2011 Champions League Final: Farewell to Manchester United's Edwin Van Der Sar

Phil Andrews@philandrewsWMCNCorrespondent IMay 28, 2011

Manchester United Keeper Edwin Van Der Sar
Manchester United Keeper Edwin Van Der Sar

Much like the previous 55 UEFA Championship finals, the 2011 offering will display some of the world’s top football talent, including two-time FIFA World Player-of-the-year Lionel Messi. 

The 24-year-old Argentine, however, is not devoid of a supporting cast when it comes to this year’s Barcelona squad, which also boasts the likes of  David Villa, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, just to name a few.

Of course, Barcelona’s opponent for this 56th annual UEFA Championship is certainly not lacking in the talent department either. Manchester United’s roster is stacked, with players like Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen.

While most will marvel at the play of the midfield and forwards in this matchup, my attention will be on the goalkeepers, because that’s what I do—train goal keepers (goalstopper.com).

Barcelona’s keeper, Víctor Valdés, is more than a serviceable backstop, but compared to the huge 6'5" Dutch dynamo between the United uprights, Valdés pails on comparison.

Manchester’s Edwin Van Der Sar, will be playing his 820th and final career game when the two teams meet. Van Der Sar is one of a handful of players to win the Champions League title with two clubs.

In 1995, he won the UEFA crown with his first club team, Ajax, and then again in 2008 with Manchester United. By the way, following that 2008 victory, he was actually crowned UEFA Man of the Match.

Accolades, however, are nothing new to Van Der Sar. During the 2008-09 season, he established the world league clean sheet record, by not allowing a goal over a span of 1,311 minutes, which is the equivalent to about 14 and a half games.

This past season, Van Der Sar became the oldest player to backstop a Premier League title team at 40 years and 205 days old. Edwin has also claimed the title of Best European Goalkeeper in 1995 (Ajax), 2008 (MU), 2009 (MU) and 2010 (MU) and the UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the year in 1995 (Ajax) and 2009 (MU).

No offense to my good friend Tim Howard, or Frenchman Fabian Barthez and former England national keeper Roy Carroll, but Edwin Van Der Sar is easily the best player to back stop United since the Great Dane Peter Schmeichel, the legendary Danish keeper who is without question one of the greatest players to ever patrol the 18.

Peter Schmeichel wasn’t just good; he was freakishly good. During his eight-year stint at Old Trafford, the Great Dane won five FA Premier League titles, three FA Cups, one League Cup and the UEFA Champions League.

So, the only question now remaining is who will replace Van der Sar as the new Red Devil backstop when he walks off the pitch this weekend for the last time?

Taking a sneak peak at Manchester United’s roster, I see backups Tomasz Kuszczak of Poland, Dutchman Anders Lindegaard and England’s own Ben Amos.

Word has it that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is not overly impressed by Kuszczak. Amos, the English under-20 national keeper, is still considered the future of Man U. That leaves Lindegaard. Hey, going Dutch has certainly worked in the past for Sir Alex, so why not give Andres the nod?

If  not Lindegaard, then perhaps United’s next keeper might come from the pool of following players: Craig Gordon of Sunderland, David De Gea from Athletico Madrid, Pepe Reina of Liverpool, Shay Given of Manchester City, Igor Akinfeev from CSKA Moscow or perhaps Maarten of Stekelenburg.

Just remember, whichever team you are rooting for in this year’s UEFA Champions League final, take a moment to marvel at the play of one football's all-time greats as Edwin Van Der Sar plays his final match.