Michael Bradley is an Aston Villa player. That's the same Michael Bradley who plays for the US Men's National team, the same one who impressed in midfield at the World Cup this summer. He's a Villan. This blog is run by (North) Americans. And so we should be absolutely ecstatic. Yet still, somehow, this doesn't sit quite right.
As most people who read this blog know, I'm not a USMNT supporter, but let's not make this about those sorts of arguments again. I've watched Bradley enough to know that he's a legitimately decent player who is certainly capable of helping the USA as they seek to make a bigger and bigger impact on the international stage. But why Aston Villa?
**Edit: the following was written more with the idea of the option to buy Bradley, not the simple loan**
To be honest, I was all for Bradley moving to Galatasaray in the Turkish Super League. Gala, like Villa, got off to a poor start in the league this season, and are currently eighth in the table, unacceptable for a club used to taking titles regularly. Acquiring Bradley could have helped them make a push for European competition, and while it's almost impossible to think they could grab the title this season, they certainly could in the next. Bradley could have been a huge star in Turkey, consequently raising his profile and putting him in position to be a starter in one of the big leagues in Europe.
And now he's at Villa, where he will be a bench player. The days of small squads for the Villa are past, and Gerard Houllier has said that Bradley has been brought on to provide cover in case injury-pocalypse happens again. It's great for Villa fans to know they have dependable legs on the bench, but as for Bradley, what does he have? A reserve role.
Aston Villa may have taken to playing a five man midfield, but even with five slots to fill, there's not a lot of room for a young player fresh from a ready-to-be-relegated Bundesliga team. Between Ashley Young, Stewart Downing, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Marc Albrighton, the wings are covered, not that Bradley is competing for the wide spots. Through the middle, however, there's Stiliyan Petrov, Ciaran Clark (sort of), Chris Herd (sort of), Stewart Downing, Nigel Reo-Coker, Jean Makoun, Fabian Delph and Barry Bannan. Even taking out the two babies who are shifting more toward defense, that's still six players to take 1-3 slots, depending on what sort of formation Villa are fielding, and whether Downing's being used out wide or more centrally.
**Edit two: I forgot Robert Pires. That says a lot**
Of these players, Bradley is most like Petrov, a box-to-box midfielder. Petrov could be on his way out next season, so some might think it makes sense to bring in a replacement. But with the shift in Villa's tactics, a box-to-box mid isn't even necessary anymore. The club could field a destroyer and a creator, a Bannan-NRC pairing. And if they do go box-to-box, what about Delph? He's a midfielder the Villa faithful have been anxious to see more of, and even the few minutes we've seen after his injury have been positive. It seems Bradley would be behind Delph in the playing order.
Bringing in Bradley while Villa shift to these formations just doesn't seem to make sense, except to -- just as Houllier has said -- provide cover. So now a player that has a reasonable chance to be a big American star is left on the bench, rather than taking an opportunity for regular matches in a less-reputable league. On the flip side, for American fans, at least Bradley will likely continue to learn at Villa Park. Houllier has his ideas about the way his teams should play and he's determined to bring all his players into line. As a youngster eager for his chance on an EPL side, Bradley will absorb the ideas, which could, in turn, translate to helping the USMNT. And who knows, maybe big Bradley will get a few new thoughts from watching his son's side.
As for the Villa, what do they get, besides depth in their squad? Randy Learner has likely been itching for a way to bring more recognition to his team in the States. The Villa might have Brad Friedel, but he's no longer on the national side, and Brad 2.0 certainly wasn't raising the club's profile. Although it's been argued that very few in the States will pay attention to Villa just because of Bradley, I have to disagree. There are plenty of hardcore fans of the national team that keep an eye on every player's club. As he continues to improve, more and more will learn about the club, and perhaps become fans because of it.
In the end, Aston Villa get a squad player and Michael Bradley gets a chance with a Premier League side. Both parties are undoubtedly content. But it still feels as if Bradley could have found himself a better option, in terms of his development.