The list of Americans who have played football for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League era is few. In fact, you can count them on one hand: Kasey Keller, Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin, and Brad Friedel. All of them helped increase Tottenham’s exposure in the United States and earned the clubs legions of American fans.
Of those, it’s Friedel who has had the longest professional career — twenty years as a goalkeeper, nearly all of it across the pond with English clubs. Friedel played at Liverpool, Blackburn, and Aston Villa before ending his playing career at Tottenham Hotspur. Friedel spent four seasons at Spurs before hanging up his gloves at the age of 44. Along the way he set a Premier League record that still stands today, making a staggering 310 consecutive league matches. Friedel is also the fourth-most capped player with the USA men’s national team with 82 appearances and was USA’s starting keeper during the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.
I had the good fortune to be able to ask Brad some questions about his long career and especially his tenure at Tottenham from 2011-2015, which bridged the gap between the Andre Villas-Boas and Mauricio Pochettino eras at the club.
Friedel spoke to Cartilage Free Captain in association with sports betting site Betway US.
You have a history with Tottenham due to your playing days at the club. What is your reaction to the sacking of Nuno Espirito Santo and appointment of Antonio Conte? Where do you think Spurs can finish in the table under Conte this season?
I feel sorry for Nuno, because after seeing what happened he was probably never the first choice anyway and he had that to contend with from day one. Whenever you’re not fully backed or wanted it’s tough to succeed, especially in a league like the Premier League.
In saying that, what an exceptional signing Conte is! He is a serial winner. I can’t see him taking a job where he’s not going to have the ability to get some of his own players in. They might get the players in January but Spurs fans will have to wait for some real success going into next season, when they get the summer window. It’s a statement hiring someone like Conte because he doesn’t normally do poorly at the clubs he goes to. He’s a winner and players really enjoy playing for him. I’m excited to see how it plays out.
You had an impressive career in European football, including a record 310 consecutive games played that still stands! That streak was broken by Hugo Lloris, who is still Tottenham’s starter a decade later. Two questions — are you still in contact with Hugo and do you ever give him crap about that? Are you surprised that Hugo is still at Spurs and playing at such a high level all these years later?
No, I’m not surprised. Every now and again I shoot a text to Hugo congratulating him like with the World Cup and things like that. But I never give Hugo crap for breaking my record because it wasn’t his decision! Whenever I see Andre Villas Boas, I’ll always give him crap about it though!
Spurs bought Hugo when I was 42, but I was playing well at the time. Hugo was on the bench and I was playing and I think there was some pressure from Didier Deschamps in the French national team, so I didn’t play against Aston Villa but went straight in against Wigan right after. We won at Old Trafford for the first time in 30 years and then I was dropped.
Hugo and I never had an issue with one another. They signed Hugo to be the number one. What transpired between Andre and the board while I was still playing, you’ll have to ask Andre. I started the season really well. I think we were away at Reading and Hugo was upset because he wasn’t playing, and I said to him: ‘Relax, around the corner you’re going to be the number one. You weren’t signed here to be on the bench. I’m 42, you’ll be fine.’ And he was!
Who is the most colourful Spurs player you played with during your time at the club, and why?
Kyle Walker was up there. But I have to say David Bentley, just for a laugh in the changing room, was probably the most charismatic. He was hysterical on a daily basis - just a funny, funny human being. His whole demeanour and his banter - I was also with him for a year at Blackburn when he came on loan and he was great then, he’s a happy-go-lucky, funny guy.
If forced to pick one, which club that you played for do you have fondest memories of?
I was really lucky in that I never really had a bad time at any club. I grew up a Liverpool supporter, so that first three to six months at Liverpool was probably the only time where I was inconsistent in my career. Playing wise it wasn’t great for me at Liverpool but being at the club was outstanding.
A lot of people growing up now wouldn’t realise what a great club Blackburn was back when the Walkers ran them. We had some exceptional teams. If you ask Mark Hughes or Graeme Souness what the best run club they ever managed was, they would probably say Blackburn. I have really fond memories of Blackburn, but I also did at Aston Villa and Galatasaray and Spurs, all for different reasons. I don’t have one answer to that.
What is the biggest hurdle to clear for an American player making the jump to a major European club?
The day to day consistency that you need to have. You have to be on the top even when you’re not feeling good - you always have to perform. The seasons in America are shorter and the days off are more, and you’re taught that you don’t have to be at it every day. In Europe, especially at the big clubs, you have to be at it every single day for 10, 11 months. You have to stay physically fit all the time, you can’t gain a lot of weight. It’s the intensity of performing at the highest level that’s the biggest shock to the ones that have been brought up in the US system.
Conte still needs a goalkeeper coach - would you take the job if offered?
Who knows. You never say never to things in football!
Many, many thanks to Brad for taking time out of his schedule to answer our questions. Brad Friedel is one of the most successful American professional footballers in history. He had a twenty year professional playing career that included stints at Liverpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa, and Tottenham Hotspur. Friedel has since moved into football management; his most recent appointment was with the New England Revolution from 2017-2019. This interview between Cartilage Free Captain and Brad Friedel was done in association with sports betting site Betway US.