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Italian influence broadens Bradley's education

Michael Bradley of the U.S. celebrates after scoring against Scotland during their international friendly soccer match in Jacksonville, Flor
Michael Bradley of the U.S. celebrates after scoring against Scotland during their international friendly soccer match in Jacksonville, Flor

By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley has lived and played soccer in New Jersey, the Netherlands, Germany, England and Italy, has 69 caps for his country and recently became a father - not bad for a 25 year old.

Bradley will make appearance number 70 when the U.S. play Antigua and Barbuda on Friday in the first of two games which should put coach Juergen Klinsmann's team into the final round of qualifying from the CONCACAF region for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.

The road to Rio got a little bumpier after a 2-1 loss to Jamaica in Kingston last month, with Bradley missing from the centre of midfield due to injury.

So Klinsmann, not surprisingly, is delighted to see the return of his key midfielder, a player he has watched rise in stature since emerging under his father Bob's reign in the national team.

"You can see how much he has grown over the years, already under his dad and continuing the last 14 months and this is what you want to see as a coach, to see a player grow and learn," said Klinsmann.

After emerging mainly as a defensive destroyer, Bradley has become a complete midfielder - allied to his trademark tenacious tackling and surging runs is an improved tactical sophistication and technical ability on the ball. If the U.S. advance to their seventh straight finals, the AS Roma midfielder is certain to be at the heart of their bid.

The shaved-headed midfielder's time in Italy has been an intensive course in the tactics and demands of Serie A and Bradley, who had spells with Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany and Aston Villa in England, has relished it.

"There is no comparison, to be honest. At least to the places I've been in England and Germany, as far as just the preparation for matches, the emphasis they put on tactics, on being ready for every situation, that is all done at the highest level," he told Reuters after practice on Tuesday.

Being immersed in 'calcio' has, Bradley believes, turned him into a more intelligent footballer.

"I think in general, I have become a more complete player, in every way. Technically becoming that much sharper, tactically - knowing the game, being quicker in recognizing different moments and situations in the game," said Bradley.

"In all ways I think it is helped me grow as a player and I'm happy with the progress that I've made. I think there is still a lot of room to grow there though."

Helping him grow will be the charismatic Czech-born Roma coach Zdenek Zeman.

"He has such a big personality, he has his way of doing things. He knows what he wants. What he wants out of training, what he wants his players to look like and his teams to look like and he has such clear ideas - it has been great," said Bradley, who has relished his move to the Italian capital.

"I'm enjoying every second of it. Obviously the club is just fantastic, a massive club, with the support. You have an idea of how big the club is from the outside but when you get there it is, well, you realise you had no idea."

Former Germany striker and coach Klinsmann played in Serie A for Inter Milan and Sampdoria and he can see the Italian influence emerging on Bradley.

"He's learning every week. I was so pleased he moved to Italy because it shows him a whole different facet of the game," Klinsmann told Reuters.

"They have a more tactical approach, they are more systematic in what they are doing, differently from the Premier League or the German Bundesliga, so he gets the whole picture.

"He's learning, discussing things, with a big interest in the game, that's fantastic to see. But at same time, he also knows, with their squad, he has to prove himself there week in week out."

There were concerns after Bob Bradley was fired as U.S. coach that Klinsmann might have some difficulty developing a relationship with his predecessor's son, but the German says there was never an issue.

"It was a very honest relationship from the first moment on. I told him right away, 'I have the highest respect for Bob, an admiration for what he did, now it is down to me to continue the work that he and Bruce (Arena) started.'" said Klinsmann.

"I told him that there would be no problem at all - I think you could see that from the first moment on, it's an honest and straightforward relationship."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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