ESPNFC has some exclusive excerpts from Tim Howard’s impending book, “The Keeper,” the most compelling of which lays out U.S. soccer conflict that could transcend Landon versus Jurgen. According to Howard, former U.S. international goalkeeper Brad Friedel tried to sabotage his 2003 move from New York Red Bulls to Manchester United. Friedel has already denied the claim, but the accusation’s still set to hit stores on Dec. 9.
According to Howard, Manchester United informed the then 24-year-old that Friedel, established as Blackburn’s No. 1 at the time, refused to submit a letter on behalf of his fellow U.S. international when it came time to appeal for his U.K. world permit. United later told Howard that Friedel had “written to the appeals committee suggesting that [Howard] shouldn’t be given a work permit at all.”
“‘You’re kidding me,’ I said. Friedel was among what was then a handful of American players in the Premier League; his influence was huge. Having himself been denied several times, he understood better than anyone exactly what was at stake. Why wouldn’t he vouch for me?
“I mean, who would sabotage his own countryman like that?”
Speaking to ESPNFC today, Friedel denied he’d ever “wrote a letter of negativity towards Tim Howard to anybody in this world.” According to Tottenham keeper, a letter supporting Howard directed to him by then national team head coach Bruce Arena contained language he was unwilling to endorse. Fearing the appeals committee would see the letter as an exaggeration, Friedel amended the text before returning a version Arena never used.
Friedel, who is asking for an apology:
“I’m very surprised to find something of this nature in Tim’s book. I’ve done nothing to stand in anyone’s way of getting a work permit, I’ve never done anything negative towards a U.S. player.”
In his book, Howard describes a subsequent meeting between the two as “amicable enough,” though he declined to contest anything Friedel said. “I wasn’t going to argue with him.”
Variations on this theme keep popping up with Friedel; be it his defense of Clint Dempsey vis a vis Landon Donovan, Howard’s accusation about possible transfer subterfuge, or the sometimes ridiculous (if, meaningless) criticism of the slight accent he reveals when interviewed or doing broadcast work. After 17 years in England, Friedel’s voice tells of his distance from the U.S., something that only reminds national team fans of his newly acquired otherness.
But this is also a man who has 82 international appearances, one that seemingly is accessible enough for ESPN to get on the phone within hours (at most) of publishing a negative story. Those who’ve covered and worked with Friedel speak positively of him, while other former teammates regard him as one of the best players they’ve ever played with.
His picture is a conflicted one, one which forces you to keep an open mind about stories like today’s. But if you’re asking me what’s more likely, Friedel undermining another American goalkeeper or Manchester United’s management exaggerating a slight (the unsigned letter) to motivate a player, it wouldn’t take me long to decide. I can already imagine Alex Ferguson mumbling “You know Brad Friedel thinks you’re shit.”