The grumbling sub-plot that has been Tottenham Hotspur’s goalkeeping situation hasn’t quite reached soap opera levels yet, but it’s certainly proved to be a somewhat irksome backdrop at White Hart Lane. For all the debate and discussion that has surrounded the merits of both Brad Friedel and summer signing Hugo Lloris, it is the American whom currently remains Spurs’ number one.
Indeed, after a turbulent start to the season, Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas owed his veteran ‘keeper more than a couple of beers, with his string of superb performances saving his side’s bacon during the first few games. Tottenham only picked up two points from their first three fixtures but without Friedel, it could well have been zero. Football’s a funny old game and who knows, things may well have not been so rosy at the moment, had the Portuguese lost his first three on the bounce.
Although as we look to move into November, those miracle saves against both West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City, are beginning to fade a little more in the memory. And as those memories fade, another man’s patience is beginning to wear a little bit more thin, as well.
Tottenham Hotspur pulled off something of a major transfer coup in the deadline day acquisition of French international ‘keeper, Hugo Lloris from Lyon. Such was the hullabaloo that surrounded Spurs’ touted deal for Joao Moutinho, Lloris’ signing seemed to be somewhat diluted in the box office event that is transfer deadline day. It certainly shouldn’t have been, though.
When your man between the sticks represents a 41-year-old veteran, the club simply has to plan for the future. Yet, if you were to be given a hypothetical pick of any goalkeeper in Europe to replace Friedel, the fact is that past maybe an Iker Casillas or a Manuel Neuer, Lloris would probably in fact, be that choice.
It is very easy to use denote Friedel’s age in a relatively derogatory manner and no one should be under any illusions of just quite how fantastic a Premier League goalkeeper the American has and continues to be in this division. His level of fitness is of an almost bionic level, his levels of consistency amongst the best we’ve seen and his professionalism unrivalled.
Yes, Friedel can still perform at a high level for Spurs for the rest of thie season, but when an opportunity came along like Hugo Lloris, the club simply had to take it. By waiting till Friedel straight up retired, Tottenham knew that a hefty premium would be added to any potential purchase. Yet overwhelmingly, the man they had the opportunity to sign, was one of the continent’s finest goalkeepers and a man who is substantially more talented than what they already had. It was a no-brainer.
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Yet with nine league games gone, Hugo Lloris has only played one Premier League game for Spurs. Of course, he wasn’t available for the first three – games in which Friedel ironically played out of his skin – but despite the general consensus that the Frenchman would be eased gradually into English football, perhaps most would have expected him to be Spurs’ number one by now.
After making his league cameo against Aston Villa, following a couple of appearances in the Europa League, he was relegated back to the bench by Andre Villas-Boas, for the game against Chelsea. This was after an international break in which Lloris, the captain of his country, made a string of superb saves and saved a penalty in the 1-1 draw with world champions Spain.
Such has been Friedel’s aforementioned professionalism, that supporters feel something of a natural affinity with the American. He’s come in, done a superb job for the team and never had a bad word to say about either club or manager. He’s simply got his head down and got on with doing what he does best – churning out consistent performances. Even upon the news of Lloris’ arrival, Friedel didn’t just take it in his stride, but offered warm words of support for the club. It’s a word that isn’t associated with too many players these days, but Friedel is respected.
But however much of a role model, professional and consistent goalkeeper he may be, that cannot cloud the facts. Tottenham have a world class goalkeeper in their ranks, the captain of his country and more importantly, a man more suited to the way the side wants to play.
Watch the second half of the Southampton game again and pay close attention to the goings on in the back four. Spurs were looking tired, Huddlestone was slowly running out of steam on his path back to match sharpness and the side needed to keep the ball. Villas-Boas’s philosophy is about keeping the ball. Yet Friedel’s natural instinct was to simply shunt the ball upwards and invite on more pressure.
This isn’t intrinsically his fault. His strengths aren’t in playing the ‘sweeper keeper’ and maintaining the ball. But what’s the point in starting a centre half like Gallas who’ll go out of his way to make an option for the goalie, if the ‘keeper boots it forward? In some respects, the playing of Friedel makes a mockery out of dropping Michael Dawson. The team needs to keep the ball, not give it away.
Yes it may seem like a minor criticism. But it doesn’t matter if it’s distribution, speed off the line or reflex saves – Lloris has the better attributes in every department. Dropping Friedel doesn’t show some warped lack of respect, or some form of potential risk. It’s simply doing the right thing for the football club.
What’s really the doomsday scenario here? It’s difficult to judge, but if the situation continues on till December, could Lloris ask for a transfer? As the captain of his country, the prospect of not playing first team football for half a year when fully fit, probably constitutes a fair enough transfer request.
No one is saying that Hugo Lloris should just waltz into this side. But the waiting period is over. Andre Villas-Boas must back the future, the long-term option and the better goalkeeper. On all three counts, that’s got to be the Frenchman.
How do you feel about the goalkeeping situation at White Hart Lane? Tell me on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and let me know whether you’d stick or twist in N17