. He’s had his chance and squandered it. What the US team lacks is heart and more skill. I used to be a big Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey fan, but the more I watch them play the less I’m impressed. Yes, they are very skilled – but, at times they play with no heart and fail to “show-up”. Landon had a very nice goal at a crucial time in the game at the World Cup, but he was only doing what we try to teach 8 year-olds to do follow the play. It is not like he beat 10 beat with moves and dribbling skills like Messi. I’m not really a Bob Bradley fan. In all the times I have seen him, he has zero personality. He’s doesn’t have to have a lot – just some and relate to the players. As I watch the US games, I’m becoming more of a Michael Bradley fan. He’s not the most skilled player, but he plays with tons of more heart and tenacity then any of the other starters. He’s out there to battle; whereas, Landon and Clint are nowhere to be found for long stretches of the game (just ask Alexi) or are taking the “play off.” Stuart Holden is a young, talented and impressive new player that saw very little time at the World Cup. He plays with heart and tenacity and skill to boot. What in the world is Bob thinking with Ricardo Clark. He should have never made the team and made bad decision after bad decision. I agree with Mari’s comments above of how the US is eaten up with “bigger is better.” You can add to that “you can’t teach speed.” Both of these attributes are continually trumping SKILL. This is starting at the 8 year-old level and going all the way to the pros. Too often, US Soccer looks like professional kickball. US coaches will almost always take size and speed over skill and the skill never comes. Look at Spain and Barcelona. Why do they win a lot?? Because of their skills. They don’t have size and speed. Xavi Hernandez and Iniesta are both 5’7”, but they are 2 of the most skilled mid-fielders in the world. How about that as a model. The mixture that I feel the US needs is skill, heart, tenacity and if you have exceptional size or speed that’s icing on the cake.

  11. Philippe Fontanelli, September 1, 2010 at 11:32 a.m.

    In our country if the President can't take the country to another level he/she gets replaced In a corporate world if you can't elevate the company to another level you get replaced. In the USSFA you get to keep your job with a "bonus". Whereas it should have been "buones noches".
    Shame on Gulati an Anti-American or at very least Anti-US Soccer's success and shame on him for accepting and supporting nepotism and not caring about the future of US Soccer at all. Shame on Bradley for accepting the position knowing that he will lead us down the drain.Bradley just wants to make sure that his son plays.His name will go down as the curse word along with Gulati, who ruined US Soccer and took it back to the stone ages. US Soccer just took three steps backward.
    In closing Gulati is despicable human being (if you could call him a human being) and Bradley is a narcist, egotistical and sellfish bum.

  12. Walt Pericciuoli, September 1, 2010 at 12:15 p.m.

    Once again. Paul has it right. With Gulati and BB, more of the same. Before I die, I can I please see our National team play with flair, excitment and talent. Winning the WC would be wonderful, but not necessary. Unlike many others, I have grown to like Mike B as a player. He does deserves to be out there, but he should in no way ever be the central focus has he has become with dad's tactics. To have Landon and Clint play at the end of the build up that supposedly comes through Mike is a poor tactical plan and I think the reason Clint and Landon are often not involved in the game as much as they should be. Whenever Landon gets onto the ball, things happen. With Clint as an option as well, opponents have two to worry about and creates opennings for our forwards (whoever they are)Mike's job should be to win tackles in the MF covering for Landon and Clint and to get the ball to Landon and Clint as soon as possible. With Edu and MB patroling the defensive side of the MF, I think it would free up our most explosive players to attack more without having to worry aout "tracking" back. I would love to see more of Torres,Holden, Reams and Omar Gonzalves. Lets hope BB gives them a chance.

  13. David Sirias, September 1, 2010 at 12:26 p.m.

    Sunil's decision is deplorable. Flood his email ( widely avialable on Bigsoccer) All the above posts and the article itself have valid points. I will only add that if it was a question of money, the Federation could have had low hanging fruit like Kinnear, Nicol, or Siggy for the same amount. All are equal or superior to Bob in tactics, game management, vision and aesthetic. But more importantly, they would have come in with a clean slate and unbiased perspective: no automatic starters, total re-evaluation. That's what the program needs more than anything. And any argument that cohesion was needed for the Gold Cup is a cop out. Graham Jones could have coached the Gold Cup team-- which will essentially be the SA team. That Corvette is already built. What we need is someone ready and will at least try to build a Tesla for 2014. Soccer nation, for god's sake, hold the media's feet to the fire. Only together, maybe, we will get change, when Bob inevitably stumbles. The sonner the better.

  14. Paul Sheirich, September 1, 2010 at 12:47 p.m.

    Glad to see a key writer in the US Soccer "beat" point out how B Bradley has built the team around his son Michael. While I don't believe he intended to do that, he has. MB at BEST belongs as a defensive midfielder. He simply does NOT have the vision to be the playmaker. I would have put Landon in that spot 4 years ago. Now I think you have to look past Landon to the next 3 or 4 good potential players, and give them the job. BUT we still have BB. More of the same, going nowhere. The Confederations Cup was in no way a measure of improvement. We got lucky to get through, Spain underestimated us, and we had a pretty good game that day.

