Sunday 26 February 2017

Sideshow Bob keeps his guard up

Tough guy coach likes to keep things 'on the inside'

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

BOB Bradley looks like he should be a character in a college football movie, the perfect fit for the teak-tough coach who rarely shows emotion, aside from patting the unlikely hero on the back before the credits roll. He's a short-back-and-sides kind of guy.

A stressful afternoon in Ellis Park has tested his resolve, though.

America's comeback from the dead was capped by the equaliser from his son, Michael. The entire bench ran to the corner flag to join the celebrations.

Bob started to run, but then remembered his primary role. So he stopped and beckoned Jay DeMerit over to discuss a tactical reshuffle.

In America, they speak of Bob as a man who keeps things 'on the inside'. Doesn't like the fanfare that goes with the game, or discussing his emotions. In that respect, he's in the wrong place.

Lingo

When the US are in town, a whole new type of football lingo pervades the airwaves.

Landon Donovan has just left the press conference room after a brief exchange where there was much discussion of "calls", "plays" and an altercation with a team-mate, Francisco Torres, which is referred to as an "interchange". Most importantly, he talked about his feelings.

When asked what the gist of the half-time chatter was, Donovan breaks it into two parts. Neither involves reference to tea cups being thrown around the room or "the gaffer giving us a good bollocking".

Instead, we are told that the lads got together and discussed the magic of the American spirit. Then they discussed the merits of reducing the deficit after the resumption.

Bob takes his seat. He goes through the motions, before the predictable, Hollywood query.

"Bob, you've always maintained to us that when you view soccer as a subject, you view Michael as a player, and not a son, per se. But can you talk us through your feelings at that point. This must have been an emotional moment in your life?"

The coach doesn't flinch, batting the question away. "Your emotions are in the game," he responds. "My honest emotions were to see if we could get a third goal."

He then praises the "great play" executed by Slovenia for their second before the interval.

"Bob, right here. As much experience as you have in playing from behind, I'm sure you'd prefer not to. Have you tried to mix things up in a pre-match routine or anything like that?"

"When you coach soccer, it's a weird thing," replies the coach, briefly loosening from his rigid sitting position.

"You could have 100 games and you could take the initiative 100 times and you still won't score first. The game today, it was tactical.

"They keep their line, they hold their passes. When they move their line up well, and the balls go out, you're trying to know that over time, the game will have more rhythm. In the midst of all that, there is the ability not to be frustrated. To understand."

It is a contrast from Slovenian coach Matjaz Kek, who finished his briefing by warning his country's media that unless they start writing nice things, there will be strong repercussions, but they're all invited out for a beer anyway.

Bob won't be going for a drink with the lads. If he did, you can't imagine him doing anything worse than offering an even more detailed explanation than the one offered for the opening Slovenian goal.

"The ball went to Radosavljevic," he explains. "Michael stepped up. Birsa had come to the inside at that moment. It's Landon coming inside from his side. Jose coming in a bit from his side and it's the ability then for the back line to step up. It's a series of reactions."

Bradley's supporters would like him to drop the guard a little, to play ball with the sound-bite-driven US media machine a little bit more. It's not in his character, though.

For once, his team are commanding serious attention back home. In the wake of last Saturday's draw with England in Rustenburg, the New York Post went with the now infamous headline, "USA wins 1-1".

Ahead of this thrilling encounter they were trying to educate their readers about Slovenia.

"They are a hoard-your-canned-goods and take your shelter kind of team, totally understandable after 2,000 years of being invaded," wrote one columnist.

Imperialist America struggles to come to terms with this sport because they cannot understand how a country with a population of 2.1 million can be of a similar standard to them.

confidence

The confidence of Slovenian Andrej Komac, who promised victory for his nation, was met with a mixture of bemusement and derision.

Tim Howard, who was already taken aback earlier this week when a Brazilian journalist asked if Bradley had discouraged swearing, forgetting that the Everton keeper suffers from Tourette's syndrome, produced the kind of response you wouldn't expect from, say, Steven Gerrard.

"A lot of boxers talk too," said Howard. "And they're looking up at the lights and next thing they know, they're trying to figure out how they got there."

Alas, it was the Americans who were enduring that feeling for the majority of this game, staring elimination in the face until the younger, shaven-headed Bradley salvaged a point.

The jury is split on whether the "tie" is a good result. A win would have put them in pole position and improved their 0-7-1 record against teams from "Central Europe and underdogs", a quite wonderful statistic produced by the New York Post in the preliminaries.

It could have been 1-7-1 only for the baffling late decision by the referee from Mali, Koman Coulibaly, to disallow what seemed a perfectly good goal. You sense the Americans are a bit perplexed as to how a man from Mali could decide their fate.

"Bob, Landon said that once the third goal was negated, that several players in a non-confrontational way asked the official what the call was. He didn't respond, possibly because he didn't speak English and he's a French-speaking fellow, I suppose. Do you have any understanding of whether he addressed what the call was to anybody, be it to coaches, players, anybody. We still do not know what the call was?"

"Correct."

"Isn't that an outrage in a game of this importance?

"When you're involved in the game long enough," he says. "There are moments where you are frustrated because you feel that situations have not been handled 100pc correctly or fairly, but that's the way the game works sometimes. You move on."

And with that, he pops out of his seat and disappears through the exit door. Away from the schmaltz and back to the inside.

Irish Independent

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