By Jason Davis - WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 10, 2012) US Soccer Players -- If you’re American, a fan of Brad Friedel’s, someone who buys the notion that players should keep their starting jobs as long as their performances are up to snuff, or all of the above, it’s a little difficult to stop and celebrate the end of Friedel’s historic 310-game streak of Premier League appearances. Something is off about the way Andre Villas-Boas chose to end Friedel’s amazing run of starts as a topflight goalkeeper. Friedel’s streak ended with a fizzle, not because he wasn’t good enough anymore, but because Villas-Boas or his bosses couldn’t wait any longer to justify spending money on a pricey alternative.
Setting aside the ignominy of it, though, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider what Friedel’s accomplishment means. Friedel spent eight years as a constant in goal for three different teams in the highest profile league in the world. It’s incredibly impressive. If we can get past the strange, unsatisfactory ending, we can rightly slot the streak in among the greatest ever achievements for Americans in the sport.
Villas-Boas’s decision to start French international Hugo Lloris in Friedel’s place adds further context to the incredible nature of the streak. Friedel did everything he could to remain top of the depth chart, whether it was Blackburn, Aston Villa, or Spurs. He did his job in the most competent, professional way possible. He avoided club intrigue. The quality of his play never dipped enough for his job to be in question, and so it never was.
For eight years, if there was a league game on the docket and Brad Friedel’s team was involved, the American’s name was on the team sheet. Friedel was able to keep himself above the usual melodramatic fray that seems part and parcel with the operation of a big English club. He never gave a manager or a chairman the opportunity to question his performance.
It can’t be overstated that Friedel’s run is even more impressive because he did it despite changing clubs twice. His move to Villa in 2008 and then to Tottenham in 2011 had no feeling out period. He joined as the starter and kept the job, game after game.
Friedel’s reliability, a basic trait but unique even at Premier League level, gave several managers one less headache. Friedel’s managers would have been justified in getting a rubber stamp of his name, or printing up team sheets blank save for “Friedel” in the place where the starting goalkeeper goes. Even before Friedel’s streak reached notable length, his steadiness was a boon to any team lucky enough to have him.
On Sunday, Friedel found himself on the bench for the first time for a league match since well before Manchester City was an English power, since before Liverpool went from European Champion to Premier League also-ran, and since before Arsenal last won a trophy (the FA Cup in 2005). The last time Brad Friedel’s club played a league match without him in goal, Manchester United had only fourteen titles to their illustrious name (the now have 19). Perhaps most amazing, the last time Brad Friedel sat out a league match, he was 33 years old. Even then, he was already a seasoned professional with a decade of experience.
The streak ends with Friedel now 41 years old. We know goalkeepers are different, as the old cliché goes, and that includes the length of their careers. Nobody is arguing that Friedel is too old to get the job done. Tottenham’s move is about money spent in the transfer market, the new over the familiar.
It’s difficult to swallow the manner in which the streak ended. Friedel has a legitimate claim to the number one job at a top Premier League club at his advanced soccer age. Friedel sets a new record for oldest player to appear for Tottenham every time he steps on the field. He holds that same record at Aston Villa, but in the most basic terms, it really is nothing but a number. That other number, his consecutive games streak, counts considerably more.
Villa-Boas has made it clear that the goalkeeper slot is a competition, and Friedel certainly isn’t going to sit back and allow himself to become an emergency option. He’s not going to make it easy, for himself or anybody else. That’s why Friedel is still in the running for games, with Spurs not officially settling on a starter.
That’s not something most Premier League teams – or any teams for that matter – normally favor, but it’s the situation this club created. Goalkeepers want regularity in their role, game after game the way Friedel did it for all of these seasons. That brings us to another simple point that this unfortunate situation has made plain. Brad Friedel, 41 years old and 310 games in, will fight to get his job back from the 25 year-old France National Team captain and return to his role as the only option for Premier League games. Would you expect anything else?
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