Old head Friedel sees De Gea learn value of keeping the faith
Tottenham's experienced No 1 is keen to put a bad result behind him while enjoying the revival of his young United counterpart
Someone who believes the course of his whole career was determined by one missed aeroplane is likely to accept that life has some strange twists and turns in store. A footballer in his fifth decade is also old enough and wise enough not to beat himself up over one bad result. So Tottenham's Brad Friedel, who will make his 302nd successive League appearance today at home to Manchester United, has already put a highly forgettable 301st behind him and is advising his opposite number David de Gea to take the same attitude to the occasional mistakes that have blighted the younger man's first season in England.
That plane journey first. It was due to be made by Dean Wurzberger, an assistant coach and talent spotter at UCLA, who missed his flight and turned back instead to watch a local club match. Afterwards he rang the college team's manager and said he needed to take a look at one of the goalkeepers. "That's how it all started," the keeper in question said at Tottenham's training ground on Friday, some 20 years later. "If he hadn't missed his flight, there is no way I'd be sitting here right now."
Like Galatasaray, Liverpool, Blackburn and Aston Villa before them, Spurs are suitably grateful. After three seasons of unpredictability from Heurelho Gomes, they have a steadying influence between the posts again, last Sunday's painful five-goal collapse at Arsenal notwithstanding. "Our record at White Hart Lane is very good," Friedel said, "and getting a big team back to the Lane is what we need. We want to prove to people it was a one-off last Sunday."
It had better be, or the gap they had established over old rivals Arsenal and Chelsea in the chase for an automatic Champions' League place could recede with alarming speed. While Friedel insists the team are looking upwards in the table – a win today would put them within five points of United – the Champions' League is a personal incentive, for he has never played in Europe's premier club competition; Galatasaray were knocked out a fortnight before he joined in 1995 and in his first season in England, Liverpool finished third after he had displaced David James but only the top two qualified.
Liverpool were his boyhood favourites but when he had to choose between the two clubs last summer, the greater possibility of first-team football was a key factor. Having not missed a League game since May 2004, he had little experience of working all week and then sitting in the dug-out, and did not intend to start this season. "I had four offers and I did not choose the one with the highest financial reward but the one with what I thought was the best squad. It was never said here that I was going to be first choice. At Liverpool Kenny [Dalglish] was very much above board, he could offer me a lot of things but not first-team football. I have never signed a contract with the idea of being a No 2, I always aim to try to be No 1. If I had chosen Liverpool, I just felt I was signing up for retirement."
The League table suggests it was the right decision and he believes the current Spurs squad to be the equal of any he has been part of, including that Liverpool "Spice Boys" side of 1997. Where Tottenham do fall short, like so many others, is in comparison to United, who they have not beaten in 21 meetings, the most recent of which was Friedel's debut in August – a 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford.
De Gea was at the opposite end that day, playing at home for the first time as an £18m successor to Edwin van der Sar, with 75,000 eyes on him. Friedel sympathised. "He got a lot of stick when he first came over here and people need to give him a lot more credit now. You have to take your hat off to him because he has come through. It's not easy with that price tag on your head, replacing Edwin van der Sar, everyone's always going to make comparisons. He's made some big saves recently and his performances have been very solid.
"The hardest thing as a young goalkeeper because it's such a mental position is that if you do happen to make a mistake, sometimes you feel as if the world is caving in on you. You feel terrible when it's clearly something you should have saved. All keepers are a little bit loopy but when you are younger it's hard to snap out of it. The older you get, it's easier to deal with that situation." There speaks the voice of experience.
United are confident that Wayne Rooney, one of the goalscorers in the August game, will return today. Friedel is also likely to find himself facing Ashley Young, a Villa colleague for three seasons, who is aware that Tottenham are as capable of reacting to the Arsenal debacle much as United did after their 6-1 humiliation by Manchester City. "Everybody has setbacks throughout the season, but it's the way you respond," Young said. "I think we responded magnificently and never looked back. You expect a reaction from any team who has been beaten like that."
"An unTottenham-like performance," Friedel called it. They cannot afford another one this afternoon.
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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