SEATTLE – Like his famous father, Michael Bradley came to a fork in the road, and he ended up taking the path less travelled.
Now both Michael, one of Toronto FC’s newest high-profile DPs, and his father Bob, a former American national team coach, are hoping their recent career decisions will make all the difference.
Michael is expected to make his TFC debut Saturday when the Reds play their season opener in Seattle. A few months ago, the prospect of the highly touted American midfielder plying his trade in Major League Soccer seemed unimaginable. But Bradley not only consulted his father, he also took inspiration from him after Bob spurned more attractive offers to take a coaching job in Norway.
“He and I have a very close relationship. He understands what I’m all about. So when I was thinking about (TFC’s offer) and working through it all, he was somebody who I spoke to an incredible number of times. My father’s opinion and guidance is something I have always valued an incredible amount,” Bradley told Sportsnet.
Michael first cut his teeth in MLS in 2005 as a 16-year old with the MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls) before moving to Europe the following season when he was sold to Heerenveen. His star continued to rise in the Dutch league, and soon he packed his bags for Germany, signing with Bundesliga side Borussia Mönchengladbach.
A loan spell at Aston Villa was followed by a permanent move to Serie A in 2011 when he joined Chievo Verona. Italy seemed to agree with Bradley, as he won plaudits for his poised and dominant midfield performances for Chievo—local fans took to calling him “The General.”
It became evident, though, that he was too big of a talent for a regional outfit such as Chievo, and the following year AS Roma came calling. Bradley hardly looked out of place in his first season with the capital club, earning a regular spot in the starting 11, his boundless energy and hard running a perfect complement to the skill flair of Francesco Totti.
Soccer Central podcast: SPORTSNET.CA’s Soccer Central podcast, hosted by John Molinaro and James Sharman, takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues. To listen and subscribe to the podcast, CLICK HERE.
Bradley represented a new breed of midfielder in Serie A, blending power and strength with technique and skill on the ball. But when Roma bought Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman last summer, things changed for Bradley. One of the Giallorossi’s best and most consistent players in 2012-13, he dropped down the midfield pecking order behind Strootman, Daniele De Rossi and Miralem Pjanic this past season.
Playing time was suddenly harder to come by, and in a World Cup year, he had to play regular first-team soccer. A player of Bradley’s calibre could have easily signed with another club, be it in Italy or somewhere else in Europe. Instead, he ended up signing with TFC in January in one of the biggest—and most shocking—transfer coups in league history. This wasn’t some aging veteran the Reds were getting—Bradley is 26, still in the prime of his career and with his best years ahead of him.
At first glance, it seemed a strange move for the American. Why would he come to MLS when he had other options? A multi-million dollar deal that dwarfed his pay packet with Roma was one reason. But he was also inspired by his father, who had the courage to try something new and unexpected in choosing to going to Norway.
“My dad has always been somebody I’ve looked up to. I admire his commitment, and determination, and the way he puts his heart into anything and everything he does. For me, he’s my best friend and someone who no matter what goes on, I know I’m always able to count on him,” Bradley said.
Bob Bradley’s coaching resume is an impressive one. He won an MLS Cup and two U.S. Open Cups while in charge of the Chicago Fire. He also served as coach of the U.S. national team for five years, winning one CONCACAF Gold Cup, finishing runners-up at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, and qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
In 2011, Bradley took over as manager of Egypt, and earned widespread praise and respect for living in the country and sticking with the team despite the unrest in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution. He parted ways with Egypt when he couldn’t lead the Pharaohs to this summer’s World Cup.
“First and foremost, I’m very proud of him and my mom. A lot of people would have been on the next flight out of Cairo, but my dad was committed to finish what he started and to sticking through everything with a group of players he became very close with,” Bradley said.
Bob was being courted by several clubs, including the Vancouver Whitecaps. Despite the failure with Egypt, his reputation was still solid, and like his son, he had options. But instead of returning home to MLS or latching on with another club from one of Europe’s top leagues, he ended up signing with Norwegian club Stabaek.
Again, it seemed an odd choice. Norway? But Michael wasn’t surprised, and encouraged his dad to take the job.
“Just as he played a part in me coming to Toronto, I played a part in him going to Norway. We have a relationship where we talk openly about everything and are always looking to understand what the other person is thinking, no matter,” Bradley said.
“I’m very excited for him and the opportunity he has to take a club with a lot of tradition in Norway and try to work with some young players and make them a good run.”
Bradley is also understandably excited to get started in MLS again, even though there is a misconception about the type of player he is. The American is often mistakenly labeled as a defensive midfielder, and even though that’s part of his role, it doesn’t define him entirely.
In Serie A, Bradley became more of a two-way, box-to-box midfielder who developed his offensive game to become one of the most skilled passers in the league. He wins back the ball just as effectively as he always did and is still fearless in the tackle, but now he’s just as likely to run forward and lend support to the attack.
“For me, people get too caught up sometimes in talking about midfielders as a ‘number six’ or a ‘number eight’, or as defensive midfielder or holding midfielders. For me, I try to be a midfielder in the centre of the park who has a big impact on things, both in attack on defence,” Bradley explained.
“I try use my ability in my passing and vision for the game in helping us find a rhythm and score goals, and when we don’t have the ball, win tackles, win headers and win interceptions and try to influence the game those ways.”