Tag Edwin van der Sar

Tag Edwin van der Sar

Reds offer a little charity as season looms large

August 2, 2011 Tags: , , , , Opinion 15 comments

It has been more than a little busy for Sir Alex Ferguson this week, whose squad arrived back in Manchester after a successful tour of the United States. No sooner had the squad checked in at Carrington than it split in two, with seven players and Ferguson heading towards Marseille for a charity match on Tuesday night. Many others will join up with Edwin van der Sar in Amsterdam for the great Dutchman’s testimonial on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s game, which a Manchester United XI lost 8-2 to the home side, was held in aid of former Marseille goalkeeper Pascal Olmeta’s charity “Un sourire, un espoir pour la vie” – a smile, a hope for life. Patrice Evra, Park Ji-Sung, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones started for the visitors, while reserve teenage midfielder Paul Pogba was a second half substitute.

That United’s players were joined by former Red Fabian Barthez, David Ginola and even a local pop-star said much about the relaxed nature of the game, which at best offered Ferguson’s players additional minutes on the park ahead of Sunday’s Community Shield fixture with Manchester City at Wembley. Goals from Cleverley and Welbeck brought United back into the tie at 2-2 before Marseille ran away with the match in the second half; a relaxed Ferguson worried not a jot.

On to Amsterdam then for an afternoon of games in honour of van der Sar, who retired this summer. It promises to be an emotional occasion for the former Ajax goalkeeper, who returns to face the side with which the 40-year-old began his career in 1990. More than 800 games for Ajax, Juventus, Fulham, United and Holland have followed for one of the all-time greats in his position and a gentleman to boot.

van der Sar is staging a unique occasion at the Amsterdam Arena, which comprises not a full match but a series of games. First, van der Sar’s son Joe will play for United Under-13s against Ajax’ age-group team. Then the European Cup winning Ajax side of 1995 takes on Cup of Nations’ champions Holland from 1998. Finally fans will see ‘Edwin’s Dream Team’ take on Ajax in an hour-long encounter.

United first teamers Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney have joined the party in the Dutch capital, while former Reds Gary Neville and Louis Saha will also be in the team.

“Hopefully it’ll be a great night,” van der Sar told official rag manutd.com.

“It’s a chance for fans to see some top players and some of the current up-and-coming stars for Ajax. It’s 12 years since I left Ajax, so I’m really looking forward to going back and seeing old friends. I’m grateful for their support with the event. This is the perfect way to say goodbye.

“And I’m delighted the manager, Rene [Meulensteen] and the players are coming over for the game. I’d like to thank fans and staff at United for six great years. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I see you again.”

Then on Friday United takes on New York Cosmos at Old Trafford in Paul Scholes’ testimonial. Cosmos is a club without a team, a franchise sans stadium. Little more than a badge, a marketing ploy, a rich man’s wet dream. For Scholes, all style and substance during a truly wonderful 20 year career at Old Trafford, the opposition is, of course, an oxymoron.

The opposition does possess something United does not though: Eric Cantona. The 45-year-old is not a man, he is… a brand ambassador and Cosmos’ Director of Soccer. Even if the title sounds incongruent it takes nothing away from the five years Cantona gave to United before walking away in 1997. He is remembered, as always, with undying affection by Old Trafford regulars, even if the make-up of the club’s support has changed beyond recognition since the Frenchman’s retirement.

For the expected full-house, whether fans come to pay homage to heroes old or more recent, the occasion will be no disappointment.

On to the real thing then: Sunday’s game with City – billed as a portent for the upcoming season at hype-obsessed Sky – marks the start of 328 days of continuous competitive football, ending with Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland. By the end of the coming season United may well be English Champions for a 20th time. Few will bet against it even if Ferguson is unable to land the additional midfielder than so many supporters crave.

Ferguson will likely use the tie as a final warm-up before the Premier League season begins on 14 August. One wonders whether City – the noisy cross-town neighbours – will be a little more circumspect. With genuine pretensions to the title Roberto Mancini’s men, now boasting £38 million Sergio Aguëro in the squad, will surely want to strike the first psychological blow of the season.

