As the Andre Villas-Boas revolution starts to go through the gears in their pre-season tour of the United States, it’s fair to say Spurs have come across a couple of speed bumps over the last couple of days.
Whilst optimism around the club still has never been fresher, the failure to tie up a deal for a frontman as well as Luka Modric’s evasion of North London, there has at least been a slight chink in the club’s positive atmosphere.
But there is perhaps another, far less publicized, element of Tottenham’s squad that is of lingering cause for concern. As Brad Friedel looks set to play through to his 42nd birthday next year, Spurs have perhaps been lacking a real, top-class goalkeeper for what feels like an eternity. With the greatest respect to the American, if Villas-Boas harbors genuine visions of grandeur, then a top class keeper must be found this summer.
It seems difficult to fault the efforts of Brad Friedel last season. Some have argued that if a goalkeeper is staying out of the headlines, then he is doing a steady job at the very least. And for Friedel, solidity was very much the buzzword of his 38 game term, last season. When called upon, Friedel produced the goods, often after having very little to do for large periods of games.
And Tottenham fans were more than happy to show their gratitude towards the Ohio native. The memories of the sometimes spectacular, but too often unreliable Heurelho Gomes reside strongly in the memories of fans. With Friedel, you knew what you were getting- an authoritative presence in the box, decent shot stopping and a man who doesn’t fear the more physically imposing teams of the Premier League.
As Spurs look to the future, Friedel’s performances seem to offer a stark realization about the past. There were some supporters who seemed relatively uninspired with the capture of the 41-year-old last summer. Another archetypal Redknapp singing, some uttered. And that may well have been the case, but if the American was available four years ago, there aren’t too many fans that would be turning him down today. He gets the basics right and that is something that should never be underplayed, as simplistic as it sounds.
Although in the new system which Andre Villas-Boas is set to bring to the club, the role of the ‘sweeper-keeper’ could ultimately be the undoing of Brad Friedel. The big American had already come for critique in some quarters of White Hart Lane for a perceived lack of athleticism, but it is his ability with the ball at his feet that AVB will be particularly interested in.
The role of the sweeper-keeper is to harness the fundamentals of a third central defender as well as a goalkeeper. For example, Villas-Boas will expect his goalkeeper to not only effectively distribute the ball from goal-kicks but to act as an outlet for under pressure team-mates- and hoofing the ball up field is not likely to suffice. The sweeper keeper must keep the carousel of passing going.
As a goalkeeper, it’s hardly something worth slaughtering Friedel for, but if you were to pick a weakness in his game, it would be his distribution. One of his strong points is getting the basics right and it’s pretty hard to envisage Friedel choosing to play a risky ball to Kyle Walker as an attacker charges him down, instead of shunting the ball up field. Who knows whether you can teach an old dog new tricks, but Friedel hasn’t forged an extremely successful career on a foundation of risk changing. Do not expect that to change any time soon.
But Spurs have been down this road before, remember. Heurelho Gomes was brought in as part of the ill-fated Juande Ramos revolution. Whilst it would be unwise to make comparisons with what is currently going on under Andre Villas-Boas, Gomes was supposed to bring something of a continental style of goalkeeping to White Hart Lane, too. Gomes was a great shot stopper but even though his improvement was vast, he never truly cut the mistakes out of his game.
Solidity and strength have served Spurs well in the past 12 months and some clamor for another Friedel like goalkeeper to make their way to the Lane. But Spurs had a man of a not too dissimilar mould in Paul Robinson a few years back. The undoing there, was a chronic withdrawal of confidence. It can happen to any goalkeeper.
But as football changes, so has the role of the goalkeeper. Spurs need someone to fit Andre Villas-Boas’ bill and a keeper fit for the modern game. Hugo Lloris is someone who could well fit the bill- technically astute with lightning reflexes he also appears to have a decent command of the penalty area.
The talk is that Lyon’s renowned, hardline chairman, Jean-Michel Aulas is playing hardball over a fee for the French national skipper But as much as it may miff Levy and Spurs to pay over-the-odds for any player, they cannot afford to take any risks on this one. Lloris, or any foreign keeper for that matter, will take time to adapt.
But the rewards are there, as the emergence of David De Gea towards the climax of last season showed. The introduction of a foreign goalkeeper to English football could ultimately be a lot less painful than shoving an acclimatized one into an uncomfortable system- however difficult that may be to see.
Friedel has been a fantastic servant to the Premier League and he gave Spurs exactly what they needed last season. But it isn’t a criticism or a slur on his abilities that Spurs are looking elsewhere. The American could easily do a great job for another term.
But it is a necessity that Spurs evolve and move on. They must acquire a top-class goalkeeper that can work in the style of AVB’s set-up. The problem being, they’re aren’t many about and they don’t come cheap. If the Lloris deal is still alive, then Levy must pay the King’s Ransom. The rewards are there for all.
Do you think there’s a future for Brad Friedel under Andre Villas-Boas? If no, then who do fancy bringing in as a replacement? Get involved in the Spurs chat on Twitter, follow @samuel_antrobus and bat us your views.