United States midfielder Michael Bradley is set to become the focus of one of Italian soccer's fiercest transfer wars this summer with his Serie A club Chievo Verona ready to auction him off to the highest bidder.
Bradley's fine first season with Chievo, combined with his unusual contractual situation, means he could be targeted by as many as seven Italian sides over the next few months after the club's board decided the time was right to cash in.
When Bradley signed with Chievo at the start of last season, he agreed to a contract of only two years, meaning that any opportunity for the small but overachieving club to avoid losing him to free agency needs to take place this summer.
Furthermore, the fact that the 24-year-old American has made it clear he has no desire to be merely a squad player, even for a giant European club such as Inter Milan, has given a string of mid-level teams hope of landing his services.
"We would love to get him but we know a lot of others will be interested," said a senior figure at one of three Italian clubs contacted by Yahoo! Sports. "Everything we have heard about the boy is that he is unusual in character, and I mean that in a good way. He may not make the obvious choice. That gives us hope, but also means it is hard to predict and hard to plan for."
Inter Milan, Roma, Napoli and Palermo have all been publicly linked with a move for Bradley. "There will be others," said the president of another Serie A team. "There will be strong interest and strong money."
Of those mentioned, Inter has the highest pedigree, having won the Champions League in 2010. Roma is owned by an American consortium, Napoli has one of Europe's most exciting attacking lines and Palermo has the biggest ambitions and money to burn.
After just one season in Italy, Bradley is still partly an unknown quantity, which only adds to the intrigue. The season just ended, where his fierce tackling, tireless work ethic and intelligent passing game helping Chievo achieve a respectable mid-table finish despite its low-wage structure, could have been a blip. But it could also have been a taste of better things to come, especially as tales of Bradley's willingness to listen, learn and improve quickly made their way around the Serie A grapevine.
"He learned to speak the language, he did not insulate himself from the city," said a scout closely tied to a leading Italian team. "He thinks about the game. He could be a service player for a big team or a playmaker for a lower club. He can do many jobs … for many people."
Bradley provided one of a handful of positives in the USA's 4-1 loss to Brazil in Washington D.C. on Wednesday night, a setback that ended a run of five straight wins. His excellent pass for Fabian Johnson laid the foundation for the sole American goal by Herculez Gomez.
Another factor that sets Bradley apart from the typical player is the premium he puts on national team participation. His father, Bob, was axed as national team boss last year and replaced by Jurgen Klinsmann, but Michael Bradley still plans to play a pivotal role heading into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
He is a key part of Klinsmann's plans and that shouldn't change provided he is playing regularly, one reason why a bigger club like Inter or Roma could even be at a disadvantage in trying to sign him. Bradley was deeply frustrated with his lack of playing time during a loan spell at Aston Villa last season, an experience that has apparently convinced him that, at least for now, his future lies in Italy rather than the English Premier League.
His popularity at Chievo was high, with nicknames of Captain American or General Bradley swiftly bestowed upon him. Chievo is staying quiet publicly but is letting it be known around Serie A that Bradley is available at the right price.
Bradley still has a way to go to be considered one of the elite players in Italian soccer. However, his rare set of circumstances mean few men will be pursued with more intensity this summer.
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