11414_isi_bradleys_usmntjd032507118 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
Americans in Europe

Confident Bob Bradley Ready to Help Lift Stabaek

Bradley, 55, amassed all sorts of knowledge while running the U.S. and Egyptian national teams, and the coach intends to utilize all of that experience in his big Norwegian adventure.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 14, 2014
1:33 PM
BOB BRADLEY KNOWS he has his work cut out for him as the new head coach of Stabaek. After a financial tailspin nearly derailed the club in 2011, Stabaek is seeking a return to prominence in Norway’s top tier, and Bradley will need to use all of his experience and ambition to make it happen.

He may need to be something of a recruiter, too.

“When you come into a situation like this, you want make sure that people see that something is happening, that there’s a project and that it’s a good one,” Bradley said. “We need to build on that and put something together that’s exciting and fun to watch but also a group that can really compete.”

To understand the challenges in front of Bradley at Stabaek, it is important to understand the history of the club. Founded in 1912 in the Oslo suburb of Baerum, Stabaek has historically been a lower-level team. In fact, as recently as 25 years ago it played in Norway’s fifth tier.

In the late 1980s a group of Baerum locals donated heavily to the club to provide the players and infrastructure necessary to raise its status as a top team. That goal was achieved in 1995 when Stabaek secured promotion to the Tippeligaen. From there the club continued to succeed, winning the Norwegian Cup in 1998 and the Tippeligaen title in 2008. From 1997-2009 it competed in European competitions seven times.

In 2011 a financial crisis hit the club and it was relegated out of the Tippeligaen and forced to leave its luxurious new domed stadium and return to its aging previous ground. Inge Andre Olsen, a former player during Stabaek’s golden years and now the club’s sporting director, believes the club’s underdog legacy will play to its advantage again.

“Stabaek is kind of a Cinderella story,” Olsen said. “It’s a young club in Norway. Some crazy guys had a dream that would make Stabaek a top division team. We’ve always had people around the club that dared to have the big dreams and the higher goals. We have to do the Cinderella story once more.”

“Nobody believes in us,” he continued. “But we think we can do it. We started to build young players and develop our own players. Now we have control over the financial things. We will increase our budgets.”

Bradley, 55, was well aware of the club’s history when he accepted the job on January 3. As coach of the U.S national team, Bradley traveled to Stabaek to scout American midfielder Mix Diskerud, who developed at the club.

While taking on a newly promoted club is always a challenge, Bradley was reassured that Stabaek had regained control of its finances and that many of the same people behind Stabaek’s initial push for prominence were still involved and motivated for success.

“When things dropped, it’s a test to see which people in the club now are ready to be strong and say, “'We have something to prove again,’” Bradley said. “I got the feeling when I came here there were a group of people who were involved since the beginning that were not thrown off track by the challenges of recent years and were ready in a really positive way to rebuild the club. When I got a sense that they felt that I could be a real asset in this and that the project together was going to be a good one, I felt very strongly about the chance to come here.”

The season opener for Stabaek is less than 10 weeks away and Bradley must hit the ground running. When he was hired, there were 21 players on the first team roster and 11 of these athletes were 20 years old or younger. While some of the players are promising in quality, there is a consensus that a team that young would not be able to survive in the Tippeligaen.

It is certainly a possibility that Bradley reaches out to some American and Egyptian players after coaching each country’s national team. It is also possible that Bradley reaches out to former Stabaek players who may have been forced to leave the club during its financial crisis.

“Generally the feeling is that there are some talented young players here,” Bradley discussed. “I can see that from the matches I’ve watched. I think everybody also knows when you get back into the Tippeligaen, you can’t just rely on a completely young team. We’re early in these discussions and we’ve got a lot work to do in the coming weeks to identify some of the right players. I’ve gotten a good feeling about how players that come through Stabaek, even when they move on, they feel very strongly about their experience coming though this club. Therefore, there are some that are excited about the possibility of coming back.”

Olsen also agrees that the rebuilding has to start right away. He admits that the club has been slow in acquiring new players since it became a very real possibility in November that Stabaek could sign Bradley. Olsen, in fact, opted to wait until Bradley was signed so that the American coach could have his say in which players get signed.

“We need to add players, definitely,” Olsen explained. “We want Bob to bring in some players together with us so he can put in the qualities he thinks that the team needs. Of course it is important for us to stay in the league. In Bob we have the best leader we could ever dream about.”

Bradley's leadership abilities were on display during his time with the United States national team, certainly, but even more during Bradley's crisis-filled tenure as head coach of Egypt. With political unrest threatening to envelop the team, Bradley kept his men focused and together. The team won seven out of eight World Cup qualifiers but fell just short of reaching the World Cup, crashing out against Ghana in the final round of qualifying.

Bradley's run in Egypt ended in November, but he believes his experiences there will help him lead his young Stabaek team.

“I would say to them, at a time when the country is divided, we're going to find a way to be strong and we're going to find a way to be united,” Bradley recalled of his times coaching the Egyptian team. “We have an opportunity to try to do something special and we're not going to let anything get in our way. It was a real test as a leader because there was a lot to deal with. But the response of the players was incredible.”

He continued: “I went there being confident but [left] even more confident about my ability to connect with a group and to show them a good way of working and to establish trust. I've always done that. I feel that every team I've worked with, when you talk about how you connect with a group and establishing an idea of: who are we going to be? When we step on the field, what are we about? How are we going to stick together when things do not go our way? All of that got put to an unbelievable test in Egypt.”

“I leave there feeling proud of what we accomplished. But seeing the response of the players and the appreciation they have of what went into it, is something that I'll take with me wherever I go.”

How do you think Bradley will do in Norway? Do you expect him to lure some American players to the Tippeligaen? Share your thoughts below.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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