Keeper no place to take risks
Reports that Manchester United’s goalkeeping coach Eric Steele has watched Aalesunds stopper Anders Lindegaard on no less than five occasions raises questions over Edwin van der Sar’s successor. Mindful of the botched attempt to replace Peter Schmeichel, could United once again be tempted to take a risk on a key position?
With 39-year-old van der Sar increasingly likely to retire next summer, United will need to bring in a new first choice stopper. Ben Amos, 18, is not yet ready for the first team and Tomasz Kuszczak surely not good enough.
Supporters have debated the merits of ‘keepers from David de Gea, the brilliant Spain Under-21 international, to Manuel Neuer, Hugo Lloris and Igor Akinfeev. Few would have picked out Lindegaard though, essentially a journeyman stopper for the best part of an underwhelming career.
Should United bid, as reports now suggest is likely, it is a choice way out of left field.
Lindegaard, a 26-year-old Danish ‘keeper with just over 70 professional games in his less than stellar career, has made astonishing progress over the past year. Having been used mainly as a substitute for the first six seasons as a pro, Lindegaard looked to be drifting out of the professional game.
Indeed, the ‘keeper was originally offered to Norwegian Tippeligaen side Aalesunds on trial, and after impressing during an 18-game loan spell from Danish side OB Odense, he permanently signed for the mid-ranked side. Aalesunds finished 13th in the Tippeligaen last season but won the Norwegian cup for the first time in the club’s short history.
Glowing reports of Lindegaard’s performances earned the 6’4″ stopper a first call-up to the national team this season, making his international début for Denmark in September.
Growing as his stature might be, should United follow through with a bid for Lindegaard in the January window then the club will be taking a huge punt on van der Sar’s succession.
Supporters can no doubt point to the surprise signing of Schmeichel himself, but at 26 and already an established international, the great Dane was far less of a shot in the dark.
United has been here before of course. When Schmeichel semi-retired to the sunnier climes of Portugal after the 1999 Champions League final, the club embarked on a road of mediocrity, signing at least seven ‘first choice’ goalkeepers – and plenty of others to boot – before eventually settling on van der Sar in summer 2005. It came six years too late.
Ferguson’s choices in the position after Schmeichel’s departure ranged from the inconsistent Frenchman Fabian Barthez – sometimes brilliant, often far too eccentric – to the laughably hapless £4.5 million Massimo Taibi. The Italian was such a huge embarrassment for Ferguson and the club that United shipped the player out after just four games, never to be spoken of again.
Meanwhile, American Tim Howard initially excelled but eventually suffered from a chronic case of nerves before being sold down the East Lancs Road to Everton. Roy Carroll was never good enough to be a ‘keeper of the very highest standard, and Ben Foster failed to take his personal chance last season.
Cold sweats form when the horror show that was Andy ‘two’ Gorams, Mark Bosnich, and Ricardo is mentioned.
A repeat of the post-99 fiasco is the gamble United will take should the club go for Lindegaard, however good the Dane may become. At 26, the player is no youngster and despite playing for one of the continent’s smaller clubs, will not benefit from a move to England if it is only to reside in the reserves.
United certainly don’t need another squad ‘keeper next season either unless the club is also planning for Kuszczak’s departure.
Little to nothing is known of Lindegaard’s ability to play on the biggest stage, no matter how many times United’s coaching staff has done its due diligence. Crowds in Norway average below 10,000 and Aalesunds was knocked out of this season’s Europa League by Motherwell. It’s no preparation for the rigours of the Premier League.
Not that anything is settled of course, with the club having watched all of Europe’s best ‘keepers in the past year. While only Akinfeev was effectively ruled out, Ferguson along with Steele personally watched De Gea a fortnight ago.
Lloris and Neuer will prove undoubtedly expensive – perhaps too much so for the Glazer family’s tastes. Meanwhile brilliant though De Gea is, at just 19-years-old the Atletico Madrid player is perhaps equally perilous.
This is, after all, a key acquisition. Whomever eventually joins the club after van der Sar hangs up his gloves will need to perform from the off. Goalkeepers, as Taibi will stand testament, are rarely given time to make mistakes in the Old Trafford cauldron.