Manchester United's 10 Dodgiest Goalkeepers During the Ferguson Era
“Manchester United’s goalkeeping curse,” is not an Alex Ferguson term of abuse; rather, something fans have lived in fear of since Peter Schmeichel’s commanding seven-year stint came to an end.
But for the excellence of Edwin van der Sar, much of the post-1999 period would have been a throwback to the days of 70s sometime-shot-stopper Paddy Roche.
Now, with neither David De Gea nor his rotation rival Anders Lindergaard convincing as yet, talk of this curious Old Trafford phenomenon continues to hang over United’s last line of defence.
Wondering if maybe he should have stuck that chewing gum on some of their gloves, let’s take a few pot shots at Fergie’s 10 worst picks between the posts (in chronological order).
*You can follow me on Twitter here: @jamie_okeeffe1
1. Jim Leighton
You build from the back, and the gap-toothed Scot was the starting point for Alex Ferguson’s great Aberdeen side that usurped the Old Firm in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
So it wasn’t surprising that he should bring Leighton to Manchester in 1988.
Unfortunately, after a solid and sometimes spectacular start down south, Leighton’s confidence cracked at a crucial juncture.
With club chiefs getting itchy, Ferguson needed silverware, and reaching the 1990 FA Cup Final was a godsend.
But Leighton lost his nerve in the drawn decider with Crystal Palace, and he was dropped in favour of the late Les Sealy for the replay.
His replacement also got the nod for the following season’s European Cup Winners’ Cup showpiece.
On both occasions, the result proved Ferguson correct. But a bitter Leighton has never forgiven him.
2. Mark Bosnich
An Australian with various voracious appetites, "Bozzie" was bought from Aston Villa having been on United’s books and made his first-team under Fergie as a teenager.
Re-signed to fill the sizeable gloves of Peter Schmeichel on a free transfer in the 1999 close season, the Sydneysider was soon making Neville Southall look slim.
Ousted and distrusted, with Fabien Barthez now the established first choice, Bosnich headed to Chelsea on another freebie in January 2001.
But he wasn’t in shape to tog off until the following season, and the rest is drug-hazed history.
His playing and partying careers behind him, Bosnich is now an analyst for Fox Sports Down Under.
3. Massimo Taibi
With Bosnich taking time to get fit—surprise, surprise—this tall Italian, signed from little-known Venezia for £4.4 million days before the 1999 deadline, got an instant chance to shine.
He seemed to get to grips quickly with the English game, overcoming early indecision to turn in a Man of the Match display versus Liverpool.
But at home against Southampton, he somehow let a long-range Matt Le Tissier mishit trickle through his arms (and legs).
The tabloids cruelly but brilliantly dubbed him "The Blind Venetian." It stuck.
Then a clinical Chelsea tore United to shreds, with an all-at-sea Taibi to blame for one of the goals in a 5-0 mauling at Stamford Bridge.
After just four appearances, Ferguson decided to cut his losses, and Massimo—with the ink barely dry on a four-year contract—was rapidly offloaded to Reggina.
4. Paul Rachubka
Born in California, Rachubka moved to England at the age of seven, and just two years later, was invited to join United’s underage setup.
He was so highly rated by coach Tony Coton that he made his senior Red Devils debut at 18 in the 2000 FIFA World Club Championship in Brazil.
Yet Rachubka only made a couple more appearances for the first team (having to watch an on-loan Andy Goram play two games during the 2001 title run-in) before joining Charlton in the summer of 2002.
A succession of loan moves later, he settled as a regular at Blackpool but was struck down with a knee injury just as they were promoted to the Premier League, missing the majority of the next campaign.
His injury woes resulted in him being released, and a miserable spell at Leeds completely shattered his confidence. Sadly, he’s now without a club.
5. Fabien Barthez
The acrobatic Frenchman with the penchant for dribbling outside his box arrived in Manchester for £7.8m having just helped his country to win the European Championships, adding to his 1998 World Cup winner’s medal two years earlier.
He started impressively, with shades of a young Schmeichel in his unorthodox style. However, living it up with his then-girlfriend, model Linda Evangelista, Barthez grew increasingly erratic.
Ultimately, his eccentricity became a liability.
With each season’s anti-climactic episodes seeming to involve a Barthez boob or three, Roy Keane gave an impatient Fergie “the look,” and after three eventful years, it was au revoir.
6. Roy Carroll
The Northern Irishman, who came to Old Trafford from nearby Wigan for £2.5m in 2001, will forever be associated with the goal that wasn’t.
With seconds remaining in a scoreless game against Spurs at Old Trafford in January 2005, Carroll misjudged an audacious Pedro Mendez shot from near halfway. TV pictures showed he dropped the ball behind his goal-line before sheepishly scooping it out.
He got away with it, but the incident crystalized why he was never accepted as being of "United standard"—a spurious measurement—and Carroll’s lack of self-assurance was evident.
Having left on a free transfer after playing only 49 games in four years, he struggled for form and fitness at West Ham and then experienced alcohol and gambling woes.
He’s since had spells at various clubs in Britain and overseas and is now with Olympiacos in Greece.
Ricardo López Felipe. Remember him? No? Well, the Spaniard played a handful of first-team games in 2002-’03 after a £1.5m move from Real (Valladolid).
A penalty stop against Blackburn was his personal highlight, though given that he’d given away the spot-kick, it was probably the least he could do. Especially seeing as his services were to cost United £300,000 per appearance.
On his return, Ricardo’s hands were never put in harm’s way in his two subsequent seasons. But he later became something of a rock for Osasuna.
8. Tomasz Kuszczak
The fresh-faced Pole came from West Brom in 2006 looking like a real prospect.
But he suffered the same strange dip in standards that has afflicted so many of the club’s custodians over the years.
Frustrated at his lack of opportunities, the 30-year-old was released in June and is now minding the net for Brighton.
9. Tim Howard
Howard arrived from American MLS outfit Metrostars in 2003, and his athleticism and prowess at saving penalties soon confirmed him as a fans’ favourite.
But he was unable to reproduce a fantastic first season, and a couple of suspect performances in the Champions League—including a fatal mistake against Porto—put paid to his long-term United prospects, and Edwin van der Sar was signed.
Still, in the summer of 2006, David Moyes saw enough in him to do a deal, initially on loan.
Since then, Howard—while still prone to the odd howler—has been a key part of Everton’s consolidation and progress.
He came back to haunt his former employers in the 2009 FA Cup semifinal shootout, saving the spot-kicks of Dimitar Berbatov—though who wouldn’t have?—and Rio Ferdinand.
10. Ben Foster
Brought to Old Trafford from Stoke for £1m in 2005, Foster spent two stellar seasons on loan with Watford.
But the writing was on the wall when Hornets boss Aidy Boothroyd proclaimed him “better than … Edwin van der Sar” and predicted: “He is going to be the best goalkeeper in the world.”
No sooner had Foster been recalled by Fergie than he picked up a cruciate knee injury, and it was the fall of 2008 before he was selected for the first string.
A Man of the Match display in the 2009 League Cup final shootout win against Spurs (pictured) was as good as it would get.
Though Ferguson saw him as a genuine successor to the injured van der Sar at the start of season 2009-10, Foster’s form completely deserted him and he fell down the pecking order.
He was sold to Birmingham City at the end of that campaign, and after their relegation, followed by an impressive season-long loan at West Brom, Foster joined them permanently last summer.
Good enough and young enough to fulfil his potential. Just leave out the “… world” bit.