On the 24th May 1995, Dutch football had reached a new chapter, one which was meant to go one step further than the much admired total football era. Ajax had just won the European Cup 1-0 against AC Milan in Vienna; the first time the team from Amsterdam had won the trophy since their treble of successes in the early 70’s. That unique side consisted of footballing greats such as: Johan Cruijff, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol and Wim Suurbier. Defeating Milan was a brilliant accomplishment; the Italian team had reached its third consecutive final and was regarded as the best team in Europe at the time. De Amsterdammers had a team full of promising young players, a batch that has gone on to establish fantastic careers. With the likes of the de Boer twins, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert amongst the squad, it’s easy to see why the Oranje fans were optimistic about the future. One player has gone on from that glorious bunch to not only be remembered as one of the greatest goalkeepers of his generation, but is still competing at the highest level admirably at the age of 39.
In that same period Manchester United had arguably the greatest goalkeeper in Premiership history between the posts in Peter Schmeichel, who was a pivotal reason for the team’s dominance in the 90’s. Since he left the club in 1999, the Red Devils have struggled to replace him. Talented keepers such as Fabien Barthez, Mark Bosnich, Tim Howard and even Roy Carroll have been and gone. It was not until the 10th June 2005 that the Great Dane had finally been replaced, by the man who since his glory days at Ajax was now at Fulham. When Sir Alex Ferguson finally spits his chewing gum out onto the Old Trafford ground for the last time, he will look back and say that one of his best buys, pound-for-pound was Edwin van der Sar.
Entering his sixth season at the club and with 224 appearances to his name, van der Sar is immovable from his number one spot. It optimises just how highly he is regarded that Ferguson would reward him with a new contract last season, even though injuries and personal problems restricted him to only 29 appearances. Like many of the elder stalwarts for United, he has said he sees no motive to retire while he is enjoying the game still, and apparently there is a 12-month extension clause in his current contract which will be triggered if he surpasses 30 games this campaign. Former Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard will be in goal for the opposition Everton this Saturday, and has spoke fondly of the Dutchman who replaced him. “He’s performed admirably for his club and country for such a long time and he seems to get better and stay at a very high level,”
The danger for Ferguson is that the club will struggle to succeed van der Sar similarly to Schmeichel. Ben Foster looked to be a ready-made understudy, but errors and lack of matches saw him join Birmingham City in the summer. The all-time highest capped player for Holland is one of a few remaining players from that Ajax team of 1995, and if he continues to perform to usual standards, he might be the last man standing.