David Preece: Why Bob Bradley didn't stand chance despite being just one point worse off than Sam Allardyce's first 11 games at Sunderland
There's an indefinable quality that some managers have that sets them apart from others.
Years ago, I’d have described it as the “X Factor” but that definition’s been blurred somewhat by Simon Cowell. If a manager is described as having the X Factor today, I’d just assume he’d given the interview panel some sob story and begged for the job on the basis they “wanted it more than anything”.
That obviously won’t get you a job at Swansea anyway.
What I’m talking about is the instant respect and attention given to a manager from the players on their very first meeting. As each manager you see go and a new one arrive, you get quite adept at gauging how the new man is going to do just from that first impression.
In 24 years as a player and a coach, I’ve worked under 20 managers. Some briefly, but if there is anything that statistic goes to prove, it’s the precariousness of the job.
It probably makes me look like a bit of a Jonah too but not all of them lost their jobs whilst I was at their club. I was probably only directly responsible for a couple of those. For the two managers in question, I conceded goals that many pundits would say “he should’ve done better” and the axe fell immediately after.
In retrospect, one of those sackings was an inevitability. Only a matter of time. With the other though, I’ll always carry the guilt. It’s not a nice feeling to think “if only I’d saved that, he wouldn’t be unemployed now” and I beat myself up badly after that game.
That’s the lot of the goalkeeper. It isn’t quite life or death but it’s not just your own future you literally hold in your hands.
I’ve already stated here that I have never seen a new manager have such an immediate effect on a squad like Peter Reid did when he walked through the dressing room of Roker Park. I don’t want to get too much like a Dave Chappelle sketch here but it was almost like he was projecting an aura. Before he’d even said a word, the room fell silent. It’s a mixture of fear, respect and anticipation. Regardless of whether you think you’re going to be a part of his plans or not, he’s going to succeed.
Some managers don’t stand a chance from the very off though. Like Bob Bradley, someone who I have immense sympathy for.
The job is difficult enough without the type of opposition he had to wade against and if he was going to have any success it would have been a miracle. What we say in the media can be largely ignored but having to deal with the ridiculousness of fielding questions on what terminology you use for a penalty kick or an away game becomes an unnecessary distraction and you could see it irritated him.
Here he was, in British football, the home of the game, having to defend himself against the most trivial of subjects. It doesn’t give a good impression to the rest of the world.
I actually felt embarrassed when the topic of conversation turned to his Americanisms. Coming from a country whose idea of speaking a foreign language is just to say it in English but louder and slower so the stupid foreigners can understand us seems a bit rich.
You’d forgive Bradley for thinking the majority couldn’t wait for him to fail but their are two paradoxical truths that show us how difficult management is.
Firstly, 11 games isn’t enough time for a manager to turn around a squad that was clearly imbalanced and lacking confidence. Especially before he’s had a chance to strengthen his squad. For example, look at Sam Allardyce’s first 11 games as Sunderland manager before the January transfer window: 3 wins, 8 defeats. Only one point better off than Bradley’s.
The second of those opposing truths is you need to make an immediate impact as a manager. Now we’ve already seen that Big Sam’s influence on results wasn’t immediate but his effect on the players, the club and the media was. The boldness of his “if anyone’s going to keep this club up it’s me” attitude transmitted osmotically to those around him.
Call it charisma. Call it self-belief. Whatever it is, you can come up up with the right formations and tactics but if you can’t sell it to a group of players, then you’re done for. It’s no longer good enough to just storm in and make aggressive demands from your teams. You’re a salesman and you need to be convincing.
What has to be taken into consideration here is that there is another side to this that I have seen too. There are occasions when a manager will never win because the players won’t let him. That’s where a manager really earns his money.
There will be dressing rooms housing strong characters who have held their peg there for years. There will be those who might have had fallouts with the manager at a previous club and know his days are numbered already. It’s these players who might look to undermine a new coach and how you deal with them can be key.
I have no doubt there will be players stepping forward to give there versions of why Bradley didn’t succeed, whilst absolving themselves of any blame at the same time.
Bob Bradley was never given the chance to succeed and he can find comfort in the sackings of his two predecessors if he needs any.
Bradley didn’t fail because he was American or because used American vernacular. He failed because he didn’t convince those Swansea players to buy in to what he was asking them to do or they refused to do it.
That’s why the blame should be equally shared and not just laid at the feet of Bob Bradley.