Sitting somewhere in California, a consortium of businessmen, Hollywood actors, NBA legends and former Women’s World Cup winners will watch the 2017 Major League Soccer season with intense interest. They — all 21 of them — make up the ownership group of Los Angeles FC, and 12 months from now they’ll be just weeks away from their first ever competitive fixture.
LAFC are without a stadium, without a single player on their books and without a manager, but 2018 will see them join MLS as the league’s 23rd franchise. There’s a lot to be done between now and then, with the likes of Will Ferrell, Magic Johnson and Mia Hamm still the public front of the club. They need a manager, and the perfect candidate is available.
Bob Bradley is still licking his wonders having left Swansea City after less than three months in charge. In the Premier League, the former USA and Egypt coach was a flop, only exacerbating what was already a shaky situation at the Liberty Stadium. But that’s not to say Bradley should be written off. While failure in South Wales didn’t do much for his CV, it could subsequently create an opportunity for him in LA.
Having held preliminary discussions with LAFC’s ownership group last year, Bradley is already on the radar of the club. The man himself has admitted that he is open to the notion of taking charge in 2018, insisting in an interview this week that he'd be willing to wait that long for his next job if it was ‘the right situation.'
So, with Bradley seemingly keen on the idea of leading LAFC into their first season in MLS, the club should line up a move for him. He would be the perfect man to put together their playing squad over the next 12 months, giving them the kind of figurehead they need to attract top-tier players to the club.
That latter point is important to LAFC. The club’s bullish ownership group wants to usurp the LA Galaxy as the west coast’s primary destination for MLS’s biggest names, reportedly lining up moves for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Javier Hernandez, with the latter set to be offered a staggering $15 million a year.
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Whether or not either of those two players end up in California or not, Los Angeles FC are sure to make a splash in the transfer market next year. Bradley, as a former MLS champion and US national team head coach, has the kind of clout to help sound out such targets.
Of course, Bradley was the last manager to win MLS Cup in charge of an expansion team, taking the Chicago Fire all the way in 1998. That triumph is now considered a landmark moment in the history of the American game and a yardstick for any new team coming into the league. Now, MLS is too strong for an expansion team to win the championship, but nonetheless, Bradley has experience of assembling a successful side from scratch.
Indeed, Bradley has always excelled at being something of a project manager. In Norway, he took over a tiny club in Stabaek just after their promotion to the top flight. Within two years Bradley led them to within a game of winning the Norwegian title and qualifying for the Europa League. When he has the freedom to impose his methods and ways on a team, Bradley is among the best.
So if LAFC are to decide Bradley is the man they want to build their team between now and the start of the 2018 MLS season they must give him control to do as he pleases. Failure at Swansea City hasn’t done much to taint his reputation, with the 58-year-old holding discussions with teams in Europe and North American since he was sacked in December, and so LAFC will have to put forward a compelling case.
As is the norm in North American soccer, Bradley would have to work alongside a general manager, with former US international midfielder John Thorrington already appointed to that position. But in terms of assembling the team, LAFC must place their faith in Bradley.
The stakes have been upped for expansion sides in recent years, illustrated by the big-money moves Atlanta United have made over the winter. The Georgians might well provide a precedent for LAFC, having splurged millions on players in their prime and former Argentina and Barcelona boss Tata Martino. The bar has been raised.
“What Atlanta has done is great. It’s gotten a lot of attention,” Thorrington said in an interview last month, also confirming that negotiations have already started with players and agents.
But, he continued, “being a competitor, I want us to be the best team in the league.” That is an ethos which has defined LAFC from the very moment the $110 million expansion fee was dropped. Bradley, despite his Swansea City episode, is the ideal candidate to further that ethos.