In safe hands: David de Gea profile

June 6, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 65 comments

Having played less than 100 competitive first team games, Manchester United’s €20 million acquisition of Atlético Madrid’s David de Gea represents a significant risk. Indeed, in replacing Edwin van der Sar with a callow youth – de Gea is not 21 until November – Sir Alex Ferguson is taking a potentially huge gamble next season. But it’s a risk that is almost certainly worth taking, with the Madrid-born stopper offering the potential to be the world’s best in his position.

de Gea’s move comes after Old Trafford scouts followed the ‘keeper for almost two years as the Spanish under-21 international grew from ‘B’ level football at the start of the 2009/10 campaign, to the cusp of the World Cup squad nine months later. Those observers, which included Ferguson during the now infamous ‘scouting trip’ to Valencia last autumn, have witnessed a player mature from the kid who led Spain to the under-17 World Cup final in 2007, to a ‘keeper of authority and composure at Atlético.

Indeed, de Gea’s uncanny likeness to van der Sar will provide reassurance to supporters and team mates alike, despite the player’s lack of experience. At 6′ 5″, with a seemingly unflappable personality, many feel de Gea possesses both the physical and mental attributes to make it at Old Trafford.

Certainly, Ferguson expressed few doubts when United broke the official media silence after Gary Neville’s testimonial in late May.

“We’ve been working on it for quite a while. We identified him quite a while back as one we should go for,” admitted the 69-year-old United boss.

“He’s a young goalkeeper, very quick, good composure, presence and an outstanding replacement for Van der Sar. We were looking for the same type of qualities as Edwin, because the one great quality Edwin always had was his composure and organisational ability. With David De Gea, he is very similar that way.”

Although the deal is now in place with both Atlético and the player the official announcement will take place after de Gea has officially terminated an agreement with his current agent Hector Rincon on 31 June. In all probability the Madrileño will sign on with Jorge Mendes’ Gestifute – the agency that brought United Nani, Anderson and Bébé – and be unveiled to the media on Friday 1 July, when the international transfer window opens.

In the meantime planning is well advanced for de Gea’s introduction to Manchester, with the inevitable culture shock that the move will bring. The youngster is moving to England with his parents and popstar girlfriend Edurne. The player’s London-based sister will also help integrate the family into English life, according to those close to the deal.

However, it has been a difficult campaign at Atlético as the player’s form suffered under the weight of pressure, both from United’s spring offer and inevitable ‘season season syndrome’. Mistakes have come aplenty as Atlético shipped 53 goals in La Liga, missing out on a place in Europe next season.

Yet, few observers believe that de Gea is anything bar top class, including those closest to the 20-year-old.

“This has been an irregular season. He’s had his head confused because of all the rumours. At times he didnt sleep well but we’ve seen what a marvelous talent he is,” Spanish pundit Guileme Balague told Talkradio recently.

“I’ve spoken to van der Sar about him and said ‘what do you think of him?’ He said: ‘he’s got everything’. He is van der Sar. The man can play the ball. He’s very tall, his heart goes very slow, he doesn’t get the tension.”

However cool-headed, de Gea will inevitably come under huge pressure to perform at United, with every mistake scrutinised by the media and fans alike. After all Atlético – Spain’s ‘third club’ – is rarely in the running for the country’s major honours in an age of Real and Barcelona’s Spanish duopoly. This despite lifting the 2010 UEFA Europea League and Vincente Calderon’s notoriously demanding fans.

Former Red Ricardo López, who played just five games for the club over three years, says that de Gea’s personality will see him through the inevitable tough times ahead.

“De Gea doesn’t have nerves. I’m convinced that De Gea is good enough to play for Manchester United,” claimed Ricardo.

“He’s big, quick and his concentration is at a high level throughout the game. He’s comfortable with high balls and is very confident despite being so young.
 There are very few goalkeepers who can deal with that.

