Van der Sar, Superstar

Peter Schmeichel had both hands on the European Cup in 1999, ending his Manchester United career with a historical Treble. The Great Dane, as he was affectionately known, had a fabulous career with United, winning a whole host of trophies in his eight years at Old Trafford. Five league titles, three FA Cups, one European Cup and one League Cup, a total of ten honours. How were we ever going to replace him?

Van Der Gouw was our second choice keeper at the time of Schmeichel’s exit, but there was no way he was going to cut it as our number one. So in came Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi. A year later, Fabien Barthez. Then Roy Carroll, followed by Tim Howard. Andy Goram and Ricardo were another two keepers bought in the four years following on from Schmeichel’s deparature. Nightmare.

Then in the summer of 2005 United spent £2 million on a 34-year-old Dutchman.

United were apparently “in decline” at the time and in desperate need of a decent goalkeeper. Howard, who had been named the PFA Keeper of the Season in his first year, ahead of Jens Lehmann in Arsenal’s unbeaten season and Chelsea’s Carlo Cudicini, suffered from lacking confidence, whilst Carroll was never going to make the grade. Finally we had a seasoned pro in Edwin Van der Sar, although feelings were mixed amongst the red following over whether a man at the end of his career was the right move.

We won the League Cup at the end of Edwin’s first season as the resurgence began, finishing second in the league after our third placed finishes of the two seasons before. In his second season we had the second best defensive record in the Premiership, winning the league for the first time since 2003. In his second season we had the best defensive record in the Premiership, winning the league again, as well as the Champions League.

Van der Sar has been a crucial part of United’s recent success, most notably, last season’s Champions League final. As Nicolas Anelka approached to take a penalty for Chelsea, knowing he had to score to keep his team in it, Van der Sar did all he could to put the Frenchman off. Obviously having watched plenty of footage on Chelsea’s penalty takers before the game, Edwin knew Anelka would be striking the ball to his left. So, his arms outstretched, our keeper started pointing to the opposite corner, daring Anelka to try something different. ‘I know where you’re going to kick it, soft lad, go on, try the other corner.’ Anelka couldn’t hold his nerve though and struck the ball to VDS’s left, our keeper palming away the ball and winning the European Cup, earning him his second winners medal in the competition. He was pretty f**king happy about it too!

With him in goal, we’ve won a further two penalty shoot-outs, beating Chelsea and Portsmouth in the Community Shield.

Against West Brom on Tuesday night, Van der Sar earned something else to brag about, scooping a Premier League record for the longest time since conceding a goal. Chelsea, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Wigan were amongst the sides he’s kept out, with each of those teams having a player in the top five scorers in the league this season (the other player being Cristiano Ronaldo), in Anelka, Robinho, Agbonlahor and Zaki.

It is important to note that Rio Ferdinand has been missing for large chunks of this time period, with John O’Shea, Gary Neville, Richard Eckersley, Jonny Evans, and the da Silva brothers rotating alongside Nemanja Vidic for the defensive positions.

Petr Cech was the previous holder of the record, going 1025 minutes without conceding, which has now been beaten by 6 minutes… and counting.

Back in December, Van der Sar signed a year extension on his current contract which will see him at the club until 2010.

“Manchester United is a great club to be at,” he said after signing. “I have enjoyed every minute of the three-and-a-half years I’ve been here so far and I’m looking forward to playing an extra season after this one. There is a great atmosphere in the dressing room, the boss is fantastic and you play at the best stadium in England.”

Ben Foster is likely to give Edwin tough competition for the starting place next season, something I’m sure the Dutchman will welcome, however there’s no denying what a great buy he’s been. Following our steal for the greatest keeper before Van der Sar, signing Schmeichel for just £530,000, the £2 million we spent on Edwin is one of the best deals our manager has done.

Here’s to the next 1,000 minutes……..

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