What’s changed since we did this piece below in March:
• The Resurgence of Stan Petrov at Aston Villa
The skinny: After coming back from injury, the captain increasingly found the pitch for Villa as they navigated away from relegation waters. Petrov’s calmness on the ball and “been through it before” resume certainly contributed to his name being on the first eleven team sheet more often than not through the first half of 2011.
Whereas it though Petrov might be encouraged to move on from Villa at year’s end, it now looks like a sure bet that he will finish out his contract, training his days at The Barn.
• Today, Nigel Reo Coker and Robert Pires were released by Villa.
The skinny: Pires was done-for well before today at Villa. He rarely contributed through the 2nd half of the campaign.
As for Reo-Coker, it appears that the demand for his services is paramount to what Villa was willing to ante up to procure his services. Very interesting indeed and it moves up Michael Bradley now to 3rd or 4th in the pecking order, depending on how one evaluates it.
The depth chart in the central midfield may look like this: 1) Jean Makoun 2) Stan Petrov 3) Fabian Delph (for more on Delph see below) 4) Michael Bradley
Delph, a star in the making for England, will certainly be given more chances in 2011.
• Ashely Young and Stuart Downing are both “plotting their escapes” from Villa.
The skinny: Ashley Young is rumored to sign for Manchester United (oh my) on Monday. While Stuart Downing this past week did an abrupt you turn and said that he would play out his current contract with the club.
Downing’s future is more of a mystery, while Reo Coker sees assured of moving to a stronger side, be it in the EPL or elsewhere.
The impact here? How will Villa uses the funds secured from moving Ashley Young. With Mark Albrighton in reserve, they may not opt for another winger and it’s well known that Houllier loves his central midfielders.
• Borussia Moenchengladbach escape relegation on Wednesday with a win over Bochum.
The skinny: Bradley of course went on loan from “Bo Munchen” in January to Villa. Many different reasons why the transfer ensued–American media reports say he put in for a transfer while German reports are mixed.
Either way Gladbach can stomach the return of Bradley from a roster cost perspective in 2011-2012, though (thanks to @amfid on Twitter for the next part where I originally erred), Gladbach Sports Director Max Eberl said in an interview that there is no way back for Bradley.
Additionally, Havard Nordtveit (20) and Roman Neustädter (23) doing well in the dual holding roles and Gladback reportedly seeking a new player for this position in young Matthias Zimmermann (2009 U-17 euro champion with Germany) a talent from 2nd Bundesliga team KSC set to join Gladbach in the center.
From fans that have cascaded through TSG, the sentiment seems to be that they want Bradley to transfer and get a decent price for him.
Going into June:
Going into June, Michael Bradley will be a key figure for the US in their pursuit of Gold Cup victory. Incredulously, Bradley has played nearly as many international minutes thus far in 2011 as he has club minutes.
A strong showing in the Gold Cup would help Bradley, but most of the audience for the tourney is here in the States, not abroad.
Best bet for 23-year-old Bradley? Back to the Bundesliga or slotting in with a mid-to-bottom table side EPL side if Villa declines to make the move for him, perhaps a Wigan. Roberto Martinez obviously did the American World Cup coverage for ESPN and saw quite a bit of the Bob Bradley’s son.
Wild card? Let me toss out Everton, long with a storied connection to Americans as well as rumors of Jack Rodwell moving on. Bradley would be a fine complement there to the possession, less-defensive oriented hubs of Fellaini and Arteta.
Our bet right now? Villa makes a short term (2 years?) play for his services. With Reo-Coker out and Bradley already familiar with the system, Bradley would seem like a good bet in the midfield committee for the Villians. Villa has until May 31st to decide if they want to accept Gladbach’s transfer terms.
That said, it sure looks like Gerard Houllier is jettisoning Americans at the club with Brad Friedel rumored out to Liverpool and other realms, with Brad Guzan likely moving to a Championship side and with Eric Lichaj saying he wants to stay at Leeds.
Below from March 6th…
Much has been made in the American media about the growth, and recent plight, of US international Michael Bradley.
A polarizing figure to say the least.
A wavy, but abundantly positive-trending, career has seen Bradley selected into MLS…by his father (present USMNT coach Bob Bradley, then NY-NJ MetroStars manager) as a precocious and brooding 16-year-old. Bradley soon after took to Europe and ended up scoring more goals in a season overseas than any American, 16 league goals for Eredivisie side SC Heerenveen in 2007-08 (of course, this record is currently threatened by Giuseppi Rossi in La Liga who notched his 15th for Villarreal in their stunning 3-1 loss to Atletico Madrid this past Saturday.)
Upon his Dutch success, a big move to Bundesliga side Borussia Moechengladbach (Bo’Munchen) was in the offing and Bradley became a fixture in their line-up during his time there (despite some clashes with the coaches).
Bradley’s fixture status even extends to the USMNT national team where he played all possible minutes for the US in South Africa. This after being one of three players through the 2010 World Cup qualifying to play 1300 minutes or more for the States (the others were Landon Donovan and Carlos Bocanegra). Bradley and company played 12% more time than anyone else including stalwarts Oguchi Onyewu (injured in the final game of qualifying) and Tim Howard.