 Some goalkeepers need to feel the confidence of the manager. De Gea is the type of goalkeeper who can give the manager confidence.

“He does not worry when he plays against Barcelona or Real Madrid. That is a good sign because some goalkeepers become nervous when they play in front of big crowds in the biggest stadiums like Old Trafford.”

Before de Gea makes his Theatre of Dreams début he will represent Spain at this summer’s Euro Under 21 championships in Denmark, appearing against England in the group stages. The tournament will offer an early view to those Reds curious about the new signing, including new team mates Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck.

Quick Facts

David de Gea Quintana

Born: Madrid, Spain 7 November 1990

– Atlético B: 35
– Atlético Madrid: 84
– Spanish age groups (U15, U17, U20, U21): 39

– FIFA U-17 World Cup Runner-up: 2007
– UEFA Europa League: 2010
– UEFA Super Cup: 2010
– UEFA European Under-21 Championship 2011

Reds keeping options open

April 21, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 24 comments

Anders Lindegaard says he is up for the challenge of becoming Manchester United’s new full-time goalkeeper next season but what kind of competition will the Dane face? With Atletico Madrid’s David De Gea reportedly unsure about a move to England, and Schalke’s Manuel Neuer certain to join Bayern Munich, United’s options in the transfer market are now more limited. It leaves open the prospect that Lindegaard, and not an expensive new recruit, could be Edwin van der Sar’s Old Trafford successor.

Lindegaard, a £3.5 million January purchase from Norwegian club Aalesund , started just two FA Cup games for United before being struck down by a knee injury last month. In the meantime United is stepping up the pursuit of De Gea, for whom the Reds are reportedly prepared to pay the player’s contract buy-out clause of €20 million. However, with the Spaniard apparently reluctant to leave the safe confines of La Liga and the trail now cold on Neuer, United could feasibly shift focus to third-choice Maarten Stekelenburg, or further down the now extensive short-list.

The developments raise the prospect of United failing to secure one of the world’s leading ‘keepers in the wake of van der  Sar’s departure; the mistake the club made in 1999 when Peter Schmeichel retired to the warmer climes of Portugal and the Reds brought in free-transfer Mark Bosnich.

Lindegaard, who has four caps for Denmark, is apparently unconcerned about the potential for competition, with the 27-year-old saying he will prove himself at Old Trafford and aims to become Sir Alex Ferguson’s number one.

“The question is more complex than just a yes or no answer,” said Lindegaard, who underwent a knee operation in March.

“There are many factors to consider but it is, of course a goal. I don’t think about [other ‘keepers coming to the club] that’s not on my table and I can’t say one thing or another about it. The only thing I can do I show myself and prove to everyone that I should be the first-choice ‘keeper.”

Whether Lindegaard is the new van der Sar, or simply replaces the departing Tomasz Kuszack, owes more to United’s purchasing strategy than the player’s talent though. While De Gea is seemingly the club’s first choice, United’s senior management faces a dilemma should Ferguson not claim his man. Seek a less talented alternate or wait, trusting Lindegaard to hold the fort.

Meanwhile, there is no little irony in United’s fixture with Schalke next week. Neuer’s team has found form under new coach Ralf Ranglick, although there is no chance the 24-year old will remain in Gelsenkirchen next season. Indeed, with the news leaking out Bayern supporters jeered their new player this weekend, holding aloft banners proclaiming “No Neuer” during the side’s German cup fixture. There is, after all, no love lost between Neuer’s current and future clubs.

“I wanted to be honest and explain my decision,” a visibly upset Neuer told reporters in Gelsenkirchen. “I want to develop further and take a new big step in my career.”

That Bayern had let news of Neuer’s capture known in ‘FC Hollywood’s’ typical less-than-subtle manner forced the 24-year-old’s hand.

There are alternatives though, not least the talented Rene Adler, who is so desperate for a move to United that the 26-year-old apparently has an Old Trafford exit clause in his contract. Or perhaps Udinese‘s Slovenian Samir Handanović, who has impressed in Serie A this season, or Raul Patricio the Portugal number one whom Sporting Lisbon seem only to happy to sell. The list of tabloid reportage on supposed targets is, as always, lengthy.

