Tim Howard claims that not only did Brad Friedel not help him get a UK work permit to join Manchester United in 2003, he actively tried to keep it from happening. In an excerpt from Howard's new book on ESPN FC, the goalkeeper talked about how Manchester United reached out to multiple Americans with Premier League experience to vouch for him and Friedel refused.
I needed character references from other players. Manchester United asked former U.S. captain John Harkes, the first American to play in the Premier League, and they asked Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, among others. Most signed without question.
However, Man U told us that Friedel had refused to submit a statement on my behalf.
"You're kidding me," I said. Friedel was among what was then a handful of American players in the Premier League; his influence was huge. Having himself been denied several times, he understood better than anyone exactly what was at stake. Why wouldn't he vouch for me?
I mean, who would sabotage his own countryman like that?
But things get worse. Howard claims United told him that Friedel "hadn't merely refused to sign a statement on my behalf, he had actively tried to block my transfer. He'd written to the appeals committee suggesting that I shouldn't be given a work permit at all."
Howard claims Friedel met him once to explain his actions and laid out all of the times that Friedel had trouble getting a work permit, using that as justification for what he did. Apparently, to Friedel it was a matter of principle and he believed it should be as tough for Howard as it was for him, and then he tossed in a claim that United was looking at signing him instead of Howard, which is why he couldn't support Howard.
Howard's version of events obviously makes Friedel look petty, selfish and any number of other of bad things. When contacted by ESPN to comment on Howard's accusation, Friedel said that he never "wrote a letter of negativity towards Tim Howard to anybody in this world."
American soccer has always been a pretty tight community, and that has extended to the players. While there are some rifts, like John Harkes and Eric Wynalda, American players generally support each other. They know that the perception of American soccer isn't great abroad and that the popularity isn't incredible in the U.S. so they do what they can to change both and help each other fight those issues.
That makes this all the stranger. It would be notable if anyone did what Howard alleges Friedel did, but for an American to do that is really out of charachter.
Friedel has played and lived in Europe since 1995, with the exception of one year with the Columbus Crew. He's very much a part of European culture, especially in England, where he has been since 1997, and is now getting his UEFA coaching badges. It always seemed more likely that he would look to manage in Europe than he would in the U.S., but if what he did to Howard is true, it may be difficult for him to find a ton of coaching jobs in the U.S. anyway.
Howard's book titled "The Keeper" is due out on December 9.