As I blog for the 100th time on this blog, I opted to give the honour to United's Number 1, Edwin van Der Sar. The big Dutchman was signed by Alex Ferguson after the 2004 season as a replacement for the error prone duo of Tim Howard and Roy Carroll. United had, since the turn of the new Millennium failed to find a suitable replacement for legendary goalkeeper Peter Schemichael. The great Dane did leave big shoes to fill after falling out with Sir Alex.
When Jose Mourinho arrived in England, he let be known that a good keeper can win a team 15 points over a league season. Not that Fergie did not know this but, it was quite difficult to find a good custodian at the time. He had already been disappointed by Fabian Barthez, who had arrived with an impressive CV(conceding just 3 goals at the '98 World Cup and pulling off crucial saves at Euro 2000). The Frenchman, it seemed, had signed a contract with Thierry Henry instead of signing one with Manchester United. Henry barely had a game against us without netting one for himself--even when we had the Gunners hit for dead with 6 of the best at OT, Barthez ensured that Henry at least made it to the score sheet. I've always wondered why Fabian chose to take goal-kicks with his side-foot against Arsenal till I learnt of this 'contract'.
And so the drama went on Roy Carroll (who couldn't grasp a ball) and Tim Howard (whose legs were caught square most of the time).
The signing of EVDS from Fulham proved to be the most significant at United in 2005 as he was, unlike his predecessors, more experienced. At the half-way stage of that season, many a journalists were already drawing comparisons between him and Schemichael. Last season, the Dutchman was part of a water tight defence that won clean sheet after clean sheet. Even when the goals were not flowing upfront, his crucial saves won us many points as we won many of our opening games with a 1-0 scoreline.
Now whilst I know of many keepers who are good in open-play, I've seen very few who are good both in open play and in penalty shoot-outs. Edwin is one of those few goalies whom you can rely on in both situations. Among other things, he will be remembered for having kept out all Chelsea penalties in the 2007 Community Shield. It was a bit flattering to win 3-0 on penalties. Last season, he saved a sudden death penalty to win United their third European Cup!
However, given the fickle nature of football fans these days, EVDS has come under criticism for one or two misjudgements of the ball. The equaliser Liverpool got at Anfield against us was largely attributed to him, even though Wes had the last touch.
It is almost as if as soon as he made it clear that this was going to be his last season, everyone finally realised that he was old and past 'his time'. Incredibly, no one would have believed you in May but know there is general unison when the subject of his age is discussed.
Truth be told, the Dutchman cannot defy the laws of age--but even Arsene Wenger(a lover of teens) will tell you that the best goal-keepers are beyond 30 years of age. It's why he kept faith in David Seaman and it's also why he signed Jens Lehmann at 34!
EVDS is the first real goalkeeper United have had since the departure of the great Dane and therefore deserves every vote of confidence he can get. For all his shortcomings, at least I can rest assured that he will never take a goal-kick with the side of his boot to an opposing striker!
I even expect that he will soon be handed a goalkeeping coaching job at Carrington when he hangs up his golden gloves.
Labels: EDWIN VAN DER SAR