Yet the question remains, if De Gea is United’s first choice, will the club settle for second best? Indeed, should it? The answer may not be to Lindegaard’s liking, although as the Dane says – it’s ‘not on his table.’

Stoppers on the Reds’ list

David de Gea, 20, Atletico Madrid – the Spanish under-21 international is unsure about whether to leave his home town club, while the club has demanded he commit his future to Atletico or leave. May yet conceivably sign a new deal at the Vincente Calderon rather than move abroad at a tender age.

Manuel Neuer, 24, Schalke – declared his future is already decided, with Bayern director Uli Hoeness’ less-than-subtle brag this week pointing the way to a €21 million move to southern Germany.

Maarten Stekelenburg, 28, Ajax – the Dutch international is available and willing but do United’s scouts rate the World Cup finalist? Although United coach Rene Muelenstein reportedly said the giant Ajax stopper is the club’s “first choice” it appears to be a smokescreen.

Igor Akinfeev, 24, CSKA Moscow – apparently unimpressed with the Russian’s stature, United’s gaze wondered away from the talented youngster some time ago.

Hugo Lloris, 27, Olympique Lyonnais – French World Cup ‘keeper Lloris has consistently impressed in the Champions League but would come with a heavy price tag. United is a very unlikely buyer.

Samir Handanović, 26, Udinese – Slovenian of Bosnian decent, Handanović’s slow burning career now seems ready for the big time. Not a big name, but available at a reasonable price.

Rui Patrício, 23, Sporting Lisbon – brilliant but raw, Sporting will happily cash in on the player who has only recently made the Portugal national team but missed out on the World Cup.

Rene Adler, 26, Bayer Leverkusen – openly seeking a move to Old Trafford according to reports but United will only move for the German international if other options fall through.

Poll: who should replace Edwin?

January 28, 2011 Tags: Polls 30 comments

Edwin van der Sar has formally announced his retirement, effective May 2010. The legendary Dutchman has played close to 800 matches in his career, and more than 250 for Manchester United. It leaves Sir Alex Ferguson with a key decision to make this summer – buy a top class replacement or trust Tomasz Kuszczak and Anders Lindegaard.

Who would you buy?

Who should replace Edwin van der Sar?

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Goodbye, farewell, Edwin the gent

January 28, 2011 Tags: Opinion 34 comments

So Edwin van der Sar has confirmed what most supporters expected all along – the 40-year-old goalkeeper plans to retire this summer and spend more time with his family. The decision will surprise few of course – least of all the club – with Manchester United scouting the global market for a replacement this past year.

The stopper, whose wife suffered a stroke in 2009, said that he will play his last match when the season draws to a close in May. After nearly 800 games – 245 and counting for United – the ‘keeper will be remembered as one the most reliable and decorated in the modern game.

And with van der Sar’s passing into the football wilderness United will lose a great of the game: a fine talent, a consummate professional and a true gentleman.

The former Ajax, Juventus and Fulham stopper told his management team’s website today that after two decades in football his family comes first.

“It is now time to pay attention to my family,” said van der Sar.

“I cannot really identify a time when it happened. 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.

“But, once engaged in the season, the thought of saying goodbye started to gnaw a bit more emphatically.  I thought about stopping, maybe a year ago.

“It is a difficult process. After a defeat, I thought differently than after playing a few good games in a row.

“My age played no role. I am 40 years old but I still feel fit. And then the decision came suddenly. Do not ask me how or why, but suddenly you know. That was sufficient.

“The time has come to devote greater attention to my family – although they have never complained. Everyone in the family has indeed always had to focus on me, but we have also had a lot in return.”

The Dutchman’s arrival at Old Trafford in 2005 came six years too late of course. Ferguson’s attempt to sign van der Sar following Peter Schmeichel’s retirement in 1999 fell on deaf ears, with the stopper infamously refusing to renege on a verbal agreement with Juventus. van der Sar’s honour proved one of the costliest mistakes of Ferguson’s quarter century at the Old Trafford helm.

