Brad Friedel has experienced everything there is to experience on the field. Holder of the English Premier League record for consecutive appearances, the former USA goalkeeper is now set to open a new chapter in his football story: coaching.
On 4 January 2016, Friedel was announced as head coach of the newly-formed U-19 USA national team. However, while this represents a significant move for the former Tottenham Hotspur and Blackburn Rovers No1, he admits that it is one he has been anticipating for quite some time.
“I’ve been working hard behind the scenes,” Friedel told FIFA.com. “I don’t think a lot of people in the United States knew exactly what I’ve been doing the last four to five years on coaching.”
Many followers of the game in the States have become used to Friedel’s refreshing, tactically nuanced style of analysis on television for Major League Soccer, UEFA Champions League, international fixtures and other high profile matches. Yet as he alludes, his growth as a broadcaster has in some ways made viewers miss his development as a coach, which has been taking place simultaneously.
Friedel’s playing career came to a close this past spring in England, but it has been over a decade since he has taken up any official role within US Soccer. “I retired in 2005 from playing with the national team, so the actual day-to-day, ins-and-outs of the national team have evolved in a huge way,” Friedel said. “When I started doing my coaching, I didn’t realise I’d enjoy the youth levels as much as I did.
"I coached a lot in England at the youth levels and a new programme with the U-19s is a very good challenge. There was a big gap. The U-17 World Cup would end and to try and get into the U-20s - that’s a three or four year gap sometimes with players. It was tough for them to be ready, so now we’ve got every age group, which should be very good for their development.”
Just as in his goalkeeping career, Friedel will be a coach who brings consistency to the table. His unprecedented ability to keep fit enough to remain in goal at Premier League level will surely show itself in his approach as a coach. Having played for coaches like Graeme Souness and Mark Hughes at Blackburn, Gerard Houllier at Liverpool and Aston Villa, and Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham Hotpsur, Friedel will be bringing his own playing experiences and depth of coaching influences to the table for the USA national team set up.
We’ll hopefully give Jurgen a real headache some day on selection. That’s what you want. You want the competition.
“I’ve established my style. I’ll bring my style. You'll just have to watch and see. I went through my UEFA B and UEFA A, and I’ve just about completed on my UEFA Pro License now. That’s a lot of class work and on-field training. I’ve really taken to the youth development side of things - the psychological aspect and social aspects and of course the physical side, and to respect values. I will take what I’ve learned and also take my experiences as a player. I played a long time and under a lot of great managers. I will take those experiences and then mould them into my personality.”
Taking nothing for granted
When Friedel speaks, he does so with clarity and confidence, while always acknowledging the realities of competitive football and the nature of his challenge.
“Just because I played and had a good career doesn’t mean I’ll make a good coach at all. The best piece of advice when I started my coaching endeavours a few years ago was from a guy who was tutoring me. He said, ‘If you’re willing to take your ego helmet off and put it to the side and start from ground zero, I know you have a lot of knowledge in your head and I’ll be willing to teach you and organise it.’ That was the best piece of advice that you can get. I’ve also seen a lot of great, great players not be great, great coaches.”
Friedel’s first step as coach will be putting his U-19s to the test at the Copa del Atlantico in Canary Islands, against Spain, France and Canary Islands. Their first match is on Tuesday, 2 February against Spain. As much as results are important, Friedel’s focus for the goals of his team is razor sharp.
“As far as formations, I have the formations I want to play and I’m going to want to instill my philosophies on that and also correlate it with Tab Ramos’ group (U-20s) and with what Jurgen [Klinsmann] wants, so we can develop players for them. We’ll hopefully give Jurgen a real headache some day on selection. That’s what you want. You want the competition.”
If Friedel’s coaching career resembles anything close to the one he enjoyed in goal, this newest tier of USA’s youth development system will be in very good hands. And Klinsmann can expect serious selection headaches in the very near future.
Brad Friedel was speaking with members of the media at the 2016 National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention in Baltimore.