Bradley warns emerging stars of pitfalls that lie ahead

Dec 17, 14 Bradley warns emerging stars of pitfalls that lie ahead
Former Arsenal protege opens his heart about mistakes that made for an unfulfilled career: Stephen Bradley’s scars have healed – both the physical and the emotional ones by  Garry Doyle in the

Now a retired footballer who has turned his eye to coaching and scouting, the very personal story Bradley tells here is, in many respects, an example of how the Irish football system fails its players.

He’s a mature man now, a father, a well-balanced individual who talks easily about the traumatic events which nearly ended his life 11 years ago and the mundane moment which, essentially, finished off his career three years previously.

But the story begins before that. The week after his 17 birthday, Bradley made his way to an ATM on the High Street near his north London home to take out some cash.


A day earlier, Arsenal, who persuaded him to leave Tallaght with a contract worth approximately £500,000 and the promise of the best footballing education Britain could offer, had lodged the first pay-check of his new contract.

“I knew what the deal was. We’d agreed it when I was 15,” said Bradley yesterday. “But it is only when you see the money go into your bank account for the first time that the figures become real. I stood there, staring at the screen and looking at all these zeroes in my account.

“And that was the turning point of my career. I got too much, too soon financially and didn’t know how to deal with it.

“I came from a working-class area of Dublin, was 15, and all of a sudden, was given everything. And I thought I had made it. That was when I lost my hunger, my desire.

“What got me to England in the first place was hunger. Glenn Whelan was my era. We regularly played against each other in trials for Dublin and,  if ever he got the better of me, I’d go home and ask ‘how did that happen? What do I have to do to improve?’

“Then, after the money came into my life, I stopped trying. I didn’t deal with things and didn’t know how to.

“And the same thing still happens today. Kids leave Ireland and receive thousands and thousands of pounds.

“Yet they aren’t trained how to cope. That’s what gets to you. It’s not physical, not tactical, not technical. Those are not the issues. “

We lose 1-0 to Scotland and people pipe up about training regimes or formations. The problem is we’re not preparing our players mentally to go across the water, to go from training two hours a week to training every day, to being in a system where you compete with players from South America or Spain.

“Irish players don’t know how to deal with that issue because over here they’re a big fish.

“The South Americans, meanwhile, come from a professional environment, even at 15, 16. They have lived in training camps.

“We aren’t prepared right for when we leave and we can’t cope, either, when we come home.

“I was one of the lucky ones. When I returned from England, I spoke to a lot of professional people and realised why I failed. I opened up whereas a lot of players don’t want to speak about what happened or what went wrong.”

Bradley does want to speak, though, and not just about some foolish decisions.

 “One day I bought a car for £70,000. How is that right that a 17-year-old can do that? I bought a penthouse in London.

“Liam Brady offered wise advice, saying ‘don’t buy a house. Save your money. Put it away’. I didn’t listen to him.”

Nor did he appreciate the opportunity he was missing out on: “Technically, I could easily have played for Arsenal and Ireland. No problem. But I stopped trying. I had all this money and thought I would continue to get it for ever and a day. But at Arsenal, there are loads of players who continue to come through.”

One was Cesc Fabregas. “He arrived from Barcelona, played 45 minutes of a match and was immediately moved up to the first team.

“I had been training with the first team, too, but got found out. The coaches had told me to bulk up in the gym, to work on my left foot.

“I didn’t. And there is no hiding place. I can’t blame the coaches. It was down to me. I neglected my career.”

When he only had only technical and training issues to worry about, life was relatively simple. Then one day his life took a more sinister twist when a criminal followed him home, broke into his house and stabbed him in the head.

“They knew I owned an expensive watch. They kicked my door in, started screaming, ‘where is your watch, where is your watch.’ It was a set-up. Someone who knew me told them about the watch I had bought.

“They were after it and they got it but only after they struck me with a knife and left me lying on the floor.”


Fortunately, a friend – Dean Shields, who now plays for Rangers and Northern Ireland – had planned a visit that night and when he arrived at Bradley’s home, he was able to raise the alarm.

Fast forward to today and a different alarm is being sounded.

The protege is 30 now, retired a year and moving quickly up the coaching ladder. A month ago, Arsenal appointed him as their Ireland scout.

 “They still believe Ireland produce good players. But as I’ve said, the problem is not our technique. The problem is our players are not prepared for the reality of being in a professional system.

“What needs to happen is for our young players to go into training camps for three or four months for blocks of three or four days so they live professionally, train properly and live properly afterwards. Training is not the problem.

“The issues are pyscholgical. What do you do after training? How do you deal with set-backs in terms of being dropped?

“That’s the preparation players need. They need to be placed into a professional environment before they leave home. Abbotstown is perfect for it.”

Are the FAI capable of delivering such a scheme? Are they willing? No one, Bradley included, is holding their breath.

Bradley at a glance

Name: Stephen Bradley

Age: 30

Famous for: Was once Irish football’s most wanted teenager when Arsenal beat off competition from Manchester United to secure his signature. At 15, he signed a contract which was worth approximately £500,000 over three years.

Why is he in the news? Appointed Arsenal’s Irish scout last month, Bradley was yesterday named the PFAI’s coach for a FIFPRO tournament in Norway in January. He strongly believes the FAI need to implement structures to deal with the emotional turmoil young Irish players experience when they leave home to enter a professional environment in England. “We produce good technical and tactical players but we don’t prepare them properly for going away. The FAI need to provide training camps for young players to let them know what a professional environment is.”

For full links to this article by Gary Doyle in the please (CLICK HERE)

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