Mauricio Pochettino didn’t miss a thing.
“He’s one of the very best out there and I have no problem saying that,” Brad Friedel said last week as he settled into his new role as head coach of MLS’s New England Revolution. “His attention to detail and what I was able to see and learn from him, was priceless. The best way to describe it is, yes, he knows the tactics that he wants to play, and yes he knows how to implement them in training, but it’s all the extracurriculars around being a head coach that he manages himself, his staff, and all around him so well.
“I’m not surprised he’s doing so well, and the players have a bigger value than when he came into the changing room. I expect him to be a very good coach for a very long time.”
Friedel is now sitting in the manager’s chair himself after agreeing to take over at the Revolution. The 46-year-old spent four years at White Hart Lane, and it was there that his coaching career began. Tottenham was the final chapter of Friedel’s playing career, one that spanned three decades and contained a number of coaching influences, including Graeme Souness and Mark Hughes.
“When you go into head coaching you have to be your own guy,” Friedel said. “You have to learn how to deal with things – like those above you, those around you – and Graeme would deal with those issues head on. He had zero fear. I’m not saying my personality is the exact same, but when I look back on his career, you got to see how he navigated it. I’m going to do things like myself, but it’s interesting to see how all the head coaches dealt with things.
“Mark Hughes was the same. They were two totally different types of coach though. Graeme used very few analytics, Mark came in and used analytics a lot. People can debate what is right and wrong, but it’s two very different styles.”
Friedel looks back fondly on those memories. Unfortunately, not all of his former employers have thrived like Tottenham. Blackburn Rovers sit in England’s third tier, while Aston Villa are navigating the Championship. Friedel admits it is tough to watch them struggle.
“While I was at the club [Blackburn], it was a wonderfully run football club with the Walker Trust running it,” he said. “I thought they did an impeccable job with running the club, and putting a really good product on the field. When I left, I can’t really comment on what’s happened, but I’m very sad to see what has happened. Aston Villa, a lot of the same. I thought Randy Lerner and Paul Faulkner were excellent people to deal with. While I was at Aston Villa it was a very well run football club, and I’m very sad to see where they are now because they’re an enormous club and they shouldn’t be in the Championship.”
Having spent time at well-run football clubs, Friedel is acutely aware of how influential those above him can be. That’s also what convinced him that the Revolution was the right role for him.
“I think there’s a large amount of trust between [the general manager] Mike Burns and myself,” Friedel said. “I don’t see there being any reason why there won’t be a great amount of trust between [the owners] Robert and Jonathan Kraft and myself. That is a huge part of the reason why I came here.
“In saying that, I’m under no illusion that if my staff and myself don’t do our job the owners will act accordingly. The fact Mike and I were friends was irrelevant in the hiring, but his honesty and integrity was a huge factor, and I’m sure he’d say the same about myself.”
Quite how Friedel’s side will look is still unclear. The American has a little over four months to shape his team, and impart his ideas. He’s unwilling to shackle himself to one identity though.
“I’m not the type of guy that’s going to talk about x’s and o’s right now,” he said. “It’ll be there for people to see. The team will be 100% committed to how we want to play, and our staff will be 100% committed to that, and I will be 100% committed to the club.”
In many ways, that is what makes Friedel such an intriguing proposition. He talks extensively about being his own man, but he’s not willing to articulate what that represents. He could bring the swagger and youth of Pochettino’s Spurs, just as much as he could bring the stoic, and at times, abrasive nature of Souness and Hughes.
When he talks, you occasionally see a glimpse of the latter. He refused to be drawn on the debate over standing for the national anthem, or the state of the US national team. “We’re here to talk about New England,” he said, when asked about his country’s absence from the World Cup in 2018.
It seems, at least for Friedel, his talking will be done on the pitch. He has until March to prepare for his first audition as a senior coach. Whether he’ll succeed or fail remains to be seen, but it looks like being a fascinating watch regardless.
The Guardian Sport