Instead, the Scot first signed Fabien Barthez, the erratic Frenchman whose career at United died on a series of calamitous mistakes. Others came and went too – Roy Carroll, Tim Howard, the risible Massimo Taibi, among many others.

Indeed, much as van der Sar’s contribution to three Premier League titles – potentially four come May – and the 2008 Champions League is central to United’s recent success, the Dutchman’s legacy is his stability through a period of uncertainty. The ‘keeper’s unflappable calmness, presence and authority steered United’s past a period of near terminal goalkeeping decay during the early noughties. United will surely miss him.

Over the past decade many stoppers can lay claim to be the world’s best – Iker Casillas, Petr Čech, Gianluigi Buffon, for example – and each has a strong case. But none could have done more for United than van der Sar. The right man, at the right time.

It is with sadness that Edwin hangs up his clubs; with regret that the Dutchman could not have joined the United family earlier. But United has also given much to the player, with the end coming after a glorious Indian summer.

“Which [trophy] doesn’t really matter, that’s the thing you aim for and I hope that materialises in the end,” added van der Sar, who finished with more than 120 caps for Holland.

“When I initially came here I was just happy to sign a two-year contract and try to win a league before I retired.

“Luckily I was able to achieve a little bit more than that and also prolong it for a little bit longer than two years.

“It would have been nice to have a few years longer here but that’s life – you don’t always get what you want at the right time. I am just happy that at least we got to come together and experience a good few years.

“It’s been nice, it’s been a great experience – even at my age – to be at a club as big as United. It’s just been a joy.”

But United, as Gary Neville once so accurately said, is a cynical club. Come the summer Ferguson will invest in a new ‘keeper to work alongside Anders Lindegaard, the Dane who joined a fortnight ago, and the team will inevitably move on.

Indeed, United has reportedly concluded months of search with a shortlist of three competing players as van der Sar’s top class replacement. It’s a high quality list too – compatriot Maarten Stekelenburg, German World Cup star Manuel Neuer, and the brilliant but callow Spaniard David De Gea.

Of the three Stekelenburg is the most experienced and the safe choice but, arguably, the least naturally talented. Meanwhile, Neuer is available although not necessarily affordable, with Schalke financially stable. Each will do a fine job at Old Trafford.

Yet De Gea is the romantic choice though. Just 20, and suffering a ‘difficult second season’ with Atlético de Madrid, De Gea has all the hallmarks of his erstwhile predecessor in the United net – calm under pressure, presence among men, genuine trust of his peers. He’s also the most talented.

In a summer of change, with Neville and Paul Scholes potentially heading out of Old Trafford too, the succession is now a decision of high importance.

Ferguson once missed out on van der Sar. Supporters and the club can only hope the Scot gets the right man this time.

The defence has it

January 17, 2011 Tags: , , , , Opinion 23 comments

Should Manchester United complete a 19th domestic title come May it will have little to do with star player Wayne Rooney. Nor, though influential, will Nani take the plaudits. Ditto Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Anderson. Much as United’s attacking players can take overdue credit for becoming the division’s the second highest goalscorers, it is the defence that will win it.

Indeed, so imperious have captain Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand been this season that there is surely no better central defensive partnership in world football. Coupled with Patrice Evra’s status as the finest left-back on the planet, Rafael da Silva’s rapid progress and Edwin van der Sar’s assured composure and United may well land the title despite a paucity of creative options.

United’s strengths and weaknesses were exposed against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, with the Reds watertight in defence despite playing the final quarter with 10 men. At the same time, United created too few chances to win at White Hart Lane as the visitors drew an eighth Premier League match on the road this season.

No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson was fulsome in his praise of his back five, whose control over Rafael van der Vaart, Peter Crouch, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon was almost total. That Spurs managed just two strikes on target is symptomatic of just how well marshalled Vidic’s colleagues are this season.

