Though it took a bit longer than expected, Roma have finally completed their €3.5M transfer deal with Chievo for American midfielder Michael Bradley. As part of the deal, Roma have given 50% of Adrian Stoian's rights to Chievo. Bradley, the first American in club history, is expected to participate in training tomorrow. (Update: the official figure appears to be €3.75M)
Bradley, soon to be 25, is a 6'1'' midfielder who has played professionally since 2004 in the MLS, Eredivise, English Premier League and Serie A, as well as earning 69 caps for the United States.
What the signing of Roma's newest and baldest player may lack in international acclaim, it makes up for in historical significance for both club and country.
On The Pitch
This is a Roma blog after all, so let's take a look at what Bradley brings to the pitch and what his signing means for the future of the Roma project.
If Zdenek Zemen is true to his word and his reputation, Roma will feature an all-out attacking mentality that requires a great deal of stamina, tenacity, and mental acuity from its players. Bradley has long been known for his relentless play and, as the son of former United States and current Egyptian National Team coach, has certainly been well versed in the ways of football, so his adjustment period should be brief. Shaking off the labels of nepotism from his very first days with the Metrostars to his early caps with the United States, to recovering from a disastrous loan spell at Aston Villa, has surely given Bradley an added layer of mental toughness to go along with his on-field ferocity, which will go a long way in surviving life in the Roman pressure cooker.
Bradley, among his followers, has long been considered a ‘De Rossi-lite', possessing the same balance of defensive prowess and attacking acumen as DDR, albeit it to a lesser degree. Like De Rossi, Bradley is equally comfortable tracking, chasing and snuffing out attacks as he is starting them, using equal parts head and heart.
Where he fits into ZZs squad rotation remains to be seen, but Bradley's pace and box-to-box mentality are essential to an attacking team. With such a focus on vertical passes and moving the attack up the pitch, a safety valve of sorts is necessary, someone who can react quickly, someone who can read opposing formations and movements is absolutely essential to maintain any semblance of control in the midfield. Michael Bradley will be that someone; that is not to say he is inept offensively, but odds are, at least early in his Roma tenure, his contributions will not be measured on the scoreboard, but rather in frustrating opponents. Additionally, should he not find a place in the starting XI, his defensive abilities and pace may give him a slight edge over Marquinho, Simone Perrotta and Simplicio when it comes to the role of supersub.
Bradley provides the additional benefit of being able to play anywhere in a three man midfield, or even withdrawn right in front of the defense, again much like De Rossi. No matter where he plays, you can expect him to be in position, acting quickly to negate attacks and make judicious passes. Bradley has won his fans over through his passion, effort, and knowledge of the game, his spell at Roma will be no different.
Off The Pitch
Off the pitch, the signing of Bradley fits within the broader goal of increasing recognition of the Roma brand through an expansive, yet targeted marketing campaign. The signing has already made headlines in virtually every U.S. media outlet and Bradley will undoubtedly be the center of attention when Roma take on Liverpool in Boston later this month, which is, coincidentally, being broadcast on ESPN. Similarly, with World Cup qualification hitting full tilt in the coming months, Roma is sure to get a mention every time Bradley's name is uttered, all the more so as his role and importance with Jurgen Klinsmann's squad increases.
Taken with the Disney training deal, the much improved website, the heavily broadcasted, ticket-scarce U.S tour, and the prospect of a new, football-only stadium looming, the business portion of this project is off to a great start. The steady play and familiar face of Michael Bradley will go a long way to growing the brand among the American fan base who, after years of watching the Freddy Adu's and Jozy Altidore's of the world flameout in their European sojourns, have grown weary of "The Next Big Thing Syndrome" and are desperate for an American to make actual inroads at a large club. Bradley is a legitimate on-field extension of the DiBenedetto business plan.
However, this is no marketing ploy, Bradley can ball. That legitimacy will speak volumes to the American soccer fan, who, if the project goes according to plan, will see Michael Bradley gracing the Champions League stage in the revered Roma kit year-in-and-year-out.
Walter Sabatini was quick to silence any talk of national favoritism in this signing.
Work for Michael Bradley of Chievo is well underway and I want to make it clear that his capture is not a marketing ploy...Bradley is a pragmatic player, one sure of himself, who knows how to play and knows how to win. I will be honoured if we complete his signing
Had this signing occurred last summer, one could easily question the validity or motive of the signing. Bradley, through his impressive play at Chievo last term, proved he can hack it in Italy. Furthermore, if DiBenedetto simply wanted to attract casual U.S. Soccer fans, he would've opted for the more familiar Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey, though Dempsey is certainly proving he can score on any stage, while Donovan has shown a fondness for MLS. Bradley was not signed to sell shirts, this is a pure football move, make no mistake. Interesting side note, if certain rumors are to be believed, Zeman actually chose to pursue Bradley over Dempsey.
Beyond the scope of our beloved club, this move has huge significance for U.S. Soccer, both the institution and the state of the sport itself. Bradley is only the fourth American-born player to suit up in Serie A, following Alexi Lalas, Giuseppe Rossi and Oguchi Onyewu and is the latest in a litany of players hoping to prove America equals more than goalkeepers.
Tim Howard and Brad Friedel notwithstanding, American outfield players have had some measure of success at respectable clubs in Europe; Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey leading Fulham in scoring, Claudio Reyna having lengthy stints for Rangers and the pre-takeover Manchester City and Steve Cherundolo captaining Hannover 96. Some Americans, like the aforementioned Giuseppe Rossi and Birmingham City's Jonathan Spector, have even spent time in the Manchester United youth ranks. But by and large, the history of the American outfield player in Europe is confined to noted success at mid-sized clubs (Dempsey, McBride, Cherundolo) or lengthy, distinguished careers at top clubs in smaller leagues (see Reyna or Maurice Edu at Rangers). (For the sake of this argument, consider Rossi Italian only)
So the notion of the American outfield player as a prospect or role player is not too foreign, but Bradley's spell at Roma will represent the first chance an American has for success at a truly large club in one of the world's finest leagues. A.S. Roma is a top club, last season's results notwithstanding, the giallorossi have three Serie A titles, eleven second place finishes and nine Coppa Italia titles (tied for most all-time) and have consistently been in the top 10-20 teams in terms of global revenue.
Given the restructuring of the American youth system spearheaded by U.S. Soccer and Jurgen Klinsmann, the steady success and growth of the MLS, and the exponential rise in popularity of the sport in general, the timing of Bradley's move could prove to be fortuitous. Bradley did not take the traditional American route to professional football (read, NCAA), so he is emblematic of the hopes of every U.S. Soccer coach and administrator, who, in order to compete on the global stage, are seeking to replicate the European youth system, to the extent that American childrearing culture allows.
Historically speaking, soccer has been viewed by many American sports fans as a female sport, given the swarms of young women who play the game from coast-to-coast, it has been hard to argue that point. But when one looks a little deeper, there have always been American women at the apex of the international game, from Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy to Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, young American women have always had idols to admire who were truly the pinnacles of their sport, the same has not always been true for men. While Bradley won't grace too many magazine covers or billboards, the fact that he will be competing on such a large stage will go a long way to win the hearts and minds of young men in the saturated American sporting market, who will see there is more to life than dwelling on the bench of a middling English team.
No one, not even the staunchest U.S. fan, is expecting Bradley to usurp Francesco Totti's place in Roma lore, but having a consistent role on a top team would be a fair measure of success for Bradley and a watershed moment for U.S. Soccer and A.S. Roma.