The clock is ticking for Edwin van der Sar as he prepares to bring the curtain down on a glittering career this Saturday on European football’s grandest stage. Having bowed out of league football, all that remains is for the veteran Dutch goalkeeper to add one more European Cup to his trophy haul.
In his time at the club, Manchester United have won four titles and one European Cup, having won just one league title and one FA Cup in four years prior to his arrival. In 2008/09, he set a top flight record of 13 consecutive clean sheets (some 1311 minutes without conceding a goal), a feat which earned him a PFA Player of the Year nomination. This season did not see him shortlisted, but despite announcing his impending retirement midway through the campaign, the 40-year-old has been consistently excellent, and as important a figure as anyone in helping United to clinch a record-breaking 19th title.
Sir Alex Ferguson announced after last night’s testimonial for Gary Neville that the man to take over Van der Sar’s sizeable gloves is Atletico Madrid’s David de Gea. The 20-year-old will arrive with a reputation as one of the brightest goalkeeping talents in Europe, but the pressure on such a young man to replace a legendary No.1 will be huge. Ferguson gave a quick description of his talents in his post-match interview:
“We’ve been working on it for quite a while. We identified him quite a while back as one we should go for. He’s young, very quick, good composure, presence and an outstanding replacement for Van der Sar. We were looking for the same type of qualities as Edwin, because the one great quality Edwin always had was his composure and organisational ability. David de Gea is very similar that way.”
Ferguson will have thought long and hard about his decision to sign De Gea. After all, it took him six years to find, in van der Sar, a replacement for Peter Schmeichel, and while the Red Devils still enjoyed success in those intervening years, it was far less consistent and inevitable as their 1990s Schmeichel era – indeed, that dominance only returned when the Dutchman, who had been somewhat incongruously slumming it at Fulham, having played for some of Europe’s biggest clubs, was lured to Old Trafford. In the interim, Ferguson’s search had seen him turn to disasters between the sticks such as Massimo Taibi and Mark Bosnich, and more worthy custodians like Fabien Barthez and Tim Howard, who were perhaps just not quite consistently reliable enough.
While mischievous media reports last week suggested that the Dutchman was having second thoughts about retiring, van der Sar confirmed in a moving farewell to the Old Trafford faithful on Sunday that he would be honouring his vow to call it a day. Having proven himself a fine heir to Schmeichel’s legacy, there would be no more fitting way for Edwin van der Sar to crown his Manchester United career than in the same way as the great Dane with a Champions League winner’s medal.