By Adam Hicks.
Edwin van der Sar will hang up his gloves at the end of the season after a 21-year career that has seen the Dutchman win two Champions League medals and league titles in Holland and England.
The announcement came back in January with the 40 year-old citing time with his family as the reason behind his decision, but he has expressed his desire to remain at Manchester United in some form of coaching role in the future.
When the Dutchman arrived in 2005 at the age of 34 some fans were unsure whether he would be a long-term solution to United’s goalkeeping woes which had persisted since the departure of Peter Schmeichel at the end of 1999. Ten goalkeepers had tried but ultimately failed to fill the void left by the Great Dane.
But in the six years van der Sar has been at Man United he has become an integral part of the team helping them win a hat-trick of league titles and the Champions League in 2008.
Van der Sar is also Holland’s most capped player with 130 appearances which he accumulated over a 13 year period from 1995 to 2008.
He began his career at Ajax in 1990 and spent time in the reserves before enjoying a number of successful years as the club’s number one. Ajax won the UEFA Cup in 1992 and Champions League in 1995 whilst dominating the domestic scene, winning four league titles and three Dutch cups between 1993 and 99. Van der Sar and Ajax also reached the 1996 Champions League final but this time were unsuccessful losing on penalties to Juventus.
Van der Sar made 226 appearances for Ajax and was regarded as one of Europe’s best keepers which earned him a move to Italian giants Juventus in 1999 but he came within 24 hours of signing for Manchester United.
It was reported that with Schmeichel leaving United at the end of the year van der Sar was keen on a move to Manchester but didn’t receive a call from Ferguson and instead accepted the chance to play for Juventus. The following day van der Sar was sat in the airport in Amsterdam waiting to fly to Turin to complete his move to Italy when Ferguson calls. But the Dutchman decided to follow through as planned with his move to Juventus.
Of course Ferguson did get his man in the end but one can’t help but imagine how different it might have been if van der Sar had joined earlier. Instead, ten goalkeepers played in goal for United until van der Sar arrived in 2005 they were (in no particular order): Mark Bosnich, Raymond van der Gouw, Nick Culkin, Massimo Taibi, Paul Rachubka, Fabian Barthez, Andy Goram, Roy Carroll, Ricardo and finally Tim Howard.
Van der Sar spent two seasons at the ‘Old Lady’ and became the first non-Italian to play in goal for the club. Under Carlo Ancelotti Juventus didn’t win any silverware while van der Sar was playing. They finished runners-up twice in the Serie A, first to Lazio in 1999-00 before finishing two points behind Fabio Capello’s Roma in 2001. Despite good performances Juventus signed Buffon from Parma for £32.6m which demoted van der Sar to reserve keeper. Unhappy playing second fiddle to Buffon the Dutchman set off in search of first team football.
He arrived at newly-promoted Fulham for the 2001-02 season for around £7m and was club’s most expensive player at the time. In their first season in the top flight for 33 years the Cottagers finished a respectable 13th. The next three seasons would see the club’s league position fluctuate as they finished 14th, 9th, and 13th. Van der Sar was hugely popular at Craven Cottage making 154 appearances for the club in a four year spell and was named Fulham’s player of the year in 2004. The Dutchman’s good form caught the eye of Sir Alex who, having failed once already, finally got his man in 2005.
He arrived at the age of 34 for around £2m and quickly established himself as United’s number one despite some scepticism from fans. United won the League Cup in 2006 but finished runners-up in the league to Chelsea. But the following year van der Sar helped United win their first league title since 2003. He made a crucial penalty save at Eastlands in the Manchester Derby from Darius Vassell which helped ensure a 1-0 victory for United. Chelsea then had to beat Arsenal at the Emirates the following day but failed to do so handing Ferguson’ side their ninth Premier League crown and van der Sar’s first.
The following year would be even more successful for the Red Devils as they won a second consecutive Premier League title and on a famous night in Moscow beat Chelsea on penalties to win the club’s third European cup after van der Sar saved Nicolas Anelka’s penalty.
Van der Sar signed a one year extension to his current contract which meant he would be at the club until the end of the 2009-10 season.
After a close fought battle with Liverpool, United made it three league titles in row in 2009 with van der Sar and the United defence going 1,311minutes without conceding a Premier League goal, a world record. United made their second consecutive Champions League final but were well beaten by Barcelona in Rome.
The defeat to Barcelona in the final gave van der Sar the unusual record of becoming the only player to have won the Champions League and then lost the final the following year with two different clubs; first with Ajax and then with United. However, the Dutchman did win the Best European Goalkeeper in 2009, 14 years after he first won the accolade.
Another extension has tied van der Sar at United until the end of this season but this time it looks as though he fully intends to retire at the end of the season.
With United still on course for the treble van der Sar could end his career on the highest possible note, much like Peter Schmeichel did in 1999. Although fans will hope the search for the Dutchman’s successor won’t be so challenging.
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