Tottenham's Brad Friedel not ready to hand over gloves to Hugo Lloris

Friedel Spurs

The metaphorical handover of gloves between one goalkeeper and another is never the most comfortable experience.

Such is the life of the group within the group inside a football club. The goalkeepers, who spend so much time working separately from the rest with their specialist coaches, inevitably have to be both friends and rivals in a more intense way than anyone else competing for a spot on the teamsheet.

Naturally it will hurt Hugo Lloris to retreat to the bench having made a fairly untroubled appearance in Tottenham's Europa Cup fixture at Panathinaikos this week but Brad Friedel's incomparable run in Premier League football shows no sign of interruption.

At White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon the American Friedel, against his old club Aston Villa, will rack up his 311th consecutive match. His unbroken run stretches back more than eight seasons. Graeme Souness was the last manager who dared not select him, back in May 2004. Since then Friedel's relentless combination of form and fitness has made him a guaranteed pick for Mark Hughes, Martin O'Neill, Gerard Houllier, Harry Redknapp and now Andre Villas-Boas. He isa mountain of a man, extremely self-possessed, granite tough and his endurance is simply astonishing.

It was understandable to wonder whether the summer arrival of France's No1 – among the most accomplished of his more youthful generation – would pose a threat to the 41-year-old. André Villas-Boas fielded an awkward question immediately after Lloris arrived in London. There was not much ambivalence about his answer. Friedel was the man in possession and Lloris would have to be patient to stake his claim. "These things have to be taken very carefully," said Villas-Boas.

Back in France, though, it is not such a delicate matter. They are unimpressed that their leading goalkeeper is kicking his heels, though Lloris is doing his best to take it with good grace and keep realistic rather than go ballistic. "I'm not crazy," he says. "I didn't come to Tottenham to stay on the bench. I see the situation calmly. I've just moved in. It's all positive. Of course I would prefer to play more. At Lyon I played every three or four days. Now I know that this is just a phase and that it will sort itself out."

Lloris could do worse than ask Friedel how to handle this unexpected challenge in a career trajectory that propelled him to the top of his profession from a young age: he was capped at the age of 21 and captained his country by 23. It reveals something about his character that as a youngster, when he had the chance to join Milan, he plumped for Lyon because he wanted playing time and specifically did not want to wait for a shot at getting regular games.

Friedel can empathise. He is a product of the American school of sporting ideals and second best is not something that sits comfortably. "You are taught to be the best. If you're not the best, don't bother," he reflects. "It becomes second nature. It gives you a skin of leather."

Friedel has seen off all manner of competition over the years and his qualities show no sign of abating. When Villa clap eyes on him this weekend they will be entitled to wonder if they were a little premature in allowing his contract to run down, which triggered the move to Spurs.

Two summers ago Villa let Friedel leave on a free transfer and spent more than £3.5m on Shay Given. These days Friedel is still going remarkably strong while Given's stock has waned to the point that he has been displaced by Brad Guzan. Guzan has experience of being in Friedel's shadow, from when the two Americans were together at Villa Park. "He's always fit, always ready and always puts in a good performance for the team. At times it was frustrating for me because everybody wants to play, that's why you come to training in the week so you can play on the weekends and perform in front of the fans," he says.

"What he is doing at his age is remarkable. Is that bad news for Hugo Lloris? Yes, maybe. If you look at Brad's performances, he's been fantastic for them, making good saves, helping them pick up points along the way and when that happens it's hard for a manager to make that decision."

Sooner or later Villas-Boas will have to begin the task of giving Lloris more game time and it will be interesting to see if the change is gradual or more of a clean break. The instability at Manchester United last season when Sir Alex Ferguson chopped and changed between David De Gea and Anders Lindegaard was a case in point of the perils of indecision about the goalkeeping position.

Right now it is not an area of the team he ought to be meddling with. Tottenham have played with eight different defensive combinations from their nine games under Villas-Boas and further ahead there are important new components settling into the team. Friedel remains the man for all seasons.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Amy Lawrence, for The Observer on Saturday 6th October 2012 23.00 Europe/London

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image: © wonker

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