If the 2010 World Cup saw a lifetime ambition fulfilled for U.S. international midfielder Michael Bradley, it was promptly followed by a nightmarish 12 months in which his club career (first with Borussia Monchengladbach, then with Aston Villa) stalled and his father was sacked as coach of the U.S. national team. Now playing for Chievo Verona in Italy's Serie A, Bradley has found a comfortable place where he can develop his football in one of Europe's most competitive leagues.
Davidde Corran: It's been about six months since you arrived at Chievo, how are you enjoying life in Italy?
Michael Bradley: I'm enjoying it a lot. I really enjoyed the challenge of settling into a new team in the Serie A. I've always been a big fan of Italian football, of their national team. I've always had a lot of respect for some of the players who have played in my position over the years, be it for the Italian national team or some of the clubs here. So to come here and have the opportunity to start to establish myself in this league, I think it's been very good.
DC: Once you heard the interest, you immediately told your agent to close the deal. Did you ever envision yourself playing in Italy?
MB: I did, yeah. Growing up I watched a lot of Italian football. Whether it was the Serie A, whether it was AC Milan when they played in the Champions League, whether it was the national team.
When I was growing up on Sunday on RAI International at 9 or 10 in the morning you'd get an Italian game from the Serie A and at that time, AC Milan was always the best team. So every Sunday my dad and I would watch AC Milan. It was the same on Tuesdays when there were Champions League games. At 2:45 when I'd come home from school to watch a game, a lot of times it'd be AC Milan. I grew up watching them. I knew the players, I knew the teams.
When the World Cup came to the United States in 1994, I remember going to watch Italy train because they were stationed not far from where we were living at the time in New Jersey.
So I've always enjoyed watching Italian teams play, I think I've always had a lot of respect for the way that the teams play, the way that the players play and for me to come here like I said and start to establish myself here and really pick up things on the field that they value, it's been great.
DC: It must also be good to have some stability after a turbulent 12 months.
MB: That's a little bit of what I was alluding to. This summer I was at a point in my career where I had played two and a bit years in Germany at Borussia Monchengladbach. It had gone well, but then the six months with Aston Villa had not. A very good experience, but as far as the pure number of games I played, it wasn't what I had hoped.
So obviously you're in a position at that point where the most important thing is to get yourself into a club where they value you, where they feel that you're going to be an important part of things and where you're going to be able to have a chance to play. So like I said, when I learned of Chievo's interest, when I spoke to the people here, when I saw a little bit, it was an easy decision.
DC: At 24 years of age, if you had lost a season it could have had a huge effect on your career.
MB: Yeah, absolutely. Every footballer goes through times where, for whatever reason, you're not playing. It can be injury, it can be you're going through a stretch where the form is not what it should be, you can go through a stretch where a new coach comes in who doesn't rate you as highly as the previous guy. This is life, this is football. So there's no getting around that.
But to try and minimize that after you do go through it -- a five-, six-month stretch -- it's important to get yourself back and playing regularly in games. Like I said you can have one stretch like that -- you can even have two -- but when these stretches start to add up, not only are you losing valuable time for yourself just to develop and improve, but you fear becoming one of those guys who bounce around from club, to club, to club, to club and never really stick, never really get many games; that's not what you want.
DC: What has struck you as different in Italy and Italian soccer?
MB: Certainly when you're in Italy everything is very professional. Their attention to detail when preparing for games is incredible.
Everything is about Sunday, everything is about preparing for the game, everything is about making sure that when the whistle blows and you step on the field you're ready. That the team is ready to do whatever it takes to get a result and I really enjoy that.
Do they want to play good football, do they want to score goals? Absolutely, but at the end of the day let's not kid ourselves; they're not the most important things. The most important thing is getting points and getting results.
So that mentality is something I really appreciate and really enjoy. I enjoy being in a team that has that mentality because that's what it's all about: stepping on the field, a guy giving everything they have and fighting for each other to make sure on more days than not you're coming away with the points.
DC: The U.S. national team's next game is against Italy. What do Italians think of American soccer?
MB: I think there's a respect for our national team, without a doubt, considering how we've improved and the results that we've had over the past few years, even going back to the World Cup in 2002.
As far as the players, there haven't been many here in Italy so there's not much to base that on. When they talk about the MLS it's more they're intrigued like I think a lot of players in Europe are. What it's like, what the level's like, how the stadiums are. There's certainly a respect there more than anything.
DC: Has the team started to get a sense of where Jurgen Klinsmann wants to take this U.S. team and how he wants you to play?
MB: I think first and foremost it's still about having a team that, by the World Cup, is ready to play together and play at a high level so it can achieve something special. So I don't think that will ever change.
The reality for our national team is there's no European Championships every two years. Obviously the Gold Cups are sprinkled in there -- and those are important -- but the reality for us is that everything revolves around getting to the World Cup and once you get there, having a team that is ready to play at the highest possible level and can take it as far as it can go.
So already the focus and the goal is first and foremost qualifying for the World Cup and what kind of team we'll be like when we get there.
Obviously we have a mix now of some veteran guys who have been around for a few World Cups, a group who have been in the team for five or six years -- played a lot of games, been to the last World Cup -- who need to start to take more of a role and, like always, there's a group of young guys coming through who are talented who need to continue to be pushed along so that by 2014, they know what everything is all about.
DC: Is it a good moment then for the national team?
MB: Yeah, absolutely. Despite what happened, this year was still a good year for me. The Gold Cup, any time you don't win there's going to be a sense of disappointment. I thought we played very well. The final against Mexico was a very good game. Finals are decided by little breaks here and there. So you give credit to them [Mexico]; on that day they made a few more plays than we did and that's football.
Moving towards the end of the year, we weren't happy with ourselves, with how we let a few results get away from ourselves. To finish the year with a good win in Slovenia was good and as we move forward into this year, everything will come together quickly.
You get to this point and like I said, it's still all about the good results, and about having a team that knows how to go to, say, Honduras and get a result. That part of playing in CONCACAF is very important. Obviously we want to play well and we want to move ourselves forward as a team but still, at the end of the day, the most important thing, especially this year, is that we get the results and put ourselves in a good position to qualify for the World Cup.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, but now based in England, Davidde Corran is a freelance soccer journalist, photographer and videographer who has covered the game on TV, radio, in print and online around the world. Follow him on Twitter: @DaviddeCorran.