Of the 11 players that have turned out in the Premier League during their fifth decade, nine have been goalkeepers, it is a position where experience is valued and maintaining your conditioning is often rewarded. Brad Friedel is a month younger than Edwin van der Saar, who retired in the summer, subsequently replacing the decorated Dutchman as the league’s elder statesman.
Despite a tortuous path from UCLA to English football, which involved both Brian Clough and Kevin Keegan failing to secure a work permit on his behalf, Friedel signed for Graeme Souness at Galatasaray before eventually moving to Liverpool in 1997. Meagre opportunities resulted in a free transfer to Blackburn Rovers, reuniting with Souness, appearing 287 times for Rovers during eight seasons and embarking on his astounding uninterrupted run.
This spell included a man of the match performance in winning the 2002 League Cup, Blackburn Player of the Year the following year and in turn also making the PFA Team of the Year that season. Working with both Mark Hughes and Paul Ince during this period, he eventually opted for a 2008 move to Aston Villa, the then 37-year-old Friedel signing a three year contract in a £2.5m deal.
Friedel broke the record for continuous games played with his 167th appearance in November 2008, also becoming Villa’s oldest ever player in February 2011. After three years in Birmingham, having played under Martin O’Neill and Gerard Houlier, Friedel joined Spurs when his contract expired, opting against a return to Liverpool to act as Pepe Reina’s understudy. Harry Redknapp may not have spent heavily in the summer but he made three particularly shrewd signings in Emmanuel Adebayor, Scott Parker and Friedel, rejuvenating Tottenham’s fortunes in the process.
Friedel has replaced the erratic Heurelho Gomes and installed a new calm in the Spurs defence, despite the long-term absences of Michael Dawson and William Gallas and the intermittent contribution of Ledley King. After heavy defeats against Manchester United and Manchester City Tottenham are unbeaten in eight league games, a run which includes seven wins. Friedel’s last outing and finest performance to date, a 3-1 win against Fulham at Craven Cottage, saw him repel 13 attempts on goal, claiming the man of the match award in a game he referred to as “A bit hectic.”
Spurs currently lie fifth, level with Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal on 22 points, boasting a game in hand over fourth placed Chelsea with a slightly inferior goal difference, but have two games in hand over Liverpool and Arsenal, who lie in sixth and seventh respectively, with a better goal difference.
Tottenham entertain Friedel’s former employers Aston Villa on Monday, with designs on leapfrogging the current tenants of third place, Newcastle United. As always, Friedel will provide a formidable last line of defence, whilst further extending his staggering record for punctuality, a record that looks likely to remain long unsurpassed.
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