Postcard from Europe: Ageless Friedel still going strong
AMSTERDAM — There's a running gag in the Tottenham Hotspur clubhouse that nearly every EPL game they play is a personal derby for Brad Friedel. As they say, it's funny because it's true.
The 40-year-old first landed in England in 1997, joining Liverpool from the Columbus Crew. A few seasons there led to eight at Blackburn, meaning Friedel had close relations with northwest England's seven top-flight clubs. Three years with Aston Villa covered the West Midlands and now he's finally made it to London, which currently houses four other league foes.
"The younger players joke about that," Friedel told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Monday after Spurs training. "Every week, it seems like [we're facing] one of my old rivals or a team I used to play for."
When the American became a free agent this past summer, Liverpool and another former employer, Turkish side Galatasaray, were among the clubs trying to pry him away from Villa. Friedel wasted little time making his decision, signing with Tottenham by the start of June.
If all the bidders knew a good thing when they saw it, so did the veteran backstop, who says Spurs boss Harry Redknapp sold him on White Hart Lane.
"The other offers that I had were all very good offers," he admitted. "It came down to a meeting I had with Harry, who I'd known for quite some time from [son] Jamie, from when I played with him at Liverpool. I wanted to go to a team where I was wanted and needed, and where the team has a chance of winning things."
Tottenham's early form suggests Friedel made a shrewd call. While the north Londoners have not won a title in 50 years and have not finished in the top three since 1987, they currently stand third thanks to 10 wins from an 11-game unbeaten run.
Though the American's career abroad has been littered with personal adulation, including a PFA Team of the Year nod in 2003, trophies have been few and far between. Friedel tasted Turkish Cup glory with Gala in 1996 and led Blackburn to the Carling Cup six years later. Safe to say, neither he nor Tottenham are counting any chickens just yet.
"It doesn't matter what team you are, you have to take it one game at a time," insisted Friedel. "You're always going to go through a rich vein of form and you're also going to have a few hiccups. It depends on how you deal with everything. But do we have a squad that can challenge? Yes, we do."
During Spurs' current streak, the netminder has leaked just eight goals in 11 games. Though Tottenham's back line was considered a question mark coming into the season, Friedel reports from the line that blinding team speed has turned them into an exclamation point at the back this season.
"Not just a little bit quick, we have some extraordinary pace in the side," he noted. "When you have that, it makes defensive responsibilities easier. When you do get caught, you can recover."
The act of physical recovery is one well-mastered by anyone still at the top of his game past 40, let alone someone who holds the EPL standard for consecutive games started at 289 and counting.
"It's funny," said Friedel. "I never even realized I was close to the record until I was a few games away. Even since, I forget about it unless people bring it up. I couldn't even tell you what the number is. I've always just tried to keep myself fit as possible."
The goalkeeper has maintained a strict physical regimen for years and obviously has the experience to ration his resources efficiently for matches.
"It's everything," stated Friedel. "Weekly maintenance in your training programs — I know what I need to do to be at the maximum for the weekend. I started yoga at 31 or 32, and that's helped me tremendously. Of course, the obvious is maintaining a diet. If you're a goalkeeper, and you can keep your weight and body fat down, and you can stay away from those long-term injuries, you can play until your early 40s."
His EPL tenure has also given Friedel the proud chance to watch another American 'keeper make a name in England, his US 2000 Olympic team backup Tim Howard.
"Timmy and I aren't too dissimilar, because I went to a big club in Liverpool and it didn't really work out," he said. "I needed to resurrect my career by going to Blackburn, and Timmy did the same when he went [from Manchester United] to Everton. He's had a very good career for them. He's a very athletic goalkeeper, a very good goalkeeper. I've got the utmost respect for him and for what a nice guy he is, as well."
Howard isn't the only link Friedel keeps with MLS, which he keeps up with as well as he can with an important day job and family life. In fact, he's become a bit of a league ambassador for potential recruits.
"I keep in touch with a lot of people over there and I follow it a lot," said Friedel. "I'm really glad the owners have stuck with it as long as they have and it's a much better product than we had when it first started. A lot of players over here in England ask about it. They'd like to come play in MLS. Obviously, David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane going over there helped that."
As for the possibility of seeing him pull on the gloves in MLS again, Friedel likes the idea, but isn't sure whether it could happen.
"There will come a time when the legs aren't there anymore, but luckily I'm not there yet," he declared. "I know deep down that I'll be able to fulfill this [Spurs] contract, and that will take me to 42. At that time, I'll have to see how my body is. If I feel like I can play on, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. If not, I can play to 42 and I'll be happy with that."