Given that football is only considered a minor sport in the United States, it may seem surprising that one of the Bundesliga’s hottest young talents is American.
Instead of following the more popular path into Baseball, Basketball or American football like most kids, Michael Bradley chose to follow in his fathers unusual footsteps and pursue a career in professional football. That decision has not just worked out well for his current club, Borussia Monchengladbach, but his country too as at just 22 Bradley is considered one of the United States’ most important players going into next summers World Cup – a tournament that could yet prove to be the defining moment in the young New Jersey natives career.
Some cynics would argue that Bradley’s inclusion in America’s World Cup squad for South Africa is a given considering that his father, Bob Bradley, is in charge of the national team, but a look at his performances since moving to Europe in 2006 would suggest that nepotism would have nothing to do with it. Bradley will be one of the first names on the list due to the hard working midfielders impressive form and immense goal scoring ability that has seen him become a sought after player for clubs all around Europe. In just two seasons in the Dutch Eredivisie, Bradley had clubs clambering for his signature before Gladbach eventually won the battle – but being in demand is nothing new for Bradley.
The 22-year-old’s talent for ‘soccer’ was recognised early in his teenage years, when he was selected for a place at the countries top footballing school in Florida to hone his skills. He was one of the first selected for a programme called Project 40, which was designed to help advance the sport in the States by training the most gifted players to a professional standard. By the age of just 16, Bradley had reached that level having signed for MLS franchise New York Metrostars in 2004. It turned out to be a short stay for the ambitious teen, as after just over 30 appearances in two seasons, he became the youngest player in the MLS to move abroad, signing a deal to join Dutch side Heerenveen aged 19.
Realising the limitations to football in the states, Bradley headed to Europe in search of more competition and better coaching to improve his game. Heerenveen were notorious for their dedication to young talent and Bradley was soon reaping the benefits of the move. Originally signed as an understudy to ageing midfielder Paul Bosvelt, Bradley’s performances in his debut season made the position his own following the ex-Holland stars retirement in the summer of 2007. A vastly improved player since his arrival, Bradley excelled in the role during the 2007/08 campaign and turned heads by scoring an incredible 20 goals in all competitions – battering Brian McBride’s record of most goals in a season by an American abroad.
However it wasn’t just his goal scoring that was making him a hit. His eye for a defence splitting pass helped his strikers bag numerous goals, while his constant movement and box to box running were making him unplayable to his opponents. Inevitably, Heerenveen were besieged with offers for the midfield dynamo and a move to the Premiership with Birmingham was soon agreed. However the transfer broke down when the Blues were relegated from the Premier League, breaking a clause in the agreement and Bradley instead joined newly promoted Gladbach. Straight away he caught the eye, scoring five times in 28 appearances (including an equaliser against bitter rivals Bayern that endeared him to the supporters) to help the club avoid relegation.
The current season has seen two sides of Michael Bradley; the good and the ugly. His 13 games have produced two goals already as well as some impressive play, but has also highlighted his remaining weakness – temperament. Bradley missed the opening month of the season after falling out with Coach Michael Frontzeck over playing time, and missed his first major final in the summers Confederations Cup when he was sent off in USA’s semi final victory. It is the one flaw in his game that is holding him back, but the upcoming World Cup could provide a chance of redemption. He has the talent to live up to his tag of America’s answer to Frank Lampard and, given USA and England have been paired together in the group stages, South Africa would be the perfect place to prove it.
Full Name – Michael Sheehan Bradley
Club – Borussia Monchengladbach
Age – 22 (July 31, 1987)
Nationality (Caps/goals) – American (40/7)
Previous clubs – NY Metrostars, Heerenveen
Position – centre-midfield