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What does the future hold for Italy-linked Bradley?

A Sports Illustrated report by Grant Wahl suggests the midfielder is attracting interest from Serie A.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve heard a couple of times this season that Toronto FC has fielded interest from European clubs regarding their three designated players.

That shouldn’t come as a great surprise. If anything, it seems the Reds have got off lightly when it comes to resisting offers for Sebastian Giovinco. Jozy Altidore, meanwhile had great success in the Eredivisie and his struggles in England and Spain would not stop plenty of clubs outside of Europe’s top two or three leagues from taking a chance on him.

And then there is Michael Bradley. With experience in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, Bradley arguably boasts a more significant body of work across the Atlantic than Giovinco and his performances for Chievo and Roma have not been forgotten in Serie A. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that AC Milan and Bologna have shown interest in the USA captain.

Here’s Wahl:

Sources say that Bologna wants to bring Bradley in for an off-season loan in January. Former MLS’er Roberto Donadoni is the manager of Bologna, which also happens to be owned by Joey Saputo–the owner of Toronto FC rival Montreal. A source also says that AC Milan is looking into the possibility of buying Bradley from Toronto. Then there’s Swansea City, which just hired Bradley’s father, Bob, this week. I’m told it’s likely that Swansea will be targeting some U.S. players in January.

If we assume there is interest in Bradley, which doesn’t seem a stretch, two questions arise:

  1. Should Toronto be willing to do a deal?
  2. Would Bradley want to leave?

The latter may well influence the former. If Bradley wants to join his father in the Premier League, it’s hard to see Toronto preventing him from doing so. It’s a possibility, too; Bradley as a midfielder is a good fit for Swansea’s style of play and though they already have the likes of Leroy Fer, Ki Sung-Yueng and Jack Cork on the books, there is plenty of room for them all in their 4-3-3 formation. If there is an obstacle, it is probably - rightly or wrongly - the optics of American owners appointing an American coach who then signs his son.

The appeal of Italy is a little less clear cut. AC Milan is a huge, prestigious club, but in something of a rebuilding phase and unlikely to be challenging for major honours any time soon. Bologna, meanwhile, finished 14th in Serie A last season and has had a fairly ordinary start to the current campaign.

On the one hand, Bradley does not turn 30 until next July and could come back for the MLS experience in two or three years’ time. On the other, he is closer to home in Toronto and handsomely rewarded for his role on a competitive team equipped to be an MLS Cup challenger beyond this season. It really comes down to his desire to give Europe another crack before it is too late.

MLS: Toronto FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Bradley’s role in the Toronto midfield has changed this season. He has sat at the base of the diamond, in front of the two centre-backs, cutting out opposition attacks and building his team’s own. He has played his part in a much-improved defence and still managed to be a factor going forward. Simply put, he has done his job as effectively as most, if not all, similar players in MLS.

He is not universally popular, however. Some have asked if Benoit Cheyrou is not capable of carrying out 90% of Bradley duties’ for a much smaller percentage of the cost. It is easy to wonder, too, what a quality attacking midfield player or winger on that kind of money (Junior Hoilett, anyone?) could do for the team.

I tend to think most of this is overstated. Cheyrou’s issue, for starters, is that he is now 35 and struggling to stay fit. And while Drew Moor and Clint Irwin have greatly improved the defence, Tim Bezbatchenko has another big job on his hands in finding a stable partner for Moor in the offseason. Losing Bradley would complicate his job of ensuring the Eastern Conference’s best defence remains reliable and improves further.

Barring another disastrous early exit from the playoffs, then, it would be a surprise to see Bezbatchenko make a major change of his own volition, as tempting as it may be to speculate as to how a free DP spot could be used. Behind the Reds’ two strikers, only Moor really comes close to Bradley in the part he plays to make Toronto a functional team and if there is any decision to be made as to where the captain’s future lies, it will probably be his.