Prospective professional footballers on the PFAI’s squad for the annual tournament in Norway will have the ideal sounding board to work with, after former Arsenal trainee Stephen Bradley was yesterday confirmed as manager.
He may be only a week into his 30s but the budding boss has a reservoir or memories banked, replete with a harrowing tale or two to impart.
Once tipped as the next Liam Brady, Bradley offers no excuses as to why he quit playing last year to pursue a career outside the white line.
His first step into management at a tournament in January for unemployed players comes just months after Arsenal appointed him as their Irish scout.
Bradley spent four years with the Gunners, a period he admits resembled a wind tunnel that ultimately spat him out the other side as a tortured soul.
Arsenal, and in particular then Academy chief Liam Brady, are absolved from blame. Instead, Bradley cites the absence of preparation in Ireland for the rise and likely fall of teenagers.
Like his neighbour Robbie Keane, the Dubliner battled against adversity to catch a break at the big time. His problems began when those challenges disappeared to be replaced by the trappings bestowed on an in-demand teen prodigy.
“I went from a working class background in Jobstown to spending €70,000 on a car in London at 17,” explained Bradley, who opted against an offer from Alex Ferguson, instead choosing Arsenal.
“Nobody prepares you for that. It’s too late for me but any player signing for a club overseas should be part of a three-month FAI programme with financial and psychological experts before they leave.
“In my eyes, I’d made it by signing for Arsenal. Here I was in London with a fancy car, beautiful penthouse property and flashy watch.
“Liam Brady said, ‘don’t buy a house’ but I didn’t listen. I went and bought a house. He said, ‘don’t live in it’. I told him I was living somewhere else with friends but I was there, living on my own.
“I ignored him because I felt I had everything, thinking I’d get this money for the rest of your life.
“In truth, it made me lose my hunger. And when you don’t have that, you’re in trouble.
“Glenn Whelan was a team-mate of mine in the Dublin District Schoolboys League and look where he is today, with 60 odd caps for Ireland. He had the hunger, whereas I didn’t.
“Football-wise, I was well able for it at Arsenal. Arsene Wenger called me into his office after an FA Youth Cup match to tell me I could be Arsenal’s Pablo Aimar in the first team.
“But I couldn’t cope mentally. And that affects you on the pitch. When you’re training with the first-team as I was, there was no hiding place.”
An unforgiving environment, with the likes of Cesc Fabregas emerging as a threat, combined to end Bradley’s stint at Arsenal.
“Although he was younger than me, Cesc had come from a professional environment at Barcelona,” he outlined.
“He understood how he should behave, act and train but us Irish didn’t. It was crazy, he just came in and pushed me aside.”
If rejection wasn’t bad enough, then came an aggravated burglary at his property that left Bradley with stab wounds and a year out of football.
Upon his return home, professional help was sought and he came to terms with watching his pal Whelan succeed where he failed.
“I made mistakes but there’s no shame in talking,” Bradley reflected. “That’s the message I’ll be giving to my players on this trip.”
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