Brad Friedel wants you to know he is rooting for Bayern Munich this weekend. Really, what other choice does he have?
Friedel, the oldest player ever to take the field for Tottenham, stands to finally play in the Champions League game next season — but only if Chelsea lose here this Saturday. Spurs finished fourth in the Premier League table, which is usually good enough to make the big show. Not this year: sixth-placed Chelsea will seal passage to the Champions League next season if they down Bayern and raise the European Cup.
“Normally, I would actually want the English team to win,” says the American keeper with some chagrin. “I have played against many of the Chelsea guys, I know them, and you’re always friendly at least professionally with them. But this time, I want Bayern to win because it will put us into the Champions League slot for next season, which I think we deserve. Over 38 games we finished ahead of Chelsea in the standings — so I hope Chelsea lose.”
Friedel will have one of the choicest seats in the house — and a nervy 90-minute wait to see if he finally will get to take part in Europe’s biggest competition. Friedel is joining FOX this weekend as a guest expert analyst for Saturday’s Champions League final, and hopes his luck will finally turn around.
“When I was at Galatasaray, we just lost out on a slot; when I was at Liverpool we were still under a European ban, and then I just had left Brondby when they made it, so I’ve always been just missing out.
“Obviously, it would be great to play in it next season,” adds Friedel, who turns 41 on Friday. “That was our mandate at the beginning of the season. We looked really strong to to take third, but this crazy season happened, we let Arsenal back in and it came down to the last game. I hope we have done enough to get in.”
Friedel says that while missing out wouldn’t hurt Spurs in the wallet, getting in would help them strengthen their squad. “Our owners and chairman, Daniel Levy, have run the club impeccably. We’re able to keep everyone and buy if we want to. But you want to have the Champions League to attract that extra quality of player.”
Tottenham swooned a bit in the late season, a drop that many ascribed to Harry Redknapp’s interest in the England managerial job. Redknapp, of course, did not get the position — Roy Hodgson will take the Three Lions to Poland and Ukraine. But Friedel says that the England job was never a distraction at all.
“Yes, we had a slump in results, but it was a coincidence more than anything,” says Friedel. “[The interest from England in Redknapp] didn’t affect me at all. It didn’t change how Harry prepped the squad or his demeanor towards the players. It just didn’t happen. The truth is, as a player, you turn up and prepare for the games, and none of that stuff is in our lives or minds.
“I think if you watched our games with no sound on, the only bad spells we really had were in the last 60 minutes of the game against Arsenal and our game against Norwich. Our goals dried up a bit and we weren’t scoring at opportune times, but the performances weren’t bad. I think ‘slump’ is a little harsh.”
Saturday, Friedel worries about the effect Chelsea’s absences will have on the big game.
“There’s a big focus in England on Terry, but the biggest guys for me are Branislav Ivanovic and Ramires.
“Ivanovic can play four places on the field, even moving up as a holding midfielder if you need him to. If you have an injury, he’s invaluable. Ramires is the guy who has the legs to get up and then get back into shape. When Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres or Juan Mata is up holding the ball, Ramires is the man who gets alongside them. You’ve got Frank Lampard, who has been tremendous, but he doesn’t have the legs that Ramires has. Raul Meireles has been very good too, and he’ll be missed.
“Bayern are missing some key guys and are weak in the back as a result” adds Friedel. “I think Chelsea have solidified a lot more back there than Bayern, and a lot of the emphasis will go on Jerome Boateng. He didn’t really have a successful time in Manchester City, so might want to go out and prove a point. But overall, I think the replacements that Bayern can bring in are less than Chelsea can in Gary Cahill and David Luiz.”
Friedel expects it to be a wide-open game. “I think it will really be fascinating. Chelsea’s absentees have scored eight goals for the club. Bayern’s absentees have scored none. So Bayern’s full strike force — Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez – will be running right at Chelsea. Where Bayern will have problems is in the back. They have to be rock solid and defend the counters, and I don’t know if they can.”
And Friedel has kind words for both goalkeepers. “Manuel Neuer is exceptional, no question. He’s going to have many years at the top. And Petr Cech has been super since January when so many people were trying to write him off as over the hill. He’s only 29! That’s not old at all — says the old keeper!”