When Peter Schmeichel left Old Trafford after captaining United to the Champions League in 1999 it marked the start of a period of wilderness in terms of goalkeepers at the club. It was always going to be hard to replace a man who created such an impression between the sticks for such a long time but we didn’t help ourselves with a series of sub par, wacky and plain terrible goalkeepers.
Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard, Roy Carroll, Andy Goram and the infamous Massimo Taibi were amongst those who attempted to replace the great man and although each had a varying degree of success (bar Taibi of course who was absolutely shite) none came anywhere near the high standard Schmeichel set. It appeared we would continually be searching for a replacement until we snapped Edwin van der Sar from Fulham in 2005.
Edwin had been in England since 2001 when he was forced to move on from Juventus after they snapped up Gigi Buffon and after 4 years at Craven Cottage he joined United for £2m, a fee that looks as big a bargain as the £530,000 we paid for Schmeichel.
In the 5 years he has been at the club he has restored the stability at the back that disappeared in Peter Schmeichel’s absence. Not just helping United regain the foothold in the battle for dominance in England, van der Sar was also instrumental in helping United win the European Cup in 2008 and the fact he is nearly 40, still going strong and looking at a contract extension tells you all you need to know about his longevity and consistency at the top of his game.
Inevitably there has and will be comparisons between the two and due to my age I can’t claim to have seen Schmeichel at his brilliant best dominating his box, making matching winning saves as well as popping up with the occasional goal but I have seen United struggle with goalkeepers and then van der Sar step in and in an instant erase that problem.
Watching tape of Schmeichel isn’t quite the same as being around to experience it as it happens and I respect what he did for the club but for me I would have to pick van der Sarr ahead of him if I had to choose between the two in a United XI.
Do you agree? Feel free to have your say…