Following his breakthrough performance for the U.S. at last summer’s 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper Brad Friedel became the first-ever American named in the English Premier League’s team of the year. With the voting for the award made by his peers (PFA), the season-ending honour proved doubly satisfying for the 6ft 4in giant from Lakewood, Ohio ahead of the States’ return to the global arena for next month’s FIFA Confederations Cup France 2003.
Despite his Midwestern American roots, Brad’s years in Britain have seen him pick up the edges of a hybrid English lilt. Lying somewhere between the American heartland, Liverpool and the North of England, the new accent suits the big man right down to the ground, considering the Blackburn faithful took to boisterous choruses of “Friedel for England” with alarming frequency over the course of Rovers’ surprisingly successful season.
“I don't play this game for individual awards,” the imposing keeper said. “But when they come around it’s nice and you have to accept them humbly. This award means more than most because it came from my fellow players.”
2003 honours aplenty
Friedel continued his brilliant form from the Far East when he returned to Rovers last August. A series of outstanding performances staring down some of the finest and most slippery marksmen in the world had Rovers’ boss Graeme Souness claiming loudly: “I have the best keeper in the Premiership.”
The ex-Liverpool hard man was right on the money as his net minder’s extraordinary efforts between the posts played a huge part in Blackburn’s run through to Worthington Cup glory last year (Friedel was Man of the Match in the Final) and a sixth-place finish in this season’s Premier League.
A foreigner no longer
After a stint with Turkish side Galatasaray and failing to find full-time duty with Liverpool, Friedel made the move to Ewood Park and played a huge role in seeing Blackburn gain promotion to the Promised Land of the Premiership in 2000.
During the club’s 2002/03 season, Friedel started 35 matches and posted an astounding 16 clean sheets - including victories over aristocrats Manchester United and Arsenal.
rsenal’s normally reserved French manager Arsene Wenger did not hesitate when he referred to the big, quick, and ultra-athletic American as “superman” following his side’s shock 1-2 defeat on 26 October.
“I'm no longer thought of as a foreigner in this league, which is an achievement in itself,” Friedel said. “It’s fantastic for the U.S. that any player can be named in a best 11 for a league in Europe. Regardless of who it is, it only adds to the perception that the United States is producing quality footballers.”
Roving into Europe
Friedel’s 2002/03 antics saw the club from England’s North finish sixth in the Premiership, earning a coveted spot in the UEFA Cup in the process. 2003/04 will be the club's second consecutive European tour of duty.
“It’s been a very good year, there's no doubt about it,” said Friedel. “For a club of our size to be able to qualify for Europe is quite an accomplishment.”
Imposing in the Far East
Starting all five matches for the Americans at the finals, he saved two penalty kicks in the first round of the FIFA World Cup (both in the first round against Korea and Poland).
is heroics saw the US into the quarter-finals for the first time in 72 years of trying. And when the dream finally came to an end, the German press had nothing but praise for the brave, ambitious Americans – and their plaudits fell most squarely on Big Brad’s broad shoulders.
Friedel, still 31, is the second-most capped goalkeeper in US history, earning his first call-up over a decade ago. In addition to the multitude of other honours and accomplishments, Friedel was also named Chevrolet Male Athlete of the Year in the US in 2003.
A marked man
Even fussy Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have grown fond of the safe-handed breed of American net minder. It is rumoured that Tim Howard, current US international and MLS standout with the MetroStars, is at the top of Sir Alex’s wish list of potential replacements for aging French iconoclast Fabien Barthez.
The other name on Sir Alex’s list is apparently none other than Friedel himself. However, he will have to beat Arsenal to his signature. That is if Blackburn go against their publicly stated desire to keep the American in goal at Ewood Park.