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Blackburn CEO says Friedel will get permit, start for Rovers Saturday.

By Robert Wagman (in Washington, D.C.)
Willy Calderon (in Bristol, England)

(Wednesday, November 1, 2000) -- American goalkeeper Brad Friedelís long transfer saga could be nearing a happy ending with English first division side Blackburn Rovers saying they expect to have him in goal Saturday when they meet Stockport at home at Ewood Park.

Brad Friedel
American Brad Friedel could be starting in goal for Blackburn Rovers as soon as Saturday against Stockport.
Club officials, led by chief executive John Williams yesterday appeared before a tribunal (appeals panel) of the Department of Education and Employment to put their case forward to obtain a new British work permit for Friedel. They have not yet received a ruling, but they say they are confident of having him in place by the weekend.

"Everything seemed to go well and we are told we should know the outcome in a couple of days," Williams was quoted as saying in the British media, adding he expected a swift and favorable result.

British work permits are granted to players who come from countries outside the European Economic Union on the basis that they have played in 75 percent of their countryís national team matches over the past two years. Alternatively, for a player already holding a permit, they can get a new permit based on playing in a majority of their Premier League teamís matches the previous season.

After twice failing to qualify for a work permit, Friedel transferred from Major League Soccerís Columbus Crew, where he was MLS "Goalkeeper of the Year" to Premiership side Liverpool in 1997. In doing so, he became probably the highest-paid American playing soccer with a contract reported to be worth approximately $30-35,000 a week, depending on the exchange rate. He started 12 matches for Liverpool, including the final 11 of the 1997-98 season and posted a 5-3-3 record with a goals against of 1.1, good enough to get Liverpool into the UEFA Cup.

Friedel had an up-and-down 1998-99 season. He started strong, including a shutout of powerful Arsenal, but then hit a rough patch and found himself on the bench. In all, he started 12 matches for Liverpool in 1998, ending the season with a commendable 6-3-3 record and a 1.2 goals-against average.

But in 1999-2000, Friedel lost his starting role to Dutch international Sander Westerveld and only played in four matches. This season, he even lost his role as Westerveldís backup when he ran afoul of the rule allowing a club to dress only three players from non-European Union countries. Liverpool had acquired Frenchman Pegguy Arphexad, who at one time played as backup to Friedelís national-team teammate Kasey Keller at Leicester City.

Roversí manager Graeme Souness had played with Friedel at Galatasaray in Turkey in 1995. He had made several overtures to Liverpool to acquire Friedel, as had several other European clubs, but Liverpool had demanded a stiff transfer fee, trying to recoup what it had paid MLS for him in 1997.

With the arrival of Arphexad, however, Liverpool said during the summer it would be willing to give him a free transfer to Blackburn.

Friedelís current contract runs until the end of this season and his work permit that ran until the end of that. By transferring to Blackburn, he needed a new permit, and his application was initially rejected by the DEE because he had not played either the requisite number of matches with the U.S. national team, nor with Liverpool last season.

Reportedly, at the hearing this week, Blackburn officials argued that goalkeepers should be treated differently than field players in assessing national team matches, emphasizing that Friedel had been called into camp and was rostered for every "A" level match and had played in a significant number of them. Williams said he thinks that argument will prove decisive.

Manager Souness dismissed the belief by some that Friedel might not be up to the task at Blackburn. "People may be surprised at the fact that we want to sign Brad, but I have worked with him before," he said. "With the quality he has, and the fact there's no transfer fee involved, I just felt it was an opportunity we could not miss."

If Friedel is granted the work permit, and there always remains the possibility he will again be rejected, Souness stated that he will be Rovers' undisputed first-choice goalkeeper, and the team will look to sell one of its two current keepers, Alan Kelly or John Filan.

In a bizarre prelude to this tale, Cottbus Energie of the German Bundesliga announced early in October it had entered into transfer negotiations with Liverpool for Friedel.

"Neither I nor my agent ever talked with any official of Cottbus," Friedle responded. "From the start Liverpool has called the reports 'rubbish.' I have absolutely no idea where this got started."

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com. Willy Calderon, an American living in Bristol, England, writes about soccer for various publications and netzines and can be contacted at willy@netcity.co.uk.

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