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Friedel planning for the future

Brad Friedel is determined to remain in the game once he hangs up his gloves.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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Brad Friedel has a retirement plan.

At 41, the end of Tottenham Hotspur’s ironman might at last be nigh. On the field, the former U.S. goalkeeper saw his record streak of 310 consecutive Premier League starts snapped on Oct. 7 when Hugo Lloris got the assignment and he has played sporadically since mid-November. But off the field, Friedel has been busy planning for a next step that he knows must eventually come.

Friedel is projected to get his UEFA A-level coaching license in May 2014, coincidentally when his new contract extension with Spurs runs out. He’ll turn 43 then, time perhaps for the next phase in the best European career any American has ever had.

“I don’t know if it’s definitely coaching or management that I’ll be going into,” Friedel says. “Whether it’s that or whether it’s doing other things with the football club, whether it’s doing television, I don’t know which road I’ll go down right now but I will be involved in the game, there’s no doubt about that.”

He was keen on getting the schooling for his second career while active in England. “The coaching levels over in Europe are a lot more stringent and strict than they are in the U.S., so it’s wise to be taking them here because there’s a lot to be learned,” says Friedel. “A lot of us players think when you’ve played a long time you know it all but it’s a different world when you’re coaching.”

And Spurs, in his view, was the best place to do it. “While I am at such a great club it’s a great advantage to go through your coaching levels,” Friedel says. “The people that they have employed from the youth all the way through to the senior level is of the highest ilk. To be able to learn the ropes from these people is a big, big advantage.”

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That played a crucial role in re-upping with the club in late December in spite of losing his starting job. That and the peace he has found with his lot. “When I signed my contract here I was 40 years of age and Tottenham were on the lookout for a long-term number one goalkeeper,” says Friedel. “That’s not someone who’s 40 years of age.” But by virtue of Tottenham’s financial prudence and patience with finding the right long-term solution, Friedel got the job for a year, he says.

So when the right deal presented itself and Spurs signed the then-25-year-old Lloris, France’s starting goalkeeper, from Olympique Lyon for a mere $13 million, Friedel knew he’d eventually have to make way. “In no way was this as big of an ordeal as the press made it out to seem,” says Friedel. “Of course I still want to play but I also know what my role is. It’s not a place that any player aspires to be in, sitting and watching games. However, there are other aspects of what goes on at a football club and there’s a lot more things you can do.”

Friedel has matured and can look at things from a remove. “I don’t go in and bang down doors anymore and say, You have to play me,” he says. “At my age that’s not how it works. The older you get, your ego goes down a little bit. You can see the big picture a lot more clearly.”

“This is a tremendous opportunity and stepping stone for me to stay involved in the game as a player, get all my coaching badges, decide what I want to do next while keeping involved with a club that has aspirations,” added Friedel.

That’s why when Spurs offered an extension, he turned down the chance to start for Blackburn Rovers, the club he played at for eight years and started his streak. And that’s why he didn’t entertain the idea of going anywhere else, even though “a few places” showed interest. “It’s a bit strange,” Friedel says with a chuckle. “I turn 41 and the offers keep coming in.”

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That’s been a trend. When he was 37, he opted for Aston Villa over Manchester City and staying at Rovers. At 40, he could have stuck with Villa, gone to West Bromwich Albion or Liverpool, but picked Spurs. Every time around, he opted for the bigger challenge.

And if that endangered his streak, he was hardly aware of it. “I never knew what the number was,” says Friedel. “When I was at Aston Villa somebody came up to me and said, ‘You know, if you play three more games you break the record.’” He had no idea. Nor did he start counting.

Friedel’s streak is over now, but not his career. There is another season and a half to be played yet. Who knows how much more he’ll tack on. He’s borrowed time before. He has a revolving credit line of it, in fact. And if he quits, there’s the newest bigger challenge to look forward to.

 

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for the New York Times, the Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderOnFOX.

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