Former Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Brad Friedel credits Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino with overhauling the culture of the once-underachieving London club, which this week qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the third consecutive season.
Friedel, a former U.S. international and current coach of the New England Revolution, joined Tottenham in 2011 toward the end of a storied career in England’s Premier League, where he still holds the record for consecutive games played with a staggering 310.
It was a very different place back then.
“The training ground, the players, the whole attitude was different,” the 46-year-old told Yahoo Sports in an exclusive interview. Friedel stayed at White Hart Lane, Spurs’ former stadium, for four seasons before retiring in 2015, and he worked under a different boss each season. Pochettino arrived before the American’s final campaign.
“Right when Mauricio walked in, everything changed. It clicked. It really took the club to another level,” he said.
For most of its 135-year history, Tottenham has struggled to keep pace with the giants of the English game: Manchester United, Liverpool, and more recently Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. Despite a strong following, success was elusive: Spurs’ most recent FA Cup triumph came back 1991, and they haven’t won a league title in 57 years.
But now the club is in the midst of perhaps its best run ever, even if it doesn’t yet have the silverware to show for it. Friedel believes next step is within reach.
“They’re not that far off,” he said. “They have some great players in Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Jan Vertonghen. They have one of the world’s greatest strikers right now in Harry Kane. Hopefully they can keep him.”
A mega transfer offer might make that difficult, as Spurs doesn’t have the resources available to some of its competitors at home or abroad; two of their best players this decade, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, were reluctantly sold to Real Madrid.
“It’s hard to win the Premier league or Champions league when you’re on that sort of budget,” Friedel added. “You have to have everything go your way. But the whole mentality of what Tottenham is now, it’s down to Mauricio and also (director of coaching and development) John McDermott and the types of players they bring through that academy. When you don’t win a title, when you lose in the FA Cup, people want to say ‘Mauricio didn’t win a trophy again.’ But he’s done a great job.”
Friedel has even used some of what he learned under Pochettino and applied it to his own fledgling coaching career. The Ohio native – who also played under well-regarded managers such as Graeme Souness (at Liverpool and Galatasaray), Gerard Houllier (Aston Villa) and Mark Hughes (Blackburn) – is in his maiden season with the Revs after previously leading the U.S. U-19 squad. One of those lessons includes an emphasis conditioning. Soon after taking the job, he lured Spurs’ first team fitness coach Anton McElhone across the Atlantic.
“We have a lot of technically gifted players and the fitness levels are improving, creeping closer and closer to what the standards are like in Europe,” said Friedel, who has surprised many MLS observers by quickly putting New England on pace for its first playoff appearance in three years.
“That’s good to see. We’ve created a really good atmosphere within the club.”
One of the aims is to improve collectively by making his players better individually. That, Friedel notes, is another area in which Pochettino has excelled at Tottenham.
“I think if you look at what Mauricio has done at Spurs, every single player since he’s walked in the door has increased in value, whether they keep them or sell them. Mauricio himself has increased his value. He’s one of the best managers out there. If you’re on Tottenham’s board, what else can you ask for other than the title? And hopefully they can get there.”
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