Daddy’s boy picked on ability alone

Accusations of nepotism and the misuse of patronage are standard procedure for any son playing in a team run by his father. So when, in 2007, USA coach Bob Bradley began to regularly select his son, Michael, in midfield, the “daddy’s boy” taunts were as loud as they were virulent. But assembling a posse is no proof of guilt and, with the young Bradley slowly but surely carving out a niche for himself in international football, the hunting hordes have had to look elsewhere for their kicks.

Borussia Monchengladbach’s defensive midfielder is in the national team on merit and – along with striker Landon Donovan, fellow midfielder Clint Dempsey (who is hoping to recover from a knee-ligament injury) and goalkeeper Tim Howard – the 22-year-old is rightly considered one of Team America’s untouchables and absolutely vital to the overall scheme of things.

Born in Princeton where his father was coaching at the local Ivy League university, Michael definitively quashed all accusations of familial favouritism during the 2010 qualifiers, not only excelling in his primary role as the ultra-competitive enforcer, but also catching the eye with his thoughtful distribution and breaks into advanced areas, from where he helped himself to five goals.

Goals are clearly much more than a sideline for Bradley jnr. While at Dutch club Heerenveen he was on target 16 times in the 2007-08 season and underlined his box-to-box ability in last year’s Confederations Cup, scoring against Egypt after bursting forward and exchanging passes with Donovan.

“I just want to do the best job I possibly can and to help the team,“ says Bradley, who became the youngest MLS player to be transferred abroad when he left MetroStars for Heerenveen in January 2006. “I’m there to anchor the midfield, to screen the defence, but I can’t afford to be one-dimensional either. I look to attack at the right moments and bring my share of goals to the table.”

Although not the fastest, he derives his effectiveness from other sources; namely his work ethic, versatility and capacity for quick thinking. While his two-year spell with Heerenveen undoubtedly did him the world of good, he had a firm grasp of the game’s fundamentals even before arriving in Europe.

And how could it have been otherwise with a coach for a father? As Bob Bradley was taking charge at Princeton University, Chicago Fire and MetroStars, his progeny was soaking up the experience.

All the coaches who have worked with Michael paint a picture of a player obsessed with working on his weaknesses. Now he must sort out his temper.

At last year’s Confederations Cup, a red card in the semi-final with Spain, followed by an altercation in the tunnel with referee Jorge Larrionda, resulted in a four-match ban. Any repeat in South Africa really would be disastrous for all concerned.