Michael Bradley; he’s a household name to the frequent visitors of this distinguished soccer blog. It is kind of weird to actually type out the full name that Bobbo saw fit to give him though. Junior, MB90, Coach’s Kid, whatever you want to call him, Bradley’s a top performer for a Yank in Europe, and at 23 years old, he’s just entering his prime. So where will the future take the young midfielder? And why must he get out of Borussia Mönchengladbach as soon as possible? Let’s kick the ballistics.
Obligatory and Abbreviated History Section: The tough tackling midfielder arrived at the storied German club after scoring 18 goals during the 2007-2008 campaign for Dutch club Heerenveen, setting the record for an American at a European club along the way. Breaking Brian McBride’s single season mark set at Fulham is impressive even before taking into account that MB90 did it from a box-to-box midfield role rather than as a target man. On the back of this amazing season Bradley sought transfer to the English Premier League, but his people wisely built a stipulation into the transfer agreement that if suitor Birmingham City got relegated the deal was voided. Brum did get relegated that season, so Junior was forced to look at other options (in hindsight, the Blues came right back up to the Prem and haven’t looked like going down again for a second of the past two seasons). So Bradley ended up plying his trade on a four year contract with the Bundesliga strugglers. Germany proved to be the perfect place for the central middy to hone his all around game as he tightened his tackling, quickened his passing, and learned to be more selective and responsible with his forward runs. Congratulations, you’ve completed the “you probably already knew this stuff” recent history section. On to present day!
Present Day (as alluded to, see above): At this point Bradley has been an entrenched starter almost since his debut for Borussia Mönchengladbach. He doesn’t score as many goals in Germany as he did in the defense-optional Eredivisie, but he is the midfield stalwart that makes everything go for his club. Funny, at his best, that’s what he is for the USMNT as well. Michael has one more year after this one left on his contract at the club which is entering its second fight against relegation in the past three years. No worries though, Mönchengladbach hangs its hat on a storied history and a sizeable fan base of impassioned supporters. So they can go reminisce with the San Francisco 49ers and my boys at West Ham United. In the meantime, Michael Bradley’s has got to go! Junior is not a grizzled vet like West Ham’s Scott Parker who’s played for the top clubs and has now settled into a hero’s role near the bottom of the table. Nor is he a Mark Noble type, a promising young midfielder who grew up in the shadow Upton Park and has been playing first team football for the senior squad since soon after he learned to read. MB90 is a young gun free agent who’s given his everything to a struggling Bundesliga side for over two full seasons and should get a “promotion” to a better team for his efforts. He’s reached that point that internships get to, where the “valuable work experience vs. free labor” dynamic starts to shift dramatically in the company’s favor as the free labor becomes more and more skilled and the variety of new work experiences begins to stagnate. Fortunately, as trade and transfer deadlines have taught all of us, Bradley’s club will want to cash on his value in the market before his contract expires in 2012 and they get nothing for him. Want to venture a guess what the rest of this blog is going to be about?
THE FUTURE!: This is where USMNT fans tend to let their imaginations run away with them a bit, and that’s fair enough. After all, Bradley is one of US Soccer’s best exports, and he’s only 23. And one of the world’s best coaches and talent evaluators, Aresenal manager Arsene Wenger, did heap praise on the young CM whilst doing commentary for the World Cup on French TV. And he was right, because Michael did have a great World Cup; didn’t you hear that even Everton manager and renowned Yankophile David Moyes had taken notice and expressed interest?! And I may actually have the inside scoop on the kid because whenever I play three seasons into Master League mode on PES 2008 for my Playstation 2 Bradley always ends up on Real Madrid.
While all that stuff may be true, none of it means MB90 is actually going to the big club you root for or want him to go to. Like most transfers, his will come down to timing and the dollar (pound/euro) amount being right for both clubs, and the player to an extent. In the interest of being a buzzkill before having a little fun, I’ll break down the timing issue first. No, Michael Bradley will not be leaving for greener pastures this January. Borussia Mönchengladbach sits in last place in the league and will have to bring players in to complement consistent contributors like Bradley if they hope to survive. Unless something unforeseen and really surprising happens Junior will be staying put for the season. He’s likely to get his transfer over the summer (most likely after the Gold Cup if it happens) or in January of 2012. Just be happy he doesn’t have to cut through MLS-levels of red tape to get it done when a deal is finally struck.
On the cash front, Bradley’s current market value is around four and a half million pounds, which is equal to about five million euros. How do I know this?! “This” being his relative market value, not the conversion from pounds to euros. Simple! I discovered this awesome site that uses mathematics of some sort to derive each soccer player’s value in the transfer market! Cool, right?! Apologies if you already knew about this kickass site. If not, spend your next few days wasting time at work and school or at the mall with your lady or man-friend on Black Friday looking up all your favorite players and teams and the money that they’d go for in a transfer. That’s what I’m going to do!
So knowing that MB90 will most likely transfer for a fee of between four and six million euros and that it will most likely happen over the summer or in January of 2012, what kinds of clubs should we keep an eye on? This is where the sarcastic and logical among us usually chime in with, “Probably clubs that will need a box-to-box central midfielder at those times and have between four and six million euros to spend.” While these comments are spot on, they’re not too helpful.
Firstly, I think there will be plenty of interest from better German clubs because Bradley’s a known quantity and proven commodity in that league now. Sadly, short of him transferring to a club that makes the Champions League every year like Bayern Munich, I’d rather him not go the Bundesliga route. It just gives off the same scent as the Jonathan Bornstein to Mexico move. Mexico fits Jonny B’s game because it’s a speed game, but it’s most likely not going to foster his growth as a player. Similarly, the hard tackles and organized nature of the German game fit MB90 like a glove, but they won’t help him raise his game to the next level, a level we’ve seen flashes of in international play.
Then there’s the EPL argument, and it’s a good one. The English game combines the physical and organizational elements of the Bundesliga with a quicker pace and more world class footballers. The consensus, if there is one, seems to be that an English club is the next logical step for the coach’s kid, and I can’t disagree. But as stylistically homogenous as the Prem can appear at times, it’s much less of a copycat league than say the NFL. Finding the right team that runs the right system for Bradley could prove the difference between him emulating Bolton’s now stalwart starter Stu Holden or riding the pine in all but Carling Cup matches.
And how about clubs outside the two most logical leagues? Both Italy and (especially) Spain seem a stretch given the types of football played in each and the relative lack of players like Michael, but he could always catch the right eye and assume the mantle from a guy like Gennaro Gattuso in Milan. Not likely though. If he goes outside Germany or England, Bradley could very well transfer to a Champions League squad in a lesser league. Mo Edu could have a partner at Rangers in Bradley, or a rival at Celtic. Sacha could welcome Bradley to Anderlecht, or he could end up in Turkey plying his trade for Besiktas or Fenerbahce (I’m pretty sure Galatasaray only brings in geriatric Australians). More likely than that, Bradley could return to the league where he struck the old onion bag most often and play for Ajax, PSV, or Twente.
It’s all speculative this far out, but I’d bet on Bradley following what most view as his natural progression and landing a job in the English Premier League. What club then? Once an admirer, always an admirer; my money’s on Alex McLeish getting the job done this time and successfully bringing MB90 to Birmingham City. Would have been a right old derby if Bobbo had landed that Aston Villa job huh?
Jon Levy is co-founder and Associate Editor for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.