The case in point?
Michael Bradley is resilient, oft-not-injuried, critical component of any team he plays on and his pedigree shows an upward moving level to his play.
That notion makes Bradley’s next few months at his club Aston Villa all the more compelling.
Having been transferred to Gerard Houllier’s Aston Villa side in the January window–until this past Wednesday in the FA Cup–Bradley had not played more than 45 minutes or started for club or country in 2011, astounding for a player who seems more and more effective the faster and faster his pitch odometer revolves.
American media loves to use and re-use the statement that wherever he has went, Bradley has eventually earned starter’s minutes and made an impact.
However, while it appears Bradley will stick at Villa Park–his current playing time hiccup more a matter of game fitness than ability in this writer’s opinion–the battle for consistent and exclusive starter’s minutes may be less about how he plays and more about the dynamics outside of his control, specifically player contracts and manager tinkering.
The crowded Villa centerfield has no less than eight players that could theoretically play for the 1st team or have played for it.
Let’s take a look at each of these players, dissect their situation and round out with Junior Bradley’s playtime prognostication:
First, let’s dismiss two of these players outright:
Stephen Ireland: The highly talented Irishman arrived at Villa Park with a bunch of quid in a swap for James “I wish I never met Steve Cherundolo” Milner under the reign of previous manager Martin O’Neill. Once Houllier arrived, Ireland appeared to fall out of favor and both sides mutually agreed to part ways for the rest of the season as Ireland join the Tynesiders on loan through the end of the campaign. Said Houllier at the time, “Once a player wants to go, he goes.”
Ireland is out of contract this year and his chance of re-upping at Villa I would put at no higher than 0%.
Isiaih Osbourne: England youth international Isiaih Osbourne appears to be moving on as well as Summer 2011 dawns. The 23-year-old is currently on-loan at Sheffield Wednesday–where they’ve been pleased with his play–but the same can’t be said for the Mothership.
Osbourne–who was arrested, but not charged for suspicion to rob in 2009 further muddling his shot at Villa– has been loaned out four times by the senior side.
Despite being 6’2”, 23-years-old and clearly having some talent, Osbourne appears destined to move on in the Summer when his contract expires as well.
That leaves six, for now. Let’s handicap the rest, starting with may appear the lesser of the threats:
Possible, But Not Probable:
Stan Petrov: Highly odd to put Petrov, Villa’s captain, as the least competition for those under contract and at Villa Park to Bradley, but this is where he belongs.
In our opinion, Petrov, who prefers the nickname “Stan” to his given name of “Stiliyan,” appears to be on his way out of Villa Park at the end of the campaign despite having a contract through 2012.
The Bulgarian international has been battling injuries this game and, at 31 and with a bulk of international games under his belt as well, doesn’t have the same motor and resilience that he once did.
Recently, Houllier stated that Petrov wouldn’t be guaranteed his starting spot. If he stays beyond the ’10-’11 season, Petrov will likely be called on as a spot starter and reserve from the 18, and less starting eleven material.
He’s also, despite being captain, slipped tremendously in fan appreciation.
Jonathan Hogg: On loan to Portsmouth through the end of the year, Hogg has got a few things going for him in presenting competition to MB90.
He’s English (see: Home Grown Rule).
And he’s signed through 2013…a contract that was signed after Houllier’s arrival in December of 2010.
Hogg’s been in the Villa system since his early teens and, unless he heads out on loan again, would appear to be at least in the picture for a team sheet penciling-in in ’11-’12.
Barry Bannan: Update: (After this piece published last night, it was reported and is now official that Barry Bannan has went on loan to Leeds through the end of the campaign.)
The dimunitive Bannan plays the role of playmaker centrally, but he can also play out wide. Amazingly, Houllier has invoked the name of, yes, Xavi when discussing Bannan’s ability to impact the game.
Bannan, a Scottish international, is discounted, like Michael Bradley, in the Home Grown Rule count. England’s home-grown rule only applies to those of nationality coming through the English and Welsh systems.
Bannan is familiar with English league play having been loaned out the past two years to strong, junior sides in Derby and Blackpool. Bannan, however, has stated that he would be reluctant to go out on loan again and would prefer to prove his mettle and play into the first team Villians.
Finally, the 20-year-old recently inked a new deal to keep him at Villa Park through 2014.
The final three Villians present the major foil to Bradley getting exclusive starter minutes at Villa
I’m Either Your Best Friend (and Pitch Partner) or Your Worst Enemy:
Fabian Delph: A surprise candidate perhaps to usurp MB90′s 90′. The English international is an athletic player with similar attributes to Bradley in the center of the pitch.
Delph started this past weekend’s 3-2 loss at Bolton, some through it would be a Nigel Reo-Coker-Michael Bradley pairing.
