On the back of a solid performance against Marseille and his Man of the Match outing against Arsenal last weekend, it is hard to believe that Edwin van der Sar is entering his final two months as a professional.
United fans chanted “one more year” during the Dutchman’s sterling showing in the quarterfinal of the FA Cup, but Fergie’s No. 1 is adamant that his decision to retire is final.
An outstanding issue is prevalent in Van der Sar’s decision, with his wife Annemarie suffering a stroke last year.
“Let's just say that it was playing on my mind from the moment Annemarie had her stroke. She has fought back from it. We decided on another year in England and thus to stay at Manchester United,” claimed the Old Trafford favourite.
Schmeichel’s Absence: The Lost Years
United fans are anticipating a similar void to be left from when legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel left in 1999.
After winning the historic treble, Manchester United were undoubtedly the best football team in the world, but without Schmeichel, they suffered and steadily slumped defensively.
Despite winning the league in 2000 and 2001, the goalkeeping position was never really filled until Van der Sar’s arrival.
In the 2000 season, Ferguson called on the services of Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi, who would go onto either make calamitous errors or little deference between the sticks for the Red Devils.
Fergie then obtained the services of Fabian Barthez, the World Cup-winning French goalkeeper.
Barthez was incredibly athletic, but his height constantly let him down. High shots generally caused the Frenchman problems.
United missed out on four league titles between 2001 and 2006 in their search for a new goalkeeper, missing out on three in a row between 2003 and 2006—the most consecutive years without a Premier League title in club history.
Van der Sar’s Impact
When the Flying Dutchman first arrived at Old Trafford, fans generally thought he was a bit too old and figured he would only feature for a year or two.
In his first season, Van der Sar performed very well, but United still missed out on the Premier League title, with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea beating them to the chase.
The next three seasons were all United’s, with Van der Sar playing a pivotal role.
Winning a place in the PFA Team of the Year in 2007, he showed his class and saved three penalties in United’s 16th Community Shield win against Chelsea three months later.
In the 2007-2008 season, Van der Sar was saving everything and was an integral part of the team that won the double. Long lives the memory of his fine save from Anelka’s penalty in Moscow to secure United another Champions League.
In the 2008-2009 season, Van der Sar helped the red side of Manchester to their 11th Premier League title, setting an all time record for clean sheets, going 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal.
This outstanding achievement won the Dutchman the Barclays Golden Glove award as well as the Best European Goalkeeper honour, which he won for the second time—the previous award coming 14 years earlier with Ajax.
The Changing of the Guard
As United fans watch with baited breath as their team go in search of another treble, every game on the way seems to show proof that Van der Sar is still very much in his prime despite his age.
Rumours began to circulate immediately after his retirement was announced at the end of January, with many keepers being considered as possible replacements for the Old Trafford legend.
Among them are Manuel Neuer, Igor Akinfeev and David De Gea, all of whom should cost United approximately £20 million.
There is no doubting the quality of these players, but similarly there is no doubt that when Fergie signed Bosnich and Barthez, they too were regarded as highly gifted goalkeepers.
In his six years with Manchester United, Edwin van der Sar, at the age of 40, has become a United legend. That's not something they exactly grant on arrival at Old Trafford.
The next in line will have awfully big boots to fill.
Originally written for The Evening Herald.
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