July 14, 2017
Leon Britton has seen a lot during his 19 years as a professional soccer player.
The 34-year-old English midfielder has spent 15 of those seasons at Swansea City, playing for managers such as Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rogers, Michael Laudrup, and Bob Bradley, the first and only American to coach a Premier League side.
He wore the captain's armband during Bradley's brief tenure, a disappointing, 85-day run that ended with two wins, two draws, and seven losses for the already-struggling Welsh club.
Britton is back in the United States again this summer, now playing for Paul Clement, the Bradley successor who safely guided Swansea to 15th place and another season of top-flight football.
The new campaign kicks off with a three-game U.S. preseason tour and exhibition match against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night. Britton took a moment to speak with PhillyVoice after training on Friday morning at the University of Pennsylvania.
PhillyVoice: You're back in the States once again. Give us your thoughts on another preseason tour and what you'd like to accomplish over here.
Leon Britton: We always enjoy coming to the States. I think it's the fourth time we've come here. It's always a good trip for us. Obviously now we have American owners (Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan). We spent a week or so in Swansea just training and working on fitness, whereas over here we're really working to pick up our match fitness with three games. All of the players are really looking forward to it.
PhillyVoice: What do you enjoy about these trips?
Britton: The facilities are always very good. Also, in Europe, sometimes you go to places that are a bit isolated, you know? You can go to the mountains or the middle of nowhere. When we come to America, it's always nice to get a bit of free time and have places to explore, see a bit of the cities and the sights, which is good, because, in between the training sessions there's a lot of down time and free time. You have to rest, but it can get quite boring. So America is always quite good because there are things for us to do.
PhillyVoice: I guess you can walk around and be rather anonymous.
Britton: Yeah, that does help. In Europe, especially in the UK, it would be difficult to walk around in big groups as footballers, whereas, in America, it's not so bad.
PhillyVoice: You've been over here a bunch of times. Your thoughts on Major League Soccer and the American game in 2017?
Britton: It's still on the way up. From a British point of view, in the last few years we've had some of our players come (over here to play). I think it's picking up. Every time we come over here and play the teams, it's always very difficult. They're very tough games and there are some very good players in the league. I think it's improving year on year. It's certainly growing, especially in the UK now where we get the games on TV. There's a big interest in it, so it's a great market and I think it's only going to go from strength to strength.
PhillyVoice: I have to ask about Bob Bradley, and I know you guys have probably moved well beyond that topic at this point, but it was a big deal over here...
PhillyVoice: We were watching an American coach in the Premier League for the first time ever. He was one of our own. Can you describe your experience playing for him?
Britton: It was a difficult time for him. I think he'd come to a team that was lacking in confidence. Obviously it was a big chance and a big moment for him and unfortunately, it didn't work out. But I thought he worked very hard. He gave everything to the job. He didn't try to (overdo it), but he was so determined to do well and the players were behind him. I think the difficult thing is, being an American manager and coming to the Premier League, he was already on... (pauses) ...not the 'back foot,' but he needed to hit the ground running and that was difficult coming into a team that was lacking confidence. But, for me personally, he was a good guy and he was good to work for. I'm just disappointed that it didn't work out for him.
PhillyVoice: Was it an uphill battle, just being an American? Maybe people looked at his resume and saw that he had coached in the French second division, in Norway, and also lead the Egyptian and American national teams. Did you get the sense that there was some skepticism, right off the bat?
Britton: Maybe there was a touch of that. I think like you said, in America, he's been the national team manager, a good manager. But coming over to the Premier League, you mentioned from the second division in France, maybe some supporters, not just at Swansea, but in British football, maybe questioned the appointment. That's why I think he needed to get some results early.
PhillyVoice: There was a smaller margin for error?
Britton: Yeah. Normally when you get a new manager, they're able to settle in a little bit. They have that settling- in period, and people can take it if they lose a couple of games and it's not so bad. But with Bob, I think it was always difficult. He had to hit the ground running because if he didn't get the results at the start, people would start to say, 'well, it was a bad choice.' It was always difficult for him. But I think, for any manager, whether it's Bob or another manager with experience in the Premier League, it would have been a difficult job because the team was severely lacking in confidence.
PhillyVoice: You mentioned the new American ownership. There were people out there who thought that was the only reason Bob was hired in the first place. Whether that's true or not, I guess the optics of it probably looked bad, the idea that these foreign newcomers are bringing in another foreign newcomer.
Britton: Maybe people from the outside looked at it and said, 'they've only appointed Bob because of the American owners.' Maybe people questioned, 'if these weren't American owners, would they have appointed him?' As a player, I don't know the process that happens above our heads. Obviously, I don't think (hiring decisions) are down to just Jason and Steve. I'm sure it's down to a few other people, and they speak to lots of other people and decide that way. But yeah, maybe that had an influence on the decision.