There is a lot of talk about who Sir Alex Ferguson is going to bring into replace Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, but there is one player that changed the fortunes of Manchester United who might just just be as hard to replace as those two players.
A lot of people forget about how vital Edwin van der Sar’s arrival has been to the club success since his arrival from Fulham in the summer of 2005 for a measly £2 million – which besides Eric Cantona’s £1 million could be Sir Alex Ferguson’s best-ever bargain.
Since then, United have captured no fewer than 11 trophies – three English Premier League titles, three Carling Cup trophies, the UEFA Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and three FA Community Shields – thanks to the stability and experience that van der Sar offers.
After the retirement of Peter Schmeichel following the 1998/99 season, Sir Alex struggled finding a proper replacement and went through 11 other goalkeepers before finally landing his preferred shot-stopper.
Fabien Barthez, Mark Bosnich, Roy Carroll, Nick Culkin, Andy Goram, Tim Howard, Paul Rachubka, Ricardo López Felipe, Massimo Taibi and Raimond van der Gouw all tried to fill the boots left by Big Pete, but none of them, for some reason or another, could handle the pressures or expectations at United.
Sir Alex tried to lure the 6’6″ goalkeeper to Old Trafford at the turn of the century, but van der Sar went to Italy to join Juventus instead.
It was a decision that weighed on Ferguson’s mind for quite some time – six years to be exact – because he knows how vital it is to have a top goalkeeper help anchor your defense.
Even though he is quickly approaching 40-years of age, van der Sar is still one of the top goalkeepers both domestically and abroad.
Edwin’s experience both at the club and international levels allow him to find a common understanding with what has been constantly changing United back-four.
United have only had their preferred back-line of Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra ONCE since the 2008 UEFA Champions League final, so that just goes to show how important his contributions are to the club. That was against Wolverhampton Wanders in March of last season, but amazingly, though, the back-four only lasted for a half, because Brown went off with a broken metatarsal.
During his time at United, van der Sar has done some amazing things, but his personal world-record 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal takes the cake.
In large part to his dominant presence, United have given up the least amount of goals in the Barclays Premier League (101) since the 2006/07 season.
Against Liverpool last weekend, he was a bit of a spectator, and despite giving up two goals, van der Sar did not have a save to his name.
Tomasz Kuszczak has done quite well filling in for VDS, but realistically, he is more than likely not the long-term successor to him, so who will Ferguson bring in to fill his boots?
Real Madrid’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas has recently stated that Manchester City’s Joe Hart would be a fantastic candidate to fill the eventual void once Edwin calls it a day on his illustrious career.
However, the Blues would never let the new England No. 1 make the five mile journey to Old Trafford – even if he tried forcing the issue to move across the city.
Ben Amos, who is currently the third string goalkeeper at United, is only 20 years of age, so he has time to grow into a role, but Sir Alex prefers to have a more experience – over 30 years old to be the organizer of his back-four.
Edwin van der Sar proved that he was Sir Alex Ferguson’s missing puzzle piece and Manchester United have reaped the benefits of having a top-class goalkeeper like him, so it is imperative that the next shot-stopper to come in is of the same pedigree.