By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Swansea City manager Bob Bradley can open a new frontier for Americans harboring ambitions of coaching in Europe's big leagues, says former trans-Atlantic trailblazer Kasey Keller.
In a move that surprised many, Premier League strugglers Swansea made the 58-year-old Bradley the first American coach in England's top flight after parting company with seasoned Italian Francesco Guidolin.
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Swansea's fate and Bradley's reputation are on the line, but former national team goalkeeper Keller sees it as a massive opportunity to showcase how far the game has come in the U.S.
Keller paved the way for a string of American goalkeepers to cross the Atlantic after joining Leicester City, via Millwall, in the 1990s.
"If I hadn't have been successful in goal would Brad Friedel have got his chance? Would Tim Howard have got his chance? A lot of times it just takes one to give other people the opportunity," Keller, who won the League Cup with Leicester City and also played for Tottenham Hotspur, told Reuters by phone.
"When you come from a smaller footballing nation, one person's success can open the door for another and I think if Bob is successful as a coach in England then that will happen."
While Keller, then 22, was a raw recruit when he took the plunge and joined Millwall from Portland Timbers in 1992, Bradley is no rookie.
He had a five-year stint in charge of the U.S. national team, during which they finished runners-up in the 2009 Confederations Cup, after ending Spain's 35-match unbeaten streak.
They also topped a group containing England the following year at the World Cup in South Africa.
Bradley then gained European experience at Norwegian top flight club Stabaek and almost won promotion for French Ligue 2 outfit Le Havre who he left to join Swansea.
He also coached Egypt.
With Swansea hovering just above the relegation zone, this challenge dwarfs anything he has taken on before.
Keller, who also played for Borussia Moenchengladbach and Fulham during his European stay, says Bradley is no tourist.
"Bob's been very ambitious and very vocal for years that he wanted to try to stay in Europe. He's had multiple opportunities to come back to MLS but he wanted to stay in Europe and try to prove himself on the biggest stage and that's admirable," the 46-year-old Keller, now a TV pundit, said.
"I understand why it probably took a few people by surprise because it was not like he played in England previously and not many people in England know much about Bob Bradley.
"But not every club can go out and bring in Mourinho!
"But he is a student of the game and obviously convinced the right people that he was the right guy for the job.
"He's been on some people's radar for a while. Now it's up to him to make the most of it. He'll be relishing testing himself week in week out against the best coaches in the world.
"No one will be more prepared than Bob. He will try to get his finger on the pulse as soon as he can and get everyone behind him. I'm sure he's already identified changes that need to be made. He needs them to have an instant impact."
Bradley's appointment at U.S.-owned Swansea has generated huge interest back home where one excitable TV presenter mistakenly announced that he had taken over as Chelsea manager.
While it may still be a few years until an American coaches one of Europe's big clubs, Juergen Klinsmann, who replaced Bradley as U.S. head coach in 2011, says Bradley has earned his stripes and deserves to mix it with the likes of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger.
"I think it's fantastic that there is finally an ownership group in the Premier League giving trust to an American coach," former Germany striker Klinsmann said in an interview on the U.S. Soccer website.
"There are many very good American coaches that can coach overseas there is no doubt about it. Bob's done it the rough route and did not shy away from challenges since leaving the national team."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)