By FRANCO PANIZO
Michael Bradley started hearing whispers about clubs being interested in acquiring him from Chievo Verona while with the U.S. men's national team earlier this summer. There were plenty of options from both inside of Italy and out, but as soon as he learned Italian heavyweights AS Roma were serious about signing him, he needed to hear nothing more.
Bradley signed a four-year deal with AS Roma this past Sunday, completing a move that has been in the works for weeks now and one that further solidifies the U.S. men's national team midfielder's place in European soccer. For Bradley, the decision to join the historic Italian club was easy even in spite of him being a regular starter for Chievo, because, after all, these chances don't come around too often.
"It's been my dream to one day have the chance to play at one of the biggest clubs in the world," Bradley said via a conference call on Wednesday morning. "To be here now and to have the chance to play for Roma, it's something that means an incredible amount to me. To be here at a club with so much tradition, so much passion, so much history, this is what I've always dreamed of. Now that I'm here I'm determined to give everything I have to help make this team and help make this club the best it can be."
What made the decision to sign with Roma easier for Bradley was the club giving him a good sense of how much they valued him. New club head coach Zdenek Zeman rated Bradley's tireless work ethic, his ability to link the defense with the offense, and his nose for goal and that was made clear.
"They value what I bring as a player, they value what I bring as a person," said Bradley. "For me now on the field, to be a midfielder who in all parts of the game, in attack in defense, can help win battles, control the game, help the team play, help the team move forward, help the team score goals, and at the same time is then able to run and chase and close down and tackle and win headers, that's what I'm about as a player.
"Whether that is a little bit more an incentive or whether I'm playing on the right or left, I don't know. Only time will tell. But for me, that doesn't change what I'm about as a player."
As would be expected, Bradley had constant conversations with his father, Bob Bradley, about potentially joining Roma. The elder Bradley gave his son plenty of advice as to what it would take and how much Michael would have to push himself in order to be a constant figure in the team's lineup.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann did not give Bradley the same kind of advice, at least not in the same capacity. But Klinsmann was one of the first guys to congratulate the 24-year-old on his move to one of the biggest European clubs and he is eager to see how his important central midfield cog fares in one of Italy's biggest teams.
"Since Jurgen took over with the national team, he's encouraged every guy to challenge themselves on a daily basis, whether it be with the national team or their club team," said Bradley. "He's pushed every guy and then in turn pushed the team to improve. Did he directly have any [influence] in me coming to Roma? No, but he was one of the first to call me and congratulate me and tell me how excited he was for me and what a great opportunity this was. Obviously, he and I, as he does with all the players, are in contact on a fairly regular basis. In all ways, he's excited for me and excited to see how this develops."
Finding minutes at Roma will be among the toughest things the steadily-improving Bradley will have to do in his career. The club is stacked with talents like Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and David Pizarro, and is as deep as most in Italy.
Bradley, however, is up for the challenge. After all, he moved out of a comfortable spot in Chievo to sign with Roma to push himself more than he has ever been pushed, the hope being that it will make him a better player both for club and country.
"If you're going to play at the highest possible level, to become the best player you can possible be, then you have to be ready to take these kind of challenges," said Bradley. "To have the mentality and determination and commitment that says 'Listen, no matter what, I'm going to go there, I'm going to fight every day, I'm going to show every person there that I'm a guy that has to be on the field in important moments,' that's a challenge. But it's an exciting challenge and the rewards can be big, so I've always enjoyed these kinds of challenges, and this one is certainly no different."