Egypt team coach Bob Bradley stands during their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Ghana at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi

Comparing Bradley to Källström may be flattering, but it doesn’t reflect reality for U.S. stars

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Should Michael Bradley have gotten a look from Arsenal in January? Implicitly, that’s what his father, Stabæk head coach and former U.S. national team boss Bob Bradley, is saying when he compares his son to Arsenal loanee Kim Källström.

The argument, recently articulated to Slate, seems to be this: The Swedish international, who arrived at Arsenal in January from Spartak Moscow, is not as good as the now-Toronto FC midfielder. Therefore Bradley, who would have entertained a move to London in January, should have garnered more of Arsène Wenger’s attention.

From Slate’s post:

… the coach says that Michael had hoped to join a prominent European club and felt like Arsenal would have been a good fit. Michael, though, didn’t get the consideration from manager Arsène Wenger that he felt he merited.

“I think American players and coaches have to fight really hard for respect,” Bob Bradley said. “In January, Arsenal [was] looking to add a midfielder, and they chose Kim Källström. Kim Källström’s not a bad player, but I think Michael feels pretty strongly that he’s better, and so Arsène Wenger must not feel that way, and [Arsenal chief executive] Ivan Gazidis must not feel that way. So sometimes, no matter what you do, you don’t get the respect you think you deserve.”

Perhaps Bradley truly has been slighted, but this is a poor way of illustrating it. Essentially, Bob Bradley is saying that if a midfielder is better than Arsenal’s worst player at the position, he should feel slighted if he’s not on the team’s payroll. So if you accept the Källström is not the player that Michael Bradley is (a safe but perhaps disputable claim), then Arsène Wenger was wrong to let the U.S. international slip through those professorial digits.

source: Getty Images
31-year-old Swedish international Kim Källström failed to make an impact during his loan at Arsenal, making four appearances in six months. (Source: Getty Images)

This is a fallacy that’s used time and time again, one that assumes a favorable comparison to the worst part of a population means you belong in the pool. In sports, we most often here this with Major League Baseball Hall of Fame candidates, but the logic behind it is just as flawed in other circumstances. Somebody from outside a group being better may not be an argument for inclusion. It may be an argument for excluding a flaw from the group.

The Källström case is a good example. When he was acquired by Arsenal, few thought he would help the Gunners’ pursuit of a title. Those doubters were proved correct.  Between injury problems, ineffectiveness, and the mere depth of midfielders Arsenal already had in its squad, Källström was a non-factor. While Bradley may be a better player, he also may have just been a slightly more talented non-factor. The argument here isn’t Wenger should have acquired Bradley. It’s Wenger shouldn’t have acquired Källström.

Then, of course, there’s the matter of Källström only being on loan, not permanently transferred to Arsenal. Perhaps Bradley could have also been loaned, but given how the price Roma was able to get from Major League Soccer for its midfielder (around $10 million), it’s easy to believe the club when its says moving Bradley was not necessarily part of its plan. In the face of an unexpected, eight-figure offer for him? Sure, change the plan. But a loan deal to Arsenal? Might as well just keep Bradley as depth for its title pursuit.

Then there’s the idea that being better than Källström makes Bradley the most qualified candidate to fill that spot. That’s clearly not the case, a status that becomes only slightly less clear if you narrow the field to just the available candidates. For a club like Arsenal, though, it is instructive to ask: Among all the available midfielders in the world, was Michael Bradley the best option? That seems unlikely. Just because Arsenal made a poor choice in Källström doesn’t mean in a perfect decision would have landed Bradley in London.

The premise to this whole line of thought seems to be Americans have it harder than other players. That may be true, but let’s remember where Bradley was when this Arsenal rejection occurred? He was at AS Roma, one of the bigger teams in one of the world’s most storied leagues. True, there is now a heavy American influence at Roma, but doesn’t that represent a paved road instead of a bumpy one?

Clint Dempsey was recently at Tottenham. Tim Howard played for Manchester United. Landon Donovan has played for Bayern Munich, and Oguchi Onyewu was once under contract with AC Milan. How do those opportunities jive with the idea of an anti-American bias? Can we really say that any of those players deserved better opportunities than they’ve seen? No.

