The thought of Michael Bradley at Sunderland has me crinkling up my nose and squinting, as if I’ve just caught a feint whiff of something unpleasant, but not quite identifiable.
Bradley is doing splendidly at Roma, a team that finished sixth in a top-level league (Serie A) last year.
I know the TV situation for the rest of us, where Bradley is concerned, would improve rather dramatically. And he would play in behind another important U.S. man, Jozy Altidore. Otherwise, I cannot really see where what makes this a good career move.
For one, Sunderland appears to be a potentially unstable situation, a bottom- to mid-level team now under the guidance of a highly emotional and potentially volatile figure (Italian Paolo Di Canio) that we just do not know that much about. (Well, other than that he is a highly emotional and potentially volatile figure.)
Will his charges under his tutelage ultimately prosper and become better players, still? Will things around the Stadium of Light evolve or devolve? Will Bradley and his family find England’s industrial northeast to their liking, always a relevant factor in these moves, as player off-field happiness helps dictate his chances of on-field success?
Those are the known unknowns; what of the unknown unknowns?
Ahead of a World Cup year, nothing is more important than playing time. We know Bradley is a respected figure in Rome, central to manager Rudi Garcia’s plan. He’s in a good place – in more ways than one.
The man’s soccer brain has just grown and grown. If he’s not one of the most intelligent soccer men to ever pull on a U.S. shirt, he’s surely right up there. The payoff for Bradley’s movement in midfield areas, his tactical awareness, his instincts and keen sense of what is happening around him is all that highly intelligent and useful work with the ball around Jurgen Klinsmann’s team.
He’s a real master at keeping the ball when the situation calls for it, and then doing something constructive with when the situation allows.
But the further payoff is in adding a counterweight to Jermaine Jones’ impulsive ways through the central third. Bradley is almost always there, even when it’s Jones who should be.
So much of that tactical awareness is a product of his recent years in Italy.
Bradley’s weaponized soccer brain was born, literally and figuratively, because he’s the son of a soccer coach, and a darn good one, in Bob Bradley. It was nurtured by spending boyhood years around the game, cultivated further in the technical and geometrically inclined Dutch game, further steeled in Germany. But the rounding off, the Master’s degree, if you will, came in Italy.
Italy is a good place for Bradley, who quickly learned the language so he could fully immerse himself in the broader culture of the game. Roma is a good address.
Why bother a good thing?