Swansea manager Bob Bradley was criticized for saying “PK,” but a WSJ study shows he’s been good at avoiding American soccer lingo.
He corrected himself to say “penalty,” but the damage was done. A slice of English soccer fans on social media seized on it immediately. Bradley had committed what they saw as a cardinal sin: sounding American while discussing soccer.
No matter that more than 50 other non-British managers—and their non-British accents—have preceded him in the Premier League. No matter that he was educated at Princeton. Bradley has a New Jersey accent and fans in England have taken every opportunity to chide him for using expressions like “on the road” instead of “away.”
There’s just one problem with those linguistic cheap shots. More often that not, Bradley actually uses British terminology.
To determine whether or not Bradley really speaks like an interloper, The Wall Street Journal reviewed every pregame and postgame press conference he has given since Swansea hired him in early October, plus all of his interviews on the BBC’s Saturday-night highlight show, Match of the Day.
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.”
(A note on the tedious “soccer” vs. “football” debate: neither one is more British than the other. Soccer is just a slangy, 19th-century English contraction of “association football,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. But try explaining that in a pub without starting an argument.)
Few other managers have drawn as much scrutiny for their accents. Not even those who arrive without speaking any English at all. But Bradley, the first American manager in Premier League history, is saddled with the burden of sharing a language.
“Man, there’s been people who had me out the door from the first day because they didn’t like my accent,” Bradley said earlier this month. “They can hit the road, because that doesn’t have anything to do with anything.”
Still, he has adeptly negotiated some of the finer points. He correctly pronounces Tottenham as “TOT-num” and uses plural pronouns to refer to teams, rather than the American singular. He also drops in terms that American sports, due to their aversion to ties, don’t have a direct translation for. Take “result,” for instance, a term that Bradley has used more than three dozen times in press conferences. In English soccer, where teams earn three points for a win and one for a draw, a “result” often means anything but a defeat.
There is, however, one Americanism that Bradley can’t seem to get over: the pronunciation of the competition itself, the English Premier League. To Brits, the second word comes out as PREM-yair. For Americans— Bradley included—it will always be pre-MEER.
“I’m still trying to figure out what works over here, on the field and off,” Bradley has said of adapting to life in Britain.
That said, it’s possible that the most American expression uttered here this season didn’t come from Bradley’s lips at all. Instead, it was delivered by Manchester City’s Catalan manager Pep Guardiola, who once spent a year living in New York. He was rating the performance of Yaya Toure on Sunday when the U.S. influence popped up in just three words:
“He was awesome.”