By Ryan Cargill.
Upon picking up his UEFA Champions League winners medal on a historic night in May 1999, Peter Schmeichel had decided to find a new challenge in football, having achieved everything possible at Old Trafford. This would leave a void at Manchester United, but nobody could have guessed how long it would take for a true successor to arrive.
Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Roy Carroll, Tim Howard and dare we say it, Massimo Taibi have come and gone with nothing more than a degree of failure associated with each of them.
At the end of the 2004-5 Barclays Premier League season, after finishing a staggering 18 points behind champions Chelsea in 3rd place, Sir Alex Ferguson knew it was time for a rethink, and that began with the man between the sticks.
In June of that year, Ferguson paid £2m for Fulham’s 34 year-old Dutch ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar, provoking many raised eyebrows from United fans, with complaints of being too old and how his best years were behind him.
In the 2008-09 season, he would go on a streak of 1,311 Premier League minutes without conceding a goal, thus breaking a world record in the process.
With six years at the club, along with 3 Premier Leagues and a Champions League winners medal, van der Sar has announced that he will retire at the end of the current season, with no intention of reversing it this time. This once again leaves Ferguson with yet another goalkeeping dilemma.
Although new Danish recruit Anders Lindegaard may be the long-term answer, he is yet to be proven and Tomasz Kuszczak hasn’t looked particularly consistent in his 58 appearances for the Red Devils.
This means the boss may be forced to look elsewhere in an attempt to find a long-term replacement. We look at the top four candidates to replace van der Sar and discuss their strengths and weaknesses:
David de Gea, 20 (Atletico Madrid)
Youngster de Gea came through the ranks at Atletico and, after impressing for the reserve side, was given his chance to shine when Sergio Asenjo made some high profile errors in the 2009-10 season. Quickly establishing himself as the Atletico No. 1, he helped the side win the Europa League and also starred in the UEFA Super Cup win over Inter Milan in 2010.
Strengths – Spanish U21 ‘keeper de Gea has been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford and with a string of impressive performances in La Liga, could be the long-term solution.
Weaknesses – Has only played 47 league games for Atletico, experience and big-game nerves could be a problem.
Hugo Lloris, 24 (Olympique Lyonnais)
French stopper Lloris is viewed as one of the best goalkeepers in world football and he has completed a stellar rise for a player who did not even travel to Euro 2008.
Lloris was named goalkeeper of the season two years in succession ahead of his Marseille rival, Steve Mandanda. He also won his first French cap in a friendly against Uruguay in November 2008 and soon made the No. 1 jersey his own.
Strengths: Boasting lightning reflexes and good decision-making, Lloris is capable of the spectacular and is also a formidable opponent in one-on-one situations. Has age on his side.
Weaknesses: Despite being 6′ 2”, Lloris still needs to work on his physical presence and his lack of experience on the biggest stage can be an issue.
Pepe Reina, 28 (Liverpool)
Reina may be the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and a Liverpool icon, but for Spain he is unfortunate enough to play in the same era as Iker Casillas, Vicente del Bosque’s established No.1 and arguably the greatest goalkeeper of his age group on the planet.
Reina also won the Premier League Golden Glove award for the most clean sheets for three years in succession and has boasts an impressive penalties to saves ratio – most notably in the FA Cup final of 2006 and the Champions League semi-final win over Chelsea in 2007.
It is unlikely that Liverpool would allow him to make the move down the M62 to Man United, but Reina himself is yet to completely rule it out.
Strengths: Reina is the very model of a modern goalkeeper blessed as he is with impressive agility and lightning reactions. He also boasts excellent distribution and has started many a successful Liverpool counter-attack, as well as proving one of the best penalty-stoppers in the world game.
Weaknesses: Like any goalkeeper, Reina is subject to the odd gaffe and has struggled to command his defence when dealing with set pieces on occasions.
Manuel Neuer, 25 (Schalke 04)
A European Under-21 champion in 2009, Neuer decisively transferred his club form to the senior international stage when starring for Germany in the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. He was unexpectedly elevated to the No. 1 shirt following the tragic death of Robert Enke and an injury to Rene Adler.
Famously, he claimed he fooled Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda into failing to spot that Frank Lampard’s shot had crossed the line for England in the second round of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Strengths: Neuer’s impressive reflexes make him a tremendous shot-stopper but his excellent distribution, almost Schmeichel-esque also ensures he is an offensive threat.
Weaknesses: He could be a more commanding presence in his own box, though Neuer has worked hard on this aspect of his game in recent times.
Whoever Ferguson chooses to buy or promote to No.1 next season, they have huge gloves to fill. Following in the footsteps of van der Sar and Schmeichel may be a daunting prospect for a potential successor, but the importance of having a commanding and confident ‘keeper cannot be stressed enough, just ask Arsenal.
On track for a 19th Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, we bid farewell to Edwin van der Sar. When he dived to his right to keep out Nicolas Anelka’s penalty on a rainy night in Moscow, he didn’t write his name into United legend behind the Great Dane, but alongside him.
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