By Jon Levy
Five months ago I wrote a feature for this site entitled MB Donde: What’s Next For US Soccer’s Best Prospect?
The piece was a relatively straightforward look into the club team future of a young Yank on the precipice of his playing prime. Now I’m no Plato or Kant, but in this feature on the USMNT’s Michael Bradley I attempted to use reason to predict the timing and manner of the midfielder’s transfer out of his German club, Borussia Mönchengladbach. Now I know better.
While in November I had no clear idea as to what type of club MB90 might move to, save that it would be a more successful team as of late than M’Gladbach, I was pretty sure the Bundesliga cellar dwellers would hang onto an entrenched starter who had already helped the team avoid relegation once in his tenure. Apparently I was wrong, and along with the rest of the US Soccer community, I rejoiced in Bradley moving to Aston Villa. He was now moving to a better club, playing in the world’s best domestic league, poised to put his all-around skill set to use, and with all of it being televised and beamed to America…in English! What could be better!? Sadly, the answer to that question is, “pretty much anything.”
Here’s a not-so-fun timeline to help us better understand Bradley’s transition from MB90 to MBnotinthesquad.
Late January 2011 – After leaving his central midfielder out of the starting lineup, M’Gladbach manager Michael Frontzeck authorizes a loan away from the Bundesliga strugglers, saying, “I want to try something else because I don’t want people to say that I haven’t tried everything.” (Perhaps, we can think now, these are the words of a desperate coach.) Bradley cannot come to terms with Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray, but secures a loan move to the English Premier League with Aston Villa.
Early February 2011 – Michael is introduced at Villa. Manager Gerard Houllier praises his youth, versatility, goal scoring ability, and experience with the national team. The longer Bradley stays at Villa, the more it seems like American club owner Randy Lerner handed Houllier a sheet of paper with nice things to say about a player the Frenchman had never heard of. But hey, Lerner finally got a member of the clan Bradley to Birmingham.
Mid-February 2011 – Borussia M’Gladbach manager Michael Frontzeck is “poop”-canned after the club continues to lose. No word on whether anyone is accusing him of not having “tried everything.” He’s replaced by the accomplished Lucien Favre, but the club continues to suck, presumably because Favre keeps throwing interceptions into double coverage.
Mid-February through March 2011 – Stuck behind a logjam of central mids, Bradley struggles to find his place in the Aston Villa team. The cast of characters in front of him includes one of the EPL’s most underrated players, Stilian Petrov, along with some less impressive figures, like the enigmatic Nigel Reo Coker and new signings Jean Makoun and 900 year old Robert Pires. Bradley fails to impress with the limited opportunities he’s given to take part in first team matches, sometimes due to not being put in a position to succeed (making his debut when Villa have been red carded down to ten men). Even more disheartening, are reports that the speed of the game, even in training and reserve matches, is too much for the young American.
April 2011 – Bradley is conspicuously absent even from Villa’s bench for Premier League matchups against Everton and Newcastle. His future in Birmingham looks to be short and uneventful. It used to be that a red card was the only way to keep Bradley off the pitch. Now he can’t even make the eighteen.
April through May 2011 – M’Gladbach plays only top of the table opposition in their run-in to the end of the Bundesliga season. Unless they can pull off a near miracle without Bradley, this will signal an end to their time in the first division.
Hardly an inspiring tale. But as you may have noticed, no one in the saga thus far made any sort of grave and tragic mistake, except maybe Frontzeck, who eventually paid for letting Bradley go with his job. Rather, it was a series of minor missteps by each party that lead Michael to where he is now. The deal never really made sense, Bradley was never really given a chance, and consequently it’s been a wasted few months for the American. He surely didn’t look like he had picked up any new and special Premier League powers in the last round of USMNT friendlies. And in the Argentina and Paraguay matches we got to see Bradley playing alongside new teammate Jermaine Jones, whose parallel story provides a contrasting example of what a good loan from Germany to England can look like. Simply put, Jones wasn’t playing at Schalke, and he wasn’t getting along with the manager. Jones gets loaned to Blackburn where he plays every match whether he’s good, bad, or just okay, and Schalke raise their game to a new level, making a semi-final run in the Champions League. See how much more sense that made than the Bradley move to Villa that we were all excited about? Hindsight and bourbon are a sportswriter’s best friends.
So now to the real question, and it’s a much more complicated one than it was five months ago. Where does MB90 go from here? He’s still contracted to Borussia Mönchengladbach through the 2011/12 season, and they’ll most likely be playing that one in 2nd Bundeslia (The Deuce!?). I’d imagine the club will try to cash in on one of their most bankable assets before heading down, but Bradley’s value will be depreciated a bit after this debacle with Villa. I think the Gold Cup will play a large part in reminding scouts why they liked him last summer, but will TYAC Editor Neil Blackmon’s dream scenario play out, wherein Bayern Munich take a page out of the Yankees’ book and bring in a proven player who’s had success against them to be the new van Bommel (I’m aware Mark van Bommel never played for the Yankees)?
The truth is, at this point Michael Bradley is the NFL Draft equivalent of a projected first or second round pick who got injured in his senior year or was found to have recreational drugs in his system. There’s a giant question mark over the guy, and now he could go anywhere from the first round to fifth. See, everything makes more sense when you frame it in terms of the NFL Draft. My advice, embrace the question mark on Bradley, root for him this summer, then bust out a map of Europe, a cork board, and as many darts as you have on hand. Then you’ll be prepared for him to land in Blackpool, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and pretty much anywhere in between.
Time for you to sound off. What’s the best move for Bradley? Where do you want to see him play next season?
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you should follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.