“The kind of pressure we were under were just long balls into the box really,” claimed Ferguson today.

“With Ferdinand and Vidic as your centre-backs you know you can cope with that. They were fantastic. The whole back four did really, really well.

“In the context of Tottenham’s home record this season and the performances they have given, we have got to take it as a good point for us.”

Even Rafael, harshly sent off for a second bookable offence with twenty minutes to go, drew praise from colleagues for another mature performance that largely kept Bale at check.

Should United win the title by that single point gained in London then Ferguson will be have much to celebrate. Yet, it is not a single season transformation in United’s play that has seen the Reds become so secure at the back. Critics can – and do – point to the fundamental change in United’s style over the past decade, from the side that scored three against Barcelona, twice, in the swashbuckling 1999 season, to the often overly cautious outfit we see today.

While United did not exactly morphed Jose Mourinho’s Inter at Camp Nou circa Spring 2010, there have been times when the Reds have performed a passable impression. It is not the ‘United way’ perhaps but one that fans have become accustomed too over the past decade.

Part of United’s metamorphosis over the years is down to Ferguson’s obsession with performing in Europe. Largely it has worked. Yet, much of the Reds’ style this season is surely down to the dearth of attacking creative talent in the squad, with Rooney too often anonymous, Nani still inconsistent, Antonio Valencia injured and Paul Scholes’ legs finding no friend in father time.

It showed against Spurs, with the Reds managing just seven shots – on target or not – in the match. No enough for the pretenders to Chelsea’s thrown. Similar sterile performances have been evident in many of United’s away fixtures at home and abroad this season.

“We didn’t bother them too much,” admitted Ferguson

“We had one or two good opportunities at times when we got to the last third of the field but we just didn’t quite have the cutting edge. In the second half Anderson attacked the back four four times and maybe his selection of pass or a shot on goal would have been better.”

It is, always has been and one wonders whether it always will be the Brazilian’s principal failing. For a player so widely touted – including by Ferguson himself – as the natural successor to Scholes, Anderson does not score, nor create goals or even retain possession more than three-quarters of the time.

In defence United’s resources will be stretched in coming games, with Rafael set to miss at least one match, possibly more, after the Football Association charged the 20-year-old defender with improper conduct today. Little wonder after the youngster both disputed referee Mike Dean’s erroneous decision and then refused to promptly leave the field.

“It was Mary Decker and Zola Budd,” said Spurs’ manager Harry Redknapp in the Brazilian’s defence.

“He was just running and he has clipped Benoît’s heels. He has not broken his stride and stuck a leg out, saying ‘I’ll trip him’. He was trying to get out of the way.”

But with Rafael out, John O’Shea injured and Wes Brown all but forgotten at Old Trafford, Ferguson may turn to the Brazilian’s brother Fabio, who featured in United reserves’ 8-0 win over Bury this week. Often touted as the more talented sibling, Fabio’s progress has been hampered by Evra’s outstanding form and persistent injuries.

With Rafael set to miss fixtures against Birmingham City and potentially Blackpool in the coming week, Fabio’s ability to integrate into United’s outstanding back-five will be severely tested. As will United’s title credentials.

Reds set to confirm £3.5m Lindegaard with De Gea on horizon

November 18, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 40 comments

Manchester United will seal a £3.5 million deal for Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard in the next few days, with the player moving to Old Trafford in January, according to reports today. Lindegaard, currently on the books of Norwegian Tippeligaen outfit Aalesunds FK, is the first of two possible goalkeeping acquisitions before next summer.

United expect Edwin van der Sar to retire and number two Tomasz Kuszazck is likely to leave the club, with first team opportunities limited.

Aalesunds’ representatives were seen at Old Trafford today, although United ceo David Gill was absent at a Football Association board meeting in London. However, with the Norwegian club keen to push through a deal, formalities might conclude before the weekend. Last night Lindegaard appeared to bid farewell to his colleagues.

“I don’t know if I have played my last match for Aalesund,” Lindegaard told Sporten.dk.

