Bradley is coming off of a highly impressive debut season in Serie A with Chievo Verona, who he joined last summer from Germany’s Borussia Monchengladbach.
The 24-year-old arrived at Chievo after the first true failure of his club career. His loan to English Premier League club Aston Villa in January 2011 was supposed to be his breakthrough on the biggest stage. Instead, he failed to lock down any meaningful playing time under then-Villa boss Gerard Houllier, and the English club declined the opportunity to purchase him outright. Out of the plans at parent club Monchengladbach, Bradley’s promising career was in danger of stalling out before his transfer to Chievo late in the 2011 summer window.
Bradley’s stay at Verona was short but sweet. After spending the early part of the season adjusting to life in Italy, he steadily worked his way into the starting 11 under manager Domenico Di Carlo. By season’s end, his commanding performances had earned him the nickname “General Bradley,” as Chievo fans recognized his vital role in the modest club’s mid-table finish.
The tactical emphasis of Italian soccer had a visible impact on Bradley’s game; tying together his diverse skill-set and turning him into the prototypical two-way midfielder. With Bradley’s game having grown by leaps and bounds, a step up to a bigger club followed suit. Now, the question is whether Roma is Bradley’s final destination or a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
The capital club has flirted with greatness over the past decade — direct your plaudits to the legendary Francesco Totti — but has never truly established itself alongside Juventus and the Milan clubs at the adults’ table of Italian soccer. A new ownership group, led by Boston-based Thomas DiBenedetto has helped grow the club’s ambition and fund the arrivals of several highly-rated young players (the list includes Daniel Osvaldo, Fabio Borini, Juan Angel, Erik Lamela, Miralem Pjanic, and Bojan Krkic). However, the club’s first touch failed at the beginning of last season, with the hiring of Barcelona B coach Luis Enrique.
Brought in to implement an aesthetically pleasing playing philosophy, Enrique only lasted one season at the helm of the Giallorossi. A Europa-League exit in the play-off round combined with a seventh-placed finish in Serie A means the only European soccer in Rome this year will be played by Roma’s arch-rival Lazio. The poor finish was, in all likelihood, enough to cost Enrique his job unto itself, but the manager’s frosty relationship with the institutional Totti (and in turn the club’s fans) was the final nail in the coffin.
While last year was a major disappointment, the future still looks bright for Roma, and it’s not difficult to see why Bradley was enticed to sign on. The highly-experienced Zdenek Zeman is in as the new manager and his devotion to an attacking, 4-3-3 formation will win the Giallorossi many neutral fans.
Meanwhile, the club also secured a major coup in getting its sole world-class player, Daniele de Rossi, to commit to his hometown club with a long-term extension. Director of Football Walter Sabatini continues to recruit talented youngsters — Brazilians Marquinho and Dodo have already arrived — that are beginning to form a solid nucleus for a competitive squad.
However, the biggest prize is still on the horizon, literally. In 2014, the club is scheduled to leave the cavernous Stadio Olimpico in favor of the currently under construction Stadio Franco Sensi. A state-of-the-art stadium is a springboard for clubs both in terms of finance and prestige. If Roma is able to enter its new digs with UEFA Champions League soccer in tow, it could quickly become a major destination for the world’s best players.
An attacking philosophy, a brand new stadium, and the highest level of club soccer, all in one of the world’s iconic cities. This is the scenario Michael Bradley is envisioning when he puts pen to paper on his four-year deal. And if it’s yet another false dawn in the Eternal City, you can bet Bradley will have his choice of suitors from all across the continent.