If Andre Villas-Boas is feeling the pressure before his first north London derby, he can gain immediate perspective by asking the Tottenham goalkeeper about his knowledge of local disputes.
Brad Friedel has played in two Arsenal-Spurs matches but has also competed in tribal clashes in Istanbul, Birmingham and east Lancashire and witnessed the Merseyside derby at close quarters.
Villas-Boas revealed earlier in the week he had been reminded several times by chairman Daniel Levy of the importance of tomorrow’s fixture, yet such troubles are minor compared with what Friedel has experienced. During his season at Galatasaray, the American returned from a cup final win over Istanbul rivals Fenerbahce to discover his home had been vandalised.
Friedel also played for Aston Villa against Birmingham when there was violence in the stands during the
2010-11 season. The rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham is fierce and the fixture is among the most important in the calendar but, after what he has seen, Friedel is able to take the intensity of these battles in his stride.
“Galatasaray-Fenerbahce is the most energetic, hate-filled, violent derby I’ve been involved in,” Friedel said.
“The fans hate each other with a passion and the atmosphere is tremendous, although nicer when you play at home.
“When we won the Turkish Cup at their ground in 1996 after a two-legged final, I got back home and the windows were smashed in my flat.
“Fenerbahce fans had also tried to turn my car over.
“For two or three hours after the match we couldn’t get out of the changing room. They smashed the windows on our coach and tried to tip it over when we left the ground. We couldn’t even lift the cup on the day.
“Graeme Souness was the manager and Dean Saunders was playing there and both had their families with them. Fortunately, I was single, otherwise it wouldn’t have felt brilliant on derby days, with people knowing exactly where you live. But I did love my time in Istanbul.
“Those things happen very rarely in England but the Villa-Birmingham derby was a bit tasty at times.
“When we played there once there were fireworks being thrown between the fans and we got stuck on the pitch. That was a bit nasty and there was true hatred there.
“As for this derby, a few of the songs aren’t in the best taste but, by and large, it’s done in the correct manner. People will their team on and are loud and energetic.”
Memories of the most recent derby are painful for Tottenham. In February, a 2-0 lead at Emirates Stadium became a 5-2 defeat and signalled the start of Spurs’ nervous end to the season, during which Arsenal overcame a 10-point deficit to take a Champions League place at their rivals’ expense.
Friedel denies, however, that the result undermined Tottenham’s campaign and he believes that the departure of Robin van Persie has weakened the Arsenal squad more than those of Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart have damaged Spurs.
While neither side have convinced this season, Friedel insists Spurs are better-placed to push for a top-four spot, especially as Van Persie scored 37 times in his final term at Arsenal before joining Manchester United.
“When you lose a lot of goals, it’s the most difficult thing to replace,” Friedel said. “When Luka left we got Mousa Dembele, so one outstanding player left, another arrived and their goal tallies are similar.
“When you talk about someone who can bang in 30 goals per season, it’s different. If you manage to replace it successfully, there’s a lot of luck involved when you do. A goalscorer is the hardest player to buy — when do you buy, who do you buy, how much do you pay?
“When both are fully fit, then I like our squad more than Arsenal’s. As for the Champions League, we’ve got to get into it. That’s what the club, all the players and the staff want to achieve as a minimum.”
Friedel will strive as hard as ever to reach that target but he insists the outcome will not influence the decision about his future. The 41-year-old is in the final year of his contract at White Hart Lane and is keeping France captain Hugo Lloris out of the team, yet he knows the former Lyon man is Spurs’ long-term solution.
“If I want to play on, it will be a purely mental and physical decision,” he added. “Even if we qualified for the Champions League, I wouldn’t sign on again if I was completely knackered by April.
“When the club have invested in someone as good as Hugo, I’d have to think about what my role would be but I’m not an egomaniac and I feel lucky, at the age of 41, to be contracted to this club.”
It is a calm and rational assessment which, a matter of hours before a derby, seems like the perfect approach.
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