Michael Bradley’s career path has been one of the most speculated on, in the U.S. national team setup, especially since his brilliant display in the 2010 World Cup Finals.
Most U.S. supporters believe that he needs to move to a bigger club in order to continue his career arc moving upward. Others think that playing regularly for any club, no matter the level, is the best way for him to grow into the player so many supporters see him becoming.
No matter what your opinion, Michael Bradley has completed a load signing with Aston Villa that will see him at Villa Park till the end of the season, with the option for Villa to purchase at the end of the agreement.
But what has he done to earn this chance in the Premier League?
Glad you asked. Michael Bradley is the son of a coach, not just any coach mind you, the current U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley. Michael has grown up around professional soccer and has been training in that environment for years. He signed a Project-40 contract to become a professional in the U. S. at age 16 and immediately entered the MLS SuperDraft. He was taken with the 36th overall pick, by his father, who was then coaching the New York Metrostars.
He spent his first season out with an injured foot. The next season he earned a starting spot and played in 30 matches. Weeks after his father was fired from the job, Michael went on to score his only goal of the season, the winning header that launched the Metrostars into the playoffs.
In the January transfer window of 2006, Michael became the youngest player to have ever been transferred from MLS. SC Heerenveen, of the Dutch Eredivisie, had secured his services for an undisclosed fee. The Dutch league is renowned for its coaching and development, taking credit for many of the world’s best players over the past few decades. He played there for three seasons, his best coming in 2007-2008 when he scored 18 goals in 32 appearances for his club. It seemed like the lad had finally found his form. That would be his last campaign in Holland, as he was again transferred, this time to Borussia Monchengladbach of Germany in the Bundesliga.
The next two-and-a-half years led to stagnation in his overall game. His scoring level dropped, netting 11 times in 81 appearances over a three year span. He only managed five assists in a similar timeframe. We had seen flashes of brilliance from him, but he was never able to keep his form on a consistent level.
His indifferent play cycles over into his national team form as well. Overall, he scored 8 goals in 50 caps for his country. He has games in which he looks brilliant. In 2009, during a World Cup Qualifier against Mexico in Columbus, he scored the only two goals in the match to give the U.S. a huge win. In the 2010 World Cup Finals, he scored a brilliant equalizer against Slovenia in the dying embers of that game.
Then he has games were he gets sent off for petulant behavior, like against Spain in the Confederation’s Cup, or in 2007 Gold Cup against Canada. He has games where he is invisible, you wonder if he is even on the pitch. He drifts in and out of games too much. His game is not consistent enough for him to take that next step as a player.
Michael’s situation is much like Clint Dempsey’s before he arrived at Fulham. Like Clint, Bradley has the talent to be a good professional player. I think Clint has developed into an above average Premier League player. Bradley could do the same in Aston Villa. Fellow American Stuart Holden, at Bolton Wanderers, has been able to take advantage of the opportunity he has been given to raise his game. If he continues that rise, he could eclipse Bradley in the U.S. starting midfield role.
The point is Michael does not have any excuses not to succeed at Villa. He has a great and well respected coach in Gerard Houllier. He has good players around him that are starting to develop into that next tier of player. Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonglahor, Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton are all players that are working on getting to that next tier of form and talent. Bradley has to do everything he can to catch onto this team and develop with them. If he cannot establish good, consistent form and catch on with this team, then what options does he have left? Italy? I think not. Not the league that has a reputation for developing American players. Spain? Midfield demands in that league are higher than Premier League. France? Certainly a place a lot of Americans go to watch their careers die. Scotland is a place where his U.S teammate Maurice Edu has had success. Michael is running out of options to develop into the player his potential has shown. This is a big moment in his career, time to stand up and be counted or get left behind.