  15. Vic Flegel, September 1, 2010 at 2:40 p.m.

    Bob Bradley did well with the talent that was available.Neither Altidore nor Fiendley,are international class this stage of their young age.I have not seen any Latino Americans, that are better than the players that were on the team.

  16. Todd Barkhymer, September 1, 2010 at 3:12 p.m.

    I'd like to know what players that "are on the verge" are better than Michael Bradley? He was the best USA midfielder, of the last cycle and best 2 way player we've ever had. This is the new century, Paul. #10s standing in the middle-final third creating but not defending just don't exist anymore in modern soccer. Get out of the office and onto the field... the game and your vision of it doesn't exist like that.

  17. miguel abisaab, September 1, 2010 at 3:37 p.m.

    Hello Mr Gardner, I am a servicemenber currently on deployment. I have played and follow the beautiful in my military career, and especially the last two decades on soccer in america. I have seen alot of comments made in many outlets recently concerning coach Bob Bradley. As you and I both recall twenty years ago this was not the case for Robert Gansler who was the coach for the USMNT at the 1990 World Cup. Obviously alot has change and what we have now we did not have back then,and what is amazing is how old and new fans of soccer and of the USMNT today voice concerns and opions of coach Bradley. Paul and for Americans everywhere that follows and supports the US soccer team here are some reasons why 2011 must be a banner year for the US soccer program to really succeed in this coming cycle
    June 5th, 2011 is where things begin for the US, the opening day of the Concacaf Gold Cup. The United States is expected to reach the final,however looking ahead the final is to be played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena,CA. A US vs. Mexico final is what the organizers are expecting, this is practically an away game where the crowd is to be pro Mexico. I have seen it before US Cup 96, 97, Gold Cup 98. If the US can beat Mexico in Pasadena that is an achievement
    The Copa America begins in Argentina July 3,2011. Mexico is going to participate with their U23 team with four overage players. Japan who accepted the other invitation is from the AFC! This is an oppurtunity for the US to do what Mexico is doing and start to prepare for the 2012 Olympic qualifiers,not Japan? If the US can send a strong MLS/European U23 based team of players that did not participate in the Gold Cup and make the quarterfinals at best. that is an accomplishment.
    The FIFA U20 World Cup in Colombia from July 29th thru August 20th and the World University Games in Shenzhen,China from August 12th thru the 23rd would be excellent oppurtunity for the assistant coaching staff of the USMNT to work with the head coaches of the both teams respectively to evaluate the players that have potential for the national team. the accomplishment for both events, moving on to the next round.
    Wow alot huh? well one more crown jewel, the 2011 Pan American Games,in Gaudalajara, Mexico from October 13th to the 30th. Bob Bradley must be involved with the U23 US team, if the US can earn a medal here it would be great, but however the goal here is to build up the player pool for the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament and the games themshelves in London 2012.
    There is alot to look forward to for 2011,Paul to you and all Americans back home and abroad stay safe thank you to all who support the troops. To the US National Soccer Teams GO YANKS!!
    SSG Miguel Abisaab
    US Army 1/3AAB
    FOB FALCON, Iraq

  18. Robert Kiernan, September 1, 2010 at 7:34 p.m.

    Well one thing seem crystal clear, little real change can be expected in just HOW we will be playing now that Bradley has been given this extension. We will continue to be caught up playing a rather low possession direct style and unfortunately it likely WILL work often enough for us to get some good results...but mostly against weak CONCACAF minnows. But if we have anything like a repeat of last years GOLD CUP final with Mexico, then we WON'T be returning to the CONFEDERATIONS CUP finals and since we seem to have been replaced by the JAPANESE in the Copa America... we might very well be looking at having no real high level "competetive" test for the full National team until well into World Cup qualifying.
    What is certain is that our team is aging now and especially in the case of our defense simply MUST be reworked and soon. Cherundolo, Bocanegra and DeMerit are all now over 30 and there is no reason to think that they ALL are going to be able to go a full four year cycle...and those younger players like Onyewu are now starting to suffer from injuries that may become chronic... so if Bob Bradley stays true to form, he will stick more than a bit too long with those he knows,...Bornstein, Kljestan, Findley...etc. and overlook the smaller more short passing possession types, Holden, Torres, Feilhaber...and so long as Bob Bradley is coach, his son's game actually I believe will be limited more than helped. Michael Bradley, much like Clint Dempsey is a shooter better suited to playing right behind the striker...but we nearly never PLAY that style or that sort of a formation, so Dempsey winds up playing out wide too far from a good shooting option, and MB winds up playing as a very "unsubtle" defensive midfielder also too far from shooting range...but when played as that attacking CM, as was shown against Mexico in Columbus, he SCORES...but when played as one of our defensive midfielders...he FOULS, often with an accompanying card! I know that by playing twin DMF players, twin destroyers, where ONE of them ALWAYS is played by Michael, it has hurt our OTHER potential DMF's...think about it, have you ever seen a pairing or EDU and TORRES? It NEVER happens... and likely never will with this coach!
    Oh and then there's still the little problem of our left flank...a problem that has existed for a few YEARS now...think Bob Bradley now has some new remarkable strategy in the works to answer this...because I seriouslt would like to hear about it!...and judging by the way Edgar Castillo was treated, I'm not holding my breath expecting a flood of dual nationals to embrace our team any time soon either.