Some suspicion in this area is justified, but right now, suspicion is all we have. There is no evidence that there’s an established mechanism depriving Americans of opportunities. A far more reasonable explanation: At this point, there isn’t a player whose talents justify that kind of attention.

Mourinho lauds Pogba, Zlatan after EFL Cup triumph

United manager Jose Mourinho applauds during the English League Cup final soccer match between Manchester United and Southampton FC at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
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Jose Mourinho knows his side is fortunate to come away with the EFL Cup, and he’s fairly confident who deserves the credit.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored to help Manchester United build a 2-0 lead over Southampton on Sunday at Wembley Stadium, then added the winner in the 87th minute of the Red Devils’ 3-2 win.

[ MORE: Recap | Zlatan reacts | 3 things ]

Mourinho said his “outstanding” legendary striker won the game for United, adding that big buy Paul Pogba was close to the same level.

And while the manager didn’t appear too impressed with the win, admitting that Southampton did not deserve its fate, Mourinho is happy to win. From Sky Sports:

“I’m a bit emotional. It’s not easy to win titles so many times, it’s not easy to cope with the pressure I put myself under all of my career, It was a game I felt was difficult, so credit goes to Southampton. We have the cup in our hands but we should be playing extra-time. Winning is always special. The day I don’t get emotional when I win is the day I go home.”

United is still alive in the FA Cup and the UEFA Europa League, while Mourinho’s men sit sixth in the Premier League table with 48 points. They’ve played one match less than leaders Chelsea, which has 63 points.

Three things from Man United’s win vs. Southampton

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United scores their third goal during the EFL Cup Final between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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LONDON — Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2 at Wembley on Sunday in a thrilling EFL Cup Final.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s late winner gave Jose Mourinho’s men a largely undeserved victory as the Portuguese manager won his first major trophy as Red Devils boss.

Here’s what we learned from a pulsating, topsy-turvy encounter.


ZLATAN’S THE MAN

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the man for the big occasion.

He scored a superb free kick and a late header to make it two trophies from two trips to Wembley, as he also scored the winner late on against Leicester City in the Community Shield in August.

At the age of 35 he’s defied belief with his 26 goals this season and is showing the world just how good he is. Mourinho said in the week that Zlatan has got better with age and with 26 goals in 38 appearances he continues to look at home in the PL.

He didn’t have his best game, but the big Swede popped up with two vital goals to win the trophy for his team.

Zlatan is a born winner. It’s just what he does.


SLACK UNITED SUCCEED

Somehow Manchester United found themselves 2-0 up against Southampton after 38 minutes. They didn’t deserve it. Not at all. But then again, that’s the sign of a champion.

Southampton should have been 1-0 up after 11 minutes. Cedric cut the ball back from the right flank and Gabbiadini’s goal was chalked out for offside. The Italian striker timed his run to perfection and tapped home. Saints were in dreamland. Well, they should have been. Linesman Stuart Burt put his flag up presumably because he thought Bertrand was interfering with play at the back post. He wasn’t. It was a shocker of a call and ultimately changed the outcome of the game.

Even after going behind to Ibrahimovic’s free kick, Saints did all the pressing. Jesse Lingard put United 2-0 up before the break but United never got a grip on the game as Saints’ wide play bamboozled their full backs. As well as having a perfectly good goal chalked off, Saints also hit the post with Oriol Romeu‘s header in the second half.

Those are the kind of breaks which are going United’s way of late, as they’ve now lost just one game in their past 27 in all competitions.

Mourinho must know his team were lucky to get past Saints and lift the trophy. Then again, he’ll argue that the sign of a true champion is digging out a win when you don’t deserve it.

That’s what he is building.


OFFSIDE DENIES GABBIADINI, SAINTS

Manolo Gabbiadini has scored five goals in his first three games for Southampton after joining from Napoli on Deadline Day in January. He should have had six goals in three games and a hat trick in the EFL Cup Final.

The 25-year-old joined without much fanfare for a fee believed to be around $19 million, with the likes of Everton said to be close to signing him back in the summer. In recent months Gabbiadini felt out of favor at Napoli under manager Maurizio Sarri. Gabbiadini’s goal return hasn’t been too impressive with 25 goals in 76 appearances in the last three seasons.

