Bob Bradley, former manager of the United States and Egypt and current manager of Stabek in Norway, had some interesting things to say earlier this week when he was a guest on Slate's Hang up and Listen podcast. The coach has spoken in the past about the challenge that Americans, both coaches and players, face when try to make a career in Europe but this time he was focused on the career of his son, Michael Bradley.
In January, it was clear that the younger Bradley's time with Roma in Serie A was coming to an end and the midfielder was looking for a new club to sign for during the winter transfer window. Given his level of talent and the fact that he was already at a club like Roma it is no surprise that Bradley was looking to join a prominent club in Europe.
One of the clubs that Bradley thought would be a good fit for himself was Arsenal as they are certainly a prominent club, should have had some money to spend in the January transfer window, and were actively looking for help in the midfield. They were apparently not interested though which is what promoted his father's remarks to Slate.
"I think American players and coaches have to fight really hard for respect," Bob Bradley said in his interview with Slate. "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."
The initial reaction to what Bob Bradley is saying is that he is probably right. Michael Bradley is a 26-year-old player who is just entering the prime of his career while Kim Källström is 31-years-old who enjoyed some good years with Lyon but may already have his best years behind him. If it was solely a question of ability then the case could easily be made that Bradley would have been the better option for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal given there needs at the time.
The problem is that ability is not the only factor that comes in to make a decision on which player to sign. Arsenal were working with a budget and Källström, who came in on loan from Spartak Moscow, was probably significantly cheaper than Bradley would have been. Arsenal were certainly not in a position to offer Bradley anything close to what he would eventually be offered. They were looking to add depth to their midfield and someone to cover minutes during the busy months leading up to the end of the season. Given Bradley's price tag he was not exactly going to be a depth player to any club looking to sign him.
While Bob Bradley's criticism of Arsenal may be unfair as they could have plenty of other reasons to sign someone other than Bradley there is an element of truth to what he is saying in general. Americans have struggled to find opportunities at the top clubs in Europe and even for the likes of Bradley or Clint Dempsey the doors have not always been open and they have had to work hard to earn the respect that is so ofter just handed to players from other countries.
In fact, when Michael Bradley first joined TFC in January he made similar statements to those his father made. His statements came in reply to Jurgen Klinsmann who was critical of top American players for not having enough faith in their abilities to push for their big breaks in Europe. Bradley responded to that criticism in an interview with Sports Illustrated saying, "There's no doubt that as Americans we continue to have to fight for respect and we have to continue to show that we have teams and players who can play at he highest level. You would have hoped that now, what's gone on, whether it's MLS or the national team or whether it's certain individuals over the past 10, 15, 20, years would have done more for us. But the reality is, at the moment, there's still a little of a feeling that now if [a European club] can have an American or an Argentine, you're taking the Argentine. That's something people can look at that as feeling sorry for yourself but for me, that's reality."
Both Bradley's may be right. It may be harder for Americans to make it in Europe than for someone from a place with a long history of developing talent but if America keeps producing players like Bradley then chances are that is going to change with time.
To paint Arsenal as the bad guys in this story would be harsh because even if Michael Bradley did not get his chance to move to a prominent club in Europe he did get a big pay day, the chance to return closer to home, and the platform to be a star that inspires a future generation of American players. Arsenal on the other hand wound up with a player who barely featured due to injury and will probably be in the market for a midfielder once again this summer.
The lose of those teams in Europe who picked a player from a more established footballing nation instead of Bradley is certainly TFC's gain. Bradley could have stayed in Europe and continued to try and open doors for future talented Americans but instead he now has the chance to help inspire them while continuing the growth of MLS. Sounds like it might just be Bradley who winds up with the last laugh in this one.