  19. James Madison, September 2, 2010 at 12:15 a.m.

    Given what US SOccer's joke of a development program has given Bradley to work with, how can anyone jump on him for what he has been unable to do?

  20. Robert Kiernan, September 2, 2010 at 6:10 a.m.

    James, the choice of playing Ricardo Clark and his pulled hamstring rather than Maurice Edu had nothing to do with developing was a coaching decision, and in the end it was one that helped get us to be spectators rather than participants at this summer's World Cup earlier than we should have been. The choice to include mostly semi injured defensive players and to only bring seven defenders rather than eight was again a coaching decision, and it hurt us because we failed over the last few years to develop and PLAY enough defenders of sufficient quality to provide a large enough player pool... and since players like Edgar Castillo were not really given much of a chance, and Bradley rather than bringing in some other young players for a look see against Slovakia or Denmark went back to players like Hejduk and Bornstein...well the development of any other player is limited if he isn't selected to PLAY in some of these non world cup qualifiers...then told that he hasn't the experience to be included in the provisional 30 man roster before the final selection.
    When Bob Bradley was given the luxury of having a 30 man roster for last summer's GOLD CUP he failed to really make up his mind just what he wanted to accomplish... it was alleged to be a show case for young mostly MLS based players, yet he included so many of the guys he knew were actively trying to either make or improve their chances of playing on European teams and so would not really be available to play the whole series, so we were treated to a hooves and horns collection of players... and truly the only two players that were not already well established on our team that stood out were both well known from our Olympic squad, Stuart Holden and Robbie Rogers.

    No, while you can complain about player development, in the end it still is the coaching staff that has the final say about just whom they call up to play and the fact is that younger guys like Eric Lichaj, Mikkel Diskerud or now Daniel Williams or Tim Ream NEED to be included in his IMMEDIATE plans ...our defense is leaking like a sieve and something MUST be done about it!
    But with this VERY CONSERVATIVE coach in charge...unless he is forced by things beyond his control, such as the injuries to established starters which lead to us seeing guys like Spector, Davies or Altidore a year ago...he tends to stick with what is familiar...and since he likes long ball, any player that tends to be a possession short passing style player must know that their chances are much lower of getting the call from this coach.

  21. Cesar Sastre, September 2, 2010 at 7:13 a.m.

    Can't add to all the insightfully accurate negative comments other than to express my deep sadness and disappointment in blowing yet another opportunity to take our national team to the top level of soccer. Instead, we will continue to "do it our way" (the American way) and settle for mediocrity.

  22. Karl Ortmertl, September 2, 2010 at 8:56 p.m.

    This is brutal. I almost wish the US didn't beat Algeria as that would have certainly (?) been the end of Bradley. After a World Cup, you normally sort of lose interest in the National Team for a while, but, not only am I not interested, I actually get nauseous thinking about what lies ahead. Very bad.

  23. Kent James, September 3, 2010 at 11:11 p.m.

    The biggest fear I have about Bradley's retention is my concern that he will have in retaining players past their prime. This is a difficult decision, because if you continue to play a player who is past his prime to the point that the player proves it, then it's too late. Bradley has demonstrated that he is willing to retain faith in players even after the occasional poor performance (though in some cases, he clearly shouldn't), but I would guess that this characteristic of his coaching wins him a lot of support from his players. I would think that one of the key factors in the decision to retain Bradley would be how the players in the national pool feel about him as a coach. I would think this was a topic that SA would pursue, but I haven't seen anything.
    I think we will know pretty quickly whether his retention is the disaster many people fear, or whether he can improve on his performance of the last four years. If he cleans house, and starts building the team around the young players who were on the fringe of the 2010 WC (Torres, Holden, Feilhaber), then I think there is hope. If his roster continues to be the same as was used this past summer, those fears will have been realized.

  24. Jeff Bradley, September 5, 2010 at 7:06 a.m.

    Banal: adjective. Devoid of freshness or originality...

    For 20 years, I've read the same Paul Gardner columns over and over and over and over and over...banal...devoid of freshness or originality.

  25. Dan Phillips, September 6, 2010 at 6:59 p.m.

    Bruce Arena and all who defend Bradley are complete idiots. First of all Klinsmann would do a lot better in formations, and developing an attaking team. And second, and more important, whith Klinsamnn's high profile charisma it would have kept US soccer in the media spotlight, win or lose. As you remember, Gulati was lamenting that losing to Ghana kept the US from being in the media spotlight another 2 weeks in the WC. So it's an all around loss for US soccer to have rehired boring Bob.

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