From Giovanni Savarese to Roy Keane to Gennaro Gattuso. As continents and perspectives change, so do the idols. Aston Villa’s newcomer Michael Bradley grew up inspired by the Venezuelan top scorer of the New York MetroStars, but since arriving in Europe his points of reference have changed. Now the American looks more to Keane and Gattuso. It’s never just any old players though. And this young midfielder, born in 1987 in Princeton, New Jersey, doesn’t intend to be just any old player himself either.
By the age of 18 Bradley had already moved home five times; from Illinois to Washington, from Florida to New York, before finally ending up in Heerenveen, in the north of Holland. A determination to rise in the game meant swapping surroundings and packing his bags for a cold town in the north of Europe “not much bigger than a street in New York” and was never a hardship, just a necessary step. Better the Eredivisie than the MLS.
It was a question of mentality and sporting methods the American soon explained. “I have a friend who plays for the LA Galaxy, and he tells me that they train from ten until noon, then spend the rest of the day at the beach. Undoubtedly a nice life, but how do you grow from a sports perspective? In the US, there are teams with a lot of money, but none of them are a big club, even compared to a small team like Heerenveen. The Frisians are a team with strong ties to the people and the area, supported by grandfathers, fathers and sons. A team with a history and culture behind them. In the USA we’ll still need years to create similar ties, because soccer is still a young sport.”
Bradley rose through the Bradenton Academy, the football school of the US Soccer Federation for the American Under-17s. Then, after being included in the MLS’s Project 40 programme, he made the jump to the professional ranks at just 16 when he received a call from New York MetroStars, the team coached by his father Bob, currently the coach of the US national team. Just over a year later, Bradley became the youngest player to leave the MLS for a European league. Tall, with a solid physique, good lungs and decisive in the tackle, the American immediately showed himself to be a complete midfielder in Holland, armed with a capacity to read the game both from an attacking and defensive standpoint. So much so that it wasn’t a wholly unusual sight to see Bradley operate as a playmaker in a four-man midfield in the Heerenveen youth team; it was a role the American played when he opened the scoring in a 2-1 victory for Jong Heerenveen against Jong NEC on 17th April, 2007, as his side conquered the national youth title for just the third time in the club’s history.
In the 2007/08 campaign Bradley was ready for the big jump to Heerenveen’s senior ranks, thanks in part to the retirement of old warrior Paul Bosvelt, who had freed up a place in midfield and personally pointed to the American as his natural successor. It was a chance the youngster couldn’t let slip through his fingers and it didn’t take long for Bradley to show what he was made of. A series of sterling performances followed, with a handful of goals thrown in (16 in the Eredivisie, two in the Dutch Cup and two in the UEFA Cup) to silence critics who had maintained that he was too timid in front of the net.
On 31st August, 2008, Bradley inked a four-year deal with Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach, and three months later he scored his first goal against Bayern Munich. The American ended the season with five goals to his name, despite often being deployed as a screening midfielder, limiting his opportunities to get forward. Bradley’s fine displays however, were not enough to stop the Fohlen flirting with relegation – this season, stuck to the bottom of the table, it seems only a miracle can save the team from the 2.Bundesliga.
No longer the rookie at Heerenveen, Bradley is a veteran with the US national team. On 26th May, 2006, the midfielder won the first of his 50 caps so far against Venezuela, in a warm-up game for the World Cup. However, the tender age of the young man kept then-coach Bruce Arena from including him in his squad for Germany. The first major international tournaments Bradley tasted were the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2007, where the United States saw off Mexico in the final, and the Under-20 World Cup in Canada – Bradley starred as one of the Stars and Stripes standout performers, scoring the only goal against Uruguay in the second round in a tournament the US exited at the quarter-final stage.
The 23-year-old grabbed another opportunity to impress on the international stage at the 2009 Confederations Cup, putting in two superb shifts against Egypt and Spain, but missing the final – the US lost 3-2 to Brazil – due to a red card picked up in the semi-final against the Spanish. In the 2010 World Cup, Bradley scored against Slovenia, his eighth international goal. And last August he captained the team for the first time in a friendly against Brazil.
Bradley doesn’t want to play in a second division. In 2008 he had agreed to join Birmingham City on the condition that they retained their Premier League status – they didn’t and the American headed to the Bundesliga instead. With Borussia Monchengladbach rooted to the bottom of the German league table, Bradley has headed to Aston Villa. And in the Midlands he will be looking for the definitive turning point in his career. It’s time for Bradley to get serious.
Fonte: Inside Futbol