American footballers are often forced to take the long route before playing for a big European club. Michael Bradley is no exception. But once many players do reach that point, they are not always as successful as hoped. Michael Bradley, who is currently on loan at Aston Villa, is one American who is an exception.
Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Bradley has added his name to a growing list of American players who have moved to small European clubs before climbing the ladder. After making 30 appearances for the New York Metro Stars, now known as the New York Red Bulls, Bradley set off for Europe in hopes of furthering his development. His transfer to Eredivisie side SC Heerenveen in January, 2006 made him the youngest MLS player to ever be sold. The amount of the transfer remains undisclosed.
After making four starts for the Dutch club and helping them earn a spot in the UEFA Cup in his first season, things would only get better for the American midfielder. The following season saw him earn a permanent starting role in central midfield and in his third season with the club Bradley scored sixteen goals, including 21 in all competitions. His goal tally broke Brian McBride’s record of most goals scored by an American in a European first division.
On the penultimate day of the summer transfer window in August 2008, Bradley signed a four-year deal with Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach. In two and a half seasons Bradley has made 81 appearances and scored 11 goals. His biggest highlight thus far has been a match-winning free-kick against Hannover 96. Bradley found himself on the move once again in January 2011, this time on the final day of the transfer window. Aston Villa agreed a deal with Monchengladbach to loan the American midfielder for the remainder of the 2010-11 season.
Bradley has made his biggest impact on the pitch for the United States National Team, earning 50 caps and scoring eight goals. His influence during the 2010 World Cup was a key factor in helping the US advance past the group stages. His late run into the penalty area to poke home Jozy Altidore’s knock-down gave the US a 2-2 draw and provided the platform for a dramatic win against Algeria. Bradley won more second balls than most of his teammates and his work rate throughout the tournament was second to none. Age the young age of 23, Bradley has already established himself as a key figure in the US National Team. One of the biggest compliments to Bradley is how much he was missed by the US in its 3-2 loss to Brazil in the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup. Having greatly impressed for the team coached by his father, Bob Bradley, the former Metrostars midfielder was suspended for the final after receiving a late red card in his side’s 2-0 win over Spain in the semi-finals.
Time will tell if Bradley can translate that same influence onto the club scene. One thing is for sure, and that is the fact that Aston Villa is the perfect platform for him to do so. After finishing in the top six of the Premier League for three consecutive seasons, the Midlands club is currently in 12th place and just five points clear of the relegation zone. Gerard Houllier’s side is in need of some help and Bradley has the opportunity to be the answer they are in need of.
After all, it was only five years ago that another American by the name of Clint Dempsey made the move to a relegation threatened Fulham and helped save them from the drop. Fast forward five years and Dempsey is Fulham’s leading scorer and integral part of a team who finished runners up in the UEFA Cup last season. And although a completely different type of player than his compatriot, Bradley is facing a very similar prospect.
Aston Villa’s new number 13 made his first start for the club in Villa’s 3-0 loss to Manchester City in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday. Despite the loss and failing to really cope with City’s mega-rich midfield, Bradley still has plenty of time to demonstrate his influence for Aston Villa and prove that he really is an exception to the Americans who have gone before him and disappointed on some of Europe’s biggest stages.
Written by: Jeff Harbert