(Sunday, July 27, 2008) -- United States goalkeeper Brad Friedel's eight-year stay with Blackburn Rovers came to a sudden end yesterday when he was transferred across the English Premier League to Aston Villa.
Having played virtually every match for Rovers during his tenure -- more than 350 games -- Freidel moves to join his former coach Martin O'Neill and American billionaire owner Randy Lerner at Villa.
Both Lerner and Friedel have Ohio ties. Friedel, who comes from Lakewood, owns soccer camps in his home state. Lerner, who is said to want a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, owns the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League.
Villa paid Blackburn a reported $5 million fee for Friedel, who was reported to have signed a three-year contract for around $4 million.
"Making this move was a very easy decision and a very difficult decision to make all at the same time," Friedel told Villa's web site. "I'd been at Blackburn eight years and this was going to be my ninth season. The fans and everyone at the club have been terrific with me.
"Saying that, I'm really excited to be here at Aston Villa, being able to work with these players, with Martin O'Neill and with Randy Lerner is exciting for me. I've really got the feeling this club is going places and that's the main reason why I'm here. Hopefully we can improve on last year. Sixth (place) was good, but if we can move into fifth or fourth that would be fantastic."
It appears that Friedel became receptive to O'Neill's overtures when the 37-year-old learned that Rovers were in talks with England keeper Paul Robinson -- nine years younger than the American. Friedel had first talked about a possible move to Manchester City, where he would have joined his former coach Mark Hughes.
"I know there was a lot going on in the press about Manchester City, but from day one it was always Aston Villa," Friedel said. "Aston Villa were ever so professional in the manner that they dealt with everything and I couldn't be happier. I'm very pleased to be here. Hopefully things will go well for us this season. No one player ever makes a team, but I'll just come in here and try to do the best I can."
Friedel signed a contract extension with Rovers for the 2008-09 season in February. "When Brad told us he wanted to leave, it was a bolt out of the blue," Rovers chairman John Williams told The Sports Network, admitting he was shocked when Friedel asked to leave Ewood Park recently. "He'd only signed his latest contract back in February and a replacement keeper hasn't even been on our radar. And on the football side, Brad Friedels don't grow on trees."
Friedel could be joined by another American in the goalkeeper corps with Brad Guzan, who was recently obtained by Villa from MLS's Chivas USA. Guzan has agreed to terms with Villa, but cannot join the team without a work permit and he has a hearing on his application for one on Friday.
In January, Guzan failed to gain a work permit for a prospective move to the Premier League's West Ham United. To qualify automatically for a permit, a player must have played in 75 percent of his country's "official" matches over a two-year period, a standard Guzan doen not meet. Villa believes he will be granted a permit at Friday's appeals hearing because he played in both of the U.S.'s "official" matches this year -- second-round CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers against Barbados -- and is slated to be the American keeper in next month's Summer Olympics.
Villa turned to Friedel after O'Neill opted not to pursue a deal to retain Scott Carson, who impressed while on loan from Villa Park last season. To replace Friedel, Rovers signed Robinson from Tottenham Hotspur to a five-year contract.