His movement was sharp throughout and his finishing sublime. Southampton have done some incredible business in the past few years but he may turn out to be the best of the bunch. This defeat was a bitter one for Saints, but if they can continue to buy players of Gabbiadini’s quality then they’ll be fighting for trophies and top 10 finishes for many years to come.

As disappointed as they’ll be, the future is looking bright for Saints.

“My friend, I keep doing it” – Zlatan lifts another Cup

United's Marcos Rojo celebrates with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on the ground, at the end of the English League Cup final soccer match between Manchester United and Southampton FC at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. United won 3-2. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has answered every question, including whether his big game prowess extends to England.

The Big Swede scored early and late as Manchester United won the EFL Cup with a 3-2 win over Southampton on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 3-2 Southampton ]

Ibrahimovic has won trophies at every stop from Ajax to Old Trafford, and now has given Jose Mourinho the distinction of being the first manager to win the League Cup with two different clubs.

From the BBC:

“This is a team effort. This is what I came for – to win and I am winning. The more I win the more satisfied I get.

“You appreciated it more the older you get. Wherever I have gone I have won. I think this is trophy number 32 for me.

“This is what I predicted. To many I could not do it. My friend, I keep doing it. I’m enjoying it in England.”

He sure is.

Zlatan the hero as Manchester United wins EFL Cup

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United (C) celebrates with Eric Bailly (L) and Paul Pogba (R) as he scores their first goal during the EFL Cup Final match between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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  • Zlatan opens, closes scoring
  • Mourinho wins first tourney with Utd
  • Lingard scores
  • Gabbiadini with Saints brace

Zlatan Ibrahimovic rose to the occasion at Wembley Stadium, scoring early and late as Manchester United defeated Southampton 3-2 in an instant classic EFL Cup Final on Sunday.

Jesse Lingard also scored as Jose Mourinho became the first manager to win a League Cup with two sides (Chelsea).

Manolo Gabbiadini scored twice as Saints erased a 2-0 deficit in their first final since 1979.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Paul Pogba unleashed a furious shot from 20-plus yards in the 4th minute that Fraser Forster popped away from danger for the match’s first moment of danger.

Saints earned a corner with their first true bit of possession, which came almost exclusively from the dribbling of Nathan Redmond. It led to another corner, which Pogba eventually sent free of trouble.

Poor defending from United from Marcos Rojo nearly put Saints in front, but an incorrectly ruled offside Manolo Gabbiadini put the ball in the goal.

Oriol Romeu earned a yellow card for a late tackle on Ander Herrera, cueing up United for a 19th minute free kick that Ibrahimovic sent home.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Gabbiadini then fed James Ward-Prowse for a strong shot that De Gea did very well to slap away.

Soon after, it was Dusan Tadic‘s turn. Cued up by Redmond, he forced De Gea into another excellent save.

Lingard made it 2-0 before halftime, given plenty of room to position Rojo’s pass for a successful strike.

But Gabbiadini got his goal just before the break, slipping behind Eric Bailly to poke home Saints’ first.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Manolo Gabbiadini of Southampton (20) celebrates as he scores their second goal with Oriol Romeu of Southampton (14) during the EFL Cup Final match between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The second half began just as lively, with De Gea making a stop on Redmond’s solid effort from inside the 18.

And Saints earned the corner that led to their equalizer moments later, Gabbiadini again the proverbial fox in the box to score on a half turn.

The game had passed the hour mark when Romeu headed a chance off the post.

Pogba and Ibrahimovic presided over another free kick in the 74th minute, but the wall did its job to keep the score 2-2.

Lingard lashed over soon after, and subsequently left the match for Marcus Rashford. Claude Puel also made a move, taking off Dusan Tadic for Sofiane Boufal.

It was fellow sub Shane Long who missed a chance to make it 3-2 when Ryan Bertrand blazed a run down the left to send an inviting ball across goal.

That’s when United won it. Ibrahimovic blazed down the field on a counter attack, but slowed up to let the Red Devils set up shop. Martial found Herrera on the right side of the box, and cross for the noggin of Ibrahimovic, who headed through the hands of Forster.