He’s 41 in October this year and has spent 6 seasons at United winning 4 PL titles and a Champions League title so it is fitting that his last match is a Champions League final, the 5th of his impressive career as the pinnacle of his time at United (so far) being probably that rainy night in Moscow in 2008 when he dove to his right to save Anelka’s penalty and earned us European glory.
I still get goose bumps whenever I watch Youtube clips of the penalty shootout and hear the commentator go “Van der Sar’s saved it, United again!”
Van der Sar was the Glazer’s first signing at United, bought for peanuts (around £2m from Fulham), but at that time, he was the latest goalkeeper entrusted with filling the huge Peter Schmeichel-shaped hole in goal after a string of rather unsuccessful attempts and in his signing he gave us something we hadn’t had since the big Dane.
After the days of Barthez’s eccentricity and the inconsistency of Carroll and Howard, we needed someone who would rule the defence with authority and instil some confidence at the back. Not only did he improve our defence massively, his ball delivery was and still is magnificent. Over the years, countless attacks (and subsequent goals) have started from his gloves or feet. He fitted so well with the Man United philosophy of playing high tempo football while simultaneously enabling us to build on a very strong foundation that was our defence. I think the assumption that offence wins you games, but that defence wins you championships has never been truer since the days of Schmeichel, Pallister and Bruce.
On and off the pitch, there’s barely ever been anything bad said about the great Dutchman. He’s been involved in our revival when Chelsea looked set on world domination and we seemed to be going out of fashion (I call it a blip!). He’s had such a fantastic career that it humbles me as a United fan that he’s played for us for so long, won so much with us, made us gasp and cry and wound up his playing days at the club.
I see no exaggeration in VDS being mentioned in the same breath as the colossus that was Schmeichel. United fans will still be singing, more in hope than in expectation, “Fergie, sign him up” and “one more year” today, perhaps more fervently than ever, just in case it changes his mind. But, whatever the result at Wembley next week, Man United will always be indebted to Edwin Van der Sar for his stellar service to the club and the fans.
I hope the fans give him a rapturous send-off at Old Trafford this afternoon.
Records at Man United
– Worldwide league record keeping clean sheet (1,311 minutes, set in 2008–09 Premier League)
– Oldest player to appear in the knock-out phase of the UEFA Champions League (40 years and 187 days)
– Oldest player to win the Premier League (40 years and 205 days)
– First non-British player to be active in the Premier League beyond the age of 40
– First goalkeeper to keep 50 clean sheets in the UEFA Champions League
Team honours at Man Utd
Premier League (4): 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2010–11
Football League Cup (1): 2005–06
FA Community Shield (3): 2007, 2008, 2010
UEFA Champions League (1): 2007–08
FIFA Club World Cup (1): 2008
Individual honours at Man Utd
Best European Goalkeeper (3): 2008, 2009, 2010
PFA Premier League Team of the Year (3): 2006–07, 2008–09, 2010–11
UEFA Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament
Barclays Merit Award (1): 2008–09
Barclays Golden Glove (1): 2008–09
UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year (1): 2009