With Edwin Van der Sar confirming his intention to retire from professional soccer at the end of the current Premier League season, strong arguments are being made regarding who is the greatest goalkeeper ever to grace the Theatre of Dreams.
Van der Sar’s record and United is almost unrivaled with European and world titles won, clean sheet records and three league titles secured. Ask Manchester United supporters though who they believe to be their greatest goalkeeper, the answer is likely to be Peter Schmeichel.
Their records at United are comparable with both greats winning the Champions League, eight league titles and 259 international caps for Holland and Denmark between them. So just who is the greatest Manchester United goalkeeper since the turn of the Premier League?
In 2005, Sir Alex Ferguson raised a number of eyebrows with is £2m purchase of Van der Sar from Fulham for the then 35-year-old stopper. Van der Sar was seen as a one season stop-gap by many in the game to allow United to develop their younger talented goalkeepers.
In the five seasons that have succeded his arrival, Van der Sar has seen off a number of quality goalkeepers with the likes of England international Ben Foster having to move clubs for first-team football.
His record-breaking clean sheet record eclipsed that of any goalkeeper to have played in the English leagues. The defining moment of his Manchester United career took place on a mild Moscow evening when he produced a fine penalty save from Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka to enable Manchester United to win their third Champions of Europe title.
United’s current goalkeeping coach Eric Steele stated this week that Van der Sar would go down alongside Peter Schmeichel as one of the club's greats.
"He has been a fantastic servant," Steele told the BBC. "I was very lucky. I worked alongside Peter Schmeichel at Villa and I worked with Edwin for two and a half years. That penalty save in Moscow has elevated Edwin alongside Peter."
So with Van der Sar’s record at United placing him among the greatest goalkeepers of all time, why would United supporters favour Schmeichel?
When Schmeichel joined Manchester United from Danish side Bronby IF in 1991, the club entered its 24th year without winning the league title. Ferguson had saved his job by winning the FA Cup, which had injected a new found confidence into the club enabling them to defeat FC Barcelona in the now defunct Cup Winners Cup final.
Ferguson identified the need for a new goalkeeper if United were to challenge for the league title and gambled on the unknown Dane to replace the aging Les Sealey and unconvincing Jim Leighton.
In 1992, United came as close to winning the league title as they had for nearly a quarter of a century when they were piped to the title by bitter rivals Leeds United.
An unconvincing start to the first Premier League season saw United lose their first three games, leading to an outburst from the usually shy Dane, informing Sir Alex Ferguson in no uncertain terms that if the club did not go and find a new striker the club would fail in its quest for glory.
Ferguson’s response was to bring the mercurially talented Eric Cantona to Old Trafford. United went on to win their first Premier League title and laid the bedrock for further success followed.
Through Schmeichel’s actions, he is hailed by a number of Stretford Enders with indirectly bringing the league title back to Manchester as Eric Cantona led United to success they could only have dreamed about a couple of years previously.
Schmeichel’s ability to make saves from the most difficult of positions, his command of the penalty area and the way he marshaled his defence created confidence throughout the spine of the team, allowing them to play and with attacking flair which has become synonymous with United in the modern era.
Most clubs dream of finding a goalkeeper of the quality of Van der Sar and Schmeichel. Manchester United has been fortunate to find two within a short space of time. Whoever follows Van der Sar will have a massive job on their hands in convincing the manager, supporters and media that they are a suitable replacement.
They will have to live with the constant reminders of ghosts of goalkeepers past. Ask Fabian Barthez, Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi about that.
Lingaard, De Gea or Neuer, your challenge awaits!