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The Big Read: Pep talk with a difference!

Ulster brothers link up with Guardiola’s Bayern to nurture America’s rising stars

By Graham Luney

Call it the American dream fuelled by Irish knowledge and German efficiency. Two Londonderry brothers are helping football take off in the United States with the expert help of the 24-times Bundesliga champions.

It's been a remarkable journey that started in the Creggan for Joe and Peter Bradley and has taken them to Boston where their Global Premier Soccer business is now one of the largest and most successful football organisations in America, providing player development programming in 11 States across the USA.

GPS was founded in 2001 with a mission to establish a new and unique player development model in the US and produce players who can compete at the highest level.

And now German giants Bayern Munich have agreed an extensive partnership with GPS, bringing the club's Youth Academy, including its coaches, curriculum, official uniforms and importantly its principles and culture, to more than 55,000 kids and 5,000 coaches organised into over 75 soccer clubs supported by GPS.

In July last year, Bayern opened a US office in New York City as they sought to internationalise their brand and better promote the club's valuable assets in the American market.

It's a partnership that is a tribute to the hard work, ambition and dedication of everyone who has invested considerable time and effort into GPS, particularly the Bradley siblings.

Joe, who played for Coleraine with players such as Marty Tabb and Ray McCoy under Jim Platt in the late 1980s, is now CEO of GPS Massachusetts and he's thrilled with Bayern's endorsement of the company's ethos.

"Bayern were very serious about having a major presence in America and they are among the best clubs in the world when it comes to youth development," said Joe, who also had spells at Institute and Omagh Town as well as featuring in the same Northern Ireland schoolboy side as Michael Hughes and Steve Lomas.

"The first team and management have come to the States to promote their work and the relationship and partnership we have with them is very healthy and rewarding.

"We had a media launch in November in New York and as you would expect with Bayern it was a really professional approach and they were rewarded with significant coverage in the major newspapers here.

"We met up with manager Pep Guardiola and his Academy Directors and were given a glimpse of their training ethos. The night before we met Pep, Bayern had won 4-0 but he wasn't happy.

"He was analysing the performance and working out how Xabi Alonso could see more of the ball.

"That tells you how his mind works and that attitude has made him so successful. Pep's English is very good and he was very cordial and open about his work.

"The fact that five players in the starting 11 for Germany at the World Cup came through the Bayern Academy speaks for itself. It is important to note that Bayern also have a professional women's team and we look forward to the impact of this partnership on both our male and female players."

Bayern captain Philipp Lahm, fresh from his World Cup heroics with Germany, stated: "I arrived at FC Bayern's academy at 11 and everything was set up very professionally. Without the youth team I couldn't have achieved everything I've achieved so far."

Joe (42) and Peter (46) are rightly proud of their achievements.

"I manage the business side while Peter looks after the football projects," adds Joe, who opted for a soccer scholarship at Harvard University where he earned a Business degree.

Peter was a French teacher in the south of England before getting the call from Joe to join him in Boston where the GPS Headquarters are situated and he is now Director of Coaching.

The game in America, though often ridiculed, has moved to a much higher level and last summer in Brazil the national side made it two consecutive trips to the knock-out stages of the World Cup for the first time before eventually losing 2-1 to Belgium after extra-time in the last 16.

Former St Columb's College student Joe added: "The sport has really taken off over here and the national team's performance in the World Cup in Brazil reflected the progress that is being made and it has really captured the imagination and interest of the public and the media.

"The news about Frank Lampard staying with Manchester City gave our league a bit of a black eye but Steven Gerrard's decision to go to the Los Angeles Galaxy gave everyone a lift again.

"The Liverpool legend is an all-time great."

However, the Ulster connection at GPS doesn't end with the Bradley brothers. Former Glentoran and Linfield midfielder Philip Mitchell is Director of Recruitment and International Projects for the organisation.

"Philip has been with us close to two years and he's doing a super job for us," adds Joe, who was able to make a brief return trip to Derry over Christmas.

"He's bringing new ideas and energy to the set up and we are going from strength to strength."

Proud of their early years in the north-west, Joe credits current Stute boss Paul Kee as being one of the biggest inspirations behind his coaching career and the brothers remain passionate about the Tristar Boys Club in Derry, formed in January, 1974 by the late Jon Clifford.

Joe, who turned out for Ballymena United at the Milk Cup, adds: "We are committed to bringing boys to the States from Northern Ireland and some of them will spend six weeks with us as part of the Jon Clifford Scholarship Fund, set up in memory of Jon who passed away and I'm also hoping to bring over the Northern Ireland Under-16 side.

"Michael O'Neill is a good friend of mine and it's great to see the progress he is making in his coaching career.

"I'm always looking out for the results of my old teams and I still have a lot of respect for Institute manager Paul Kee, who helped me get into coaching.

"Since I was a young lad, I have learned a lot from Paul and will always be grateful to him.

"Paul and Michael are real salt of the earth passionate football guys and I wish them every success.

"I'm proud to be in the same line of work and at GPS we are committed to giving our teams and players the best possible coaching environments and the tournaments we endorse from grassroots level are helping them develop."

When Joe was a gifted young right-back he dreamed of a cross-channel move but despite several trials it never materialised.

However, America is now the land of opportunity for the Bradley boys.

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