“My plan is to move on now. You have got to be a very good goalkeeper to get sold these days.”

Lindegaard, 26, has just appeared in just under 100 professional games in a less than stellar career to date. However, the Dane has made astonishing progress over the past year. Having been used mainly as a back-up 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 Aalesunds on trial, and after impressing during an 18-game loan spell from Danish side OB Odense, he permanently signed for the Western Norwegian outfit. Somewhat ironically, former Red Roy Carroll’s arrival at OB signalled Lindegaard’s departure.

Aalesunds finished 4th in the Tippeligaen last season and won the Norwegian cup for the first time in the club’s short history in 2009.

Tor-Kristian Karlsen, the football consultant and scout familiar to many on social-networking site Twitter, described the player as a “good old fashion goalkeeper, nothing flash, not really a great footballer but suits English football.”

He is a “punt for first choice, more than adequate for second or third and it won’t have been an expensive deal,” he added.

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, which has now extended to four caps. Lindegaard kept a clean sheet in last night’s friendly international match against the Czech Republic, which ended 0-0.

Despite Lindegaard’s growing stature it is not thought he will be the only goalkeeping acqusition at Old Trafford, as United seek to minimise the disruption when van der Sar quits in June 2011.

Mindful of the botched attempt to replace Peter Schmeichel in 1999, United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele has watched Lindegaard on no less than five occasions this season together with a raft of other talent throughout Europe.

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 others – before eventually settling on van der Sar in summer 2005. It came six years too late.

Indeed, United has watched David de Gea, Manuel Neuer, Hugo Lloris and Igor Akinfeev in particular over the past year. Few supporters would have picked out Lindegaard though, essentially a journeyman stopper for the best part of an underwhelming career.

However, United is also rumoured to be on the brink of signing David de Gea, the brilliant Spain Under-21 international, from Atlético Madrid in a deal worth €17.5 million. Madrid-based sports ‘paper Marca today said the only remaining issue is whether the 20-year-old joins United is January or next summer.

This view was dismissed by Atlético president Enrique Cerezo today, with the Spanish side notoriously hard-nosed about transfer negotiations.

“Nobody has talked to us. Nor do I have a clue about this matter,” Cerezo claimed.

“We hope that David de Gea remains an Atlético Madrid player for a very long time.”

de Gea started last season as Atléti’s third choice but injuries and form forced the youngster into the spotlight during a run to the Europa League final. Such were the Madrid-born player’s performances that he made Spain’s provisional 30-man World Cup squad last summer, eventually losing out to more experienced rivals.

Birthday boy Edwin turns 40

October 29, 2010 Tags: Opinion 1 comment

Edwin van der Sar turns 40 today, becoming the first quadragenerian to play for Manchester United since Billy Meredith in the 1920s. The Dutchman, possibly in his last season before retiring next summer, has appeared 231 times for United since joining from Fulham in 2005 and 888 in a career that now spans nearly 20 years.

In a career of remarkable longevity van der Sar has won 25 major team honours and countless individual awards, together with amassing 130 international caps before retiring – for a second time – from the Dutch national side in 2008.

The Dutchman has created a stature at the very highest level of the game that few ‘keepers can match in recent times.

“There are certain criteria to be a goalkeeper here: good experience, personality and a track record,” said Ferguson recently.

“Edwin has all of those qualities. He didn’t cost us a lot of money, about £2m, so he’s right up there with my best signings.

“We really should have gone for him when Peter left. We went in too late. Martin Edwards, the chairman at the time, had an agreement with Mark Bosnich which took the wind out of our sails.

“Edwin is such a great example of what can be achieved and how long you can last in the game if you keep the light of enthusiasm and ambition inside you.”

van der Sar had already agreed to join Juventus when Ferguson’s call came. The Dutchman’s word to the Old Lady was kept and Ferguson seemingly spent another six years seeking a permanent successor to Peter Schmeichel.

