Blasting Bob Bradley for the way he talks betrays Premier League insularity
"It goes in quickly; we give up the PK ... penalty ..."
Maybe the punchy, New Jersey delivery made it stand out even more. Certainly, if one were to really analyse Bob Bradley's immediate self-editing during his interview after Swansea's 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough on Saturday, the little nod of acknowledgement he gave when quickly switching his footballing language from American English betrayed a slight weariness about having to check himself.
"Pee-kay." Only two syllables they may be, but enough to later open a whole can of social-media worms that tapped into a latent British distaste for any hint of the transatlantic. Bradley continued, confidently and openly, but there it was again:
"It's been more a case of road matches and so we have two big home games coming up."
"Road matches." Another can, more worms. If this all sounds a bit facile and superficial, that's because it absolutely is. But this moment had already been pre-empted several times since Bradley's appointment by Swansea's American owners at the start of October.
Indeed, his unveiling ended up feeling more like an extra job interview for the benefit of the sceptics towards an American manager in the Premier League. During his introductory news conference, Bradley, creditably, didn't play dumb about it.
The language-inspired antipathy toward Bradley hasn't been limited only to trigger-happy Twitter users, though. Former Welsh international defender Danny Gabbidon didn't wait long to pass judgment: "I can't take him seriously, I don't know if it's the American accent," he pondered, while leaving us in very little doubt that it was indeed Bradley's American accent.
A few weeks later, with Bradley still looking for his first win after five games in charge, former Swansea player Dean Saunders weighed in even more bluntly: "Bob Bradley's accent isn't helping him. It just doesn't sound right when he's talking and I don't think people are taking him very seriously."
That too had been something Bradley felt compelled to address in that first news conference, when he prepared himself for "parts of the press in the UK that like to be clever." He went as far as to cite "offense and defense" as words he insists he has never used in football, adding that anyone who suggested otherwise was guilty of "just garbage."
Straight away, it was clear that this Premier League newcomer was facing an altogether different sort of language barrier than his non-Anglophone equivalents. The idea that an elite coach must try and change -- or at least temper -- his working vocabulary to be "taken seriously" is, at best, unhelpful.
Unfortunately for Bradley, his mature, head-on approach to addressing this slightly absurd issue has perhaps served only to draw even more attention to it. Joshua Robinson, a sports editor for the Wall Street Journal, took on the unenviable task of transcribing every word of the Swansea manager's news conferences to date. He found that, if Bradley is indeed trying to pollute the English football vernacular, he's certainly hiding it well:
"Those 4 hours 22 minutes of footage reveal that his soccer lexicon, most of the time, falls in line with any Englishman's. Bradley has adopted 'clean sheet' to mean shutout, 'dressing room' for locker room, 'supporters' for fans, and 'training' for practice. Above all, he hasn't once used the word 'soccer'."
Bradley's efforts to steer clear of these perceived Americanisms, as well as the attention his occasional slips have attracted, are driven by a uniquely English protectiveness over the country's football culture. They include, to various degrees, raising your boot above knee-height to win the ball, The Magic of the FA Cup™ and "putting it in the mixer."
There is a long-standing insecurity, meanwhile, that England are getting left behind in a game they can proudly claim to have codified 150 years ago. Not content with passing and dribbling the ball more effectively, foreigners like Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have even taken the ultimate English attribute -- that is, running around a lot -- and worked out how to do that better.
Despite some 21st century linguistic concessions to the Continent -- tiki taka, gegenpressing and more -- the line appears to have been clearly drawn at allowing an American to come to the Premier League and start throwing "PKs" around without being lightly ridiculed for it.
There's a rich history of patronising U.S. soccer -- be it Major League Soccer's efforts to improve its profile or the fast-tracked fan culture that came with it -- and the caricatures and parodies have often focused on the language; specifically the dense technical jargon that happily punctuates America's more established sports of American football, baseball and basketball.
Bradley -- described as a "drill sergeant" in one UK newspaper following his unveiling -- exudes confidence and a firm belief in his ability to manage at the highest level. But the undercurrent of distrust towards an American manager continues to be an undermining distraction.
"Sometimes I'm going to say 'field' instead of 'pitch' and I could try to sound like I'm from the UK," said Bradley. "But it would come off very poorly and that's not who I am. Anyway, I'm pretty sure it was the English who came up with the word soccer -- Association Football -- so it is your fault."
The Premier League bottom line of results cares little for nationality but, while Swansea steel themselves for a relegation scrap, their manager is still fighting an unnecessary battle on another front.
Adam Hurrey analyses the language of football. You can follow him on Twitter: @FootballCliches.