American star Michael Bradley will lead fabled Italian side Roma out on against Poland’s Zaglebie Lubin live on FOX Soccer (Sunday, 3:30 PM EST) from Wrigley Field. Fortunately for Americans, this will mark the first soccer game at the famed baseball stadium since the heydays of the Chicago Sting.
Bradley joined Roma in a reported $4.6 million dream move for the midfielder from Serie A rivals Chievo. Roma, now controlled by an American partnership that includes Thomas DiBenedetto, has been eager to market their team in the United States and the signing of Bradley, one of the major stars in the American game, is seen as a coup.
“I’ve dreamed of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, one with so much tradition, passion and history,” said Bradley today in a teleconference with reporters. “There is so much potential here. For me it’s now about showing that I am somebody who can really help this team.”
Roma GM Franco Baldini said the capture of Bradley was a critical part of his club’s future plans and dismissed suggestions that the midfielder was brought in to market the team to American fans.
“We took Michael Bradley because he is a very good player. A year ago, we had a team here with older players and we understood we had to renew,” said Baldini. “We believe that Michael Bradley is one more important piece that we are adding now.”
Bradley has long been considered one of the USA’s best field players but his career has been bedeviled by some fits and starts. The biggest hitch might have been the unenviable situation Bradley found himself in 2006, when his father was hired to coach the American national team.
Few doubted his talent, but some smelled nepotism at work — an unfair assessment that nonetheless gained currency both in the locker room and in the media. Frustrations reached a head for the younger Bradley in 2009, when he confronted former American star and current FOX Soccer analyst Eric Wynalda over the latter’s criticism of his father during the Gold Cup.
Nonetheless, Bradley’s career has been filled with highs and lows: he was the youngest player ever to be sold by MLS, moving from the MetroStars to Heerenveen in Holland, where he broke out in 2007 with a twenty goal season. He would move to Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany and become a vital cog for the Germans until he was suspended by then manager Michael Frontzeck for dissent.
A subsequent move to an American owned side, the Premier League’s Aston Villa, ended badly, with Bradley making only three appearances.
But with Chievo, Bradley once again found his rhythm, becoming a critical figure in the center of the park for an otherwise unremarkable mid-table Italian side. Beloved by the fans, who called him “the General,” Bradley was tipped to move on to greener pastures as early as last winter.
“It was in the works for a while,” admitted Bradley over the transfer. “The way things are in the world transfer market, you never are quite sure what will happen. I heard there was interest from some clubs in Italy and from some in other countries. When I found out Roma’s interest was real, that’s all I needed to hear.
“One of the reasons I came to Roma is that I got a good sense that they value what I bring as a player, as a person,” added Bradley. “Midfield is about all parts of the game; it’s about being able to win battles, control play, get forward, close people down, make tackles, win headers.
“I don’t know whether they will want me in the center, the right or the left, but the position does not change what I am about as a player.”
Bradley also has close ties to Chicago where his father, Bob, once coached the Chicago Fire. Bradley said today that his father’s input played a major role in his decision.
“It’s no secret that [Bob Bradley] and I are very close and that I respect his opinions very much. We have ongoing conversations on everything. Roma is an incredible opportunity — these chances don’t come along every day. I think he’s excited and I expect he will get to Rome to see some matches.”
Bradley has no regrets about leaving Chievo, where his future was secure.
“If you want to be the best you can be you have to be ready to take these challenges. Now, I’m going to work every day to show everyone that I have to be on the field in the important moments.”