(Note: Given that the biggest component of Houllier’s game plan against the Wanderers was speed of play, there was no way that Bradley was going to start after a) starting a few days earlier and b) showed he tired early in the 2nd half of that start)
The athletic Delph–who’s been described as having future “captain potential” for the Three Lions–was probably doing a little celebrating up until Saturday’s loss, just a day earlier the 21-year-old inked a contract making him a Villian through 2015.
One more note on Delph, Houllier recently deployed the youngster at left back, meaning he likely doesn’t see him as the first name in central midfield at this point.
Jean Makoun: Gerard Houllier’s first procurement of this past transfer campaign, Makoun got himself a straight red in competition in early February and will shortly return to league play.
Houllier got to see the 27-year-old Makoun early on his career when the Cameroonian was manning the defensive central midfield slot for Lille in 2007. Houllier was the manager of Lyon at the time and Makoun played twice versus Houllier’s gones. (Makoun, of coursed, transferred to Lyon after the 2006-07 season.
If you’ve seen Makoun play, then you see a player who Houllier probably considers the bedrock of his midfield for at least the immediate future due to his steely defense and precision passing.
Makoun’s as close to a perennial starter–when he’s not suspended–in our book.
Nigel Reo Coker: The 26-year-old Reo-Coker is finally hitting his stride in the Premiership after some maturity challenges early in his career at West Ham.
Reo-Coker has been streaking since Houllier took over and the gaffer acknowledged as much by making him the temporary team captain when the aforementioned Petrov went down for a spell.
Here’s the rub.
Reo-Coker is yet to sign a contact extension at Villa–his present one is up this year–despite an affirming statement by Houllier in October that he wanted the Londoner to remain on. Recently, Houllier had the following to say about the Englishman, “He is a ball winner and gets forward when he can. I like his discipline; I like his commitment and his aggression. I said to him and to his agent that we will have an assessment from the end of February to the beginning of March. But I know also there are clubs after him because he is a free agent.”
Yet no news just yet on the contract; on the attribute sign sounds very Bradley-like.
A congested midfield at Villa, but not one that Bradley shouldn’t find his place in. On present ability combined with growth, Bradley is undoubtedly in a top group composed of three (Makoun, Reo-Coker, Delph) so he should not want for playing time once he’s fit. On game experience that group , dropping Delph, drops to two.
With the Acorns stockpiling youngster and Bradley coming with both that and experience, Bradley’s player profile seems ideal for the new guard coming in in Birmingham.
Now whether Houllier continues to employ a 4-man midfield and anoints two players as outright starters is another thing though. At his past appointments, Houllier has done quite a bit of committee in the midfield as he understands the toll and mileage necessary to play the central midfield role.
On the balance and team sheets is where it gets more complicated for Villa and may have a bigger impact Bradley. With just over a season and a half before UEFA’s financial fair play rules go into effect (the conclusion of the 2012-13 season), Villa needs to start being very wary of their coffers as the team has taken a loss of anwhere to $£20-$40 million over the past few years. (UEFA fair play rules dictate by the end of the ’12-’13 campaign all teams books must be balanced. For more on Villa’s finances, see here.)
In central midfield the Villians are already firmly committed to five players (Petrov, Bannan, Hogg, Makoun & Delph) through the 2012 season.
While loans and transfers can be found–you have to expect Villa to encourage a Petrov transfer over the next 6-12 months and, perhaps, for Bannan to be loaned against his wishes–that still a lot of movement necessary to accommodate Bradley.
Next is Reo-Coker’s contract situation as was discussed above. Will he sign on? Is Houllier and Villa’s statements that they want to keep him merely a smokescreen to get him to play strong through the end of the campaign? If so, much like their brethren Manchester United to the north did with a certain Carlos Tevez, it’s working masterfully.
And finally to Michael Bradley.
With Reo-Coker as the fulcrum here, Bradley is either competing in a four man midfield with less dollars to go around if Reo-Coker re-ups or the American, with Reo-Coker relocating, has a decidedly rosier Villa situation if he’s primarily competing with only one veteran in Makoun and Reo-Coker goes.
But there’s also the question of salary and the appetite for Bradley on the market this summer. Can he command more than Villa can afford? What’s his appetite for the best contract? Will he want to go somewhere where he can be assured of his name being in the starting eleven without question?
Perhaps one option for Junior–who has commented he wants to play in the Premiership? Across the road at Brum brother Birmingham City.
If you remember, Bradley was earmarked for a transfer to St. Andrew’s back in 2008. However, that transfer was contingent on the Blues staying up in the Barclays. They didn’t and off Michael went to Bo’Munchen and the Land of Dunkel.
Birmingham could use the steel in the middle of the field with Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer sunsetting their careers shortly and the Blues are in the black when it comes to the balance sheet.
It seems for perhaps the 1st time in his career, Michael Bradley’s playing time and location will be more dependent on circumstance rather than ability.
More resources on Michael Bradley here:
• Pure, or poor if you will, humor from 2010 on the ten best places for Michael Bradley to play. (Apparently Valencia isn’t it La Liga–who knew!–and Louis Van Gaal may be compelled to guarantee MB90 playing time.)