Indeed, Ferguson used 10 different ‘keepers before settling on van der Sar five years ago. While Fabien Barthez and Tim Howard initially succeeded at Old Trafford, others were calamitous failures. The Scot’s purchase of Massimo Taibi ranks alongside the worst in nearly 25 years at Old Trafford; Ricardo, Raimond van der Gouw and Roy Carroll not talented enough to succeed.

Bosnich, meanwhile, arrived at Old Trafford for a second spell at the club overweight and seemingly unable to deal with the inevitable pressure of being United’s ‘keeper.

The question now is whether 40-year-old van der Sar will commit to United past summer 2011 or retire as widely expected. The club’s goalkeeping coach Eric Steele recently said that “Ed has made his mind up and said this is his last year.” The player later described Steele’s comments were “nonsense” and denied that a decision is imminent.

Should van der Sar indicate he will stay at the club beyond 2011, Sir Alex Ferguson will offer the Dutchman a new contract in a heartbeat. With Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes also on the cusp of finishing their careers, and Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves out of contract, any postponement will bring Ferguson a welcome delay in finding a replacement.

It seems an outside bet though and the challenge of adequately replacing van der Sar is one that Ferguson is yet to resolve. Tomasz Kuszczak, the erstwhile number two, is also likely to move on in the summer after fours years as an under-study.

Yet, United’s net has been cast globally in the search for the right replacement. The club’s scouts have watched Atletico Madrid’s brilliant teenager David de Gea, Denmark’s late-developing Anders Lindegaard, Igor Akinfeev of CSKA Moscow and Germany’s Manuel Neuer in recent months. French stopper Hugo Lloris is also under consideration, although there is little chance of United meeting Olympique Lyonnais’ prohibitive valuation.

The club also invited Algeria’s World Cup goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi and Thailand stopper Kawin Thamsatchanan for trials at Old Trafford in a search that is both global and intensive.

For his part, van der Sar is understandably reluctant to make a decision on retirement too early.

“When I was younger, I thought maybe I would finish in my mid-30s, but that is a normal time to be thinking about it when you are younger and for players at this level,” said the former Ajax, Juventus and Fulham ‘keeper.

“That would have been the obvious time to finish, but I only came to United late in my career and maybe that is why I am still enjoying it.”

Three Premier League titles, a Champions League winners’ medal and a new top-flight record of 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal in 2009 have followed in his time in Manchester.

In common with many supporters and his manager, perhaps van der Sar might  concede he join United six years too late.

Keeper no place to take risks

October 5, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 32 comments

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.

van der Sar confirms new contract

February 26, 2010 Tags: Shorts No comments

Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar has signed a new one-year contract with the club that will keep the great Dutchman at Old Trafford until June 2011. The contract, worth around £5 million, is reward the the stoppers’ continuing good form. The former-Ajax ‘keeper has played 16 times for the club in an injury-hit season.

The news, broken last week but confirmed by United today, ensures a sixth season at the club for the 39-year-old player. van der Sar, who joined United in a £2.5 million deal in June 2005, has missed games this season due to hand and knee injuries, together with a serious illness for his wife Annemarie.

“Edwin’s professionalism and dedication to his job and the way he looks after himself as a professional has given him the longevity in the game,” Sir Alex Ferguson told ManUtd.com

“That longevity includes such great experience not just at United, but at Juventus, Ajax and on an international level. We are absolutely delighted he is continuing for another year.”

van der Sar, who has appeared 207 times for United, is credited with a resurgence in United’s form during February following the Dutchman’s return to fitness.

“I still feel good and am enjoying my football,” van der Sar told ManUtd.com.

“This is a great club and I was shown a great deal of compassion and support during a difficult time in December and January for which I am extremely grateful. I am looking forward to winning more trophies with this great team.”

United is now unlikely to spend heavily on a new goalkeeper this summer. The club has been linked with big-money transfer moves for CSKA Moscow’s Igor Akinfeev and Schalke’s Manuel Neuer.

Doubts also exist about the long-term futures of United reserves Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak, who have each played 13 games this season.