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Idols: Edwin van der Sar; six years a red and worth every one!

When you ask any Manchester United supporter who their idol is, you will get a different response from each; George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes – the names will keep coming. Personally, my idol is Edwin van der Sar.

Back in 2005 when the Dutch goalkeeper signed for the Old Trafford club from Fulham, I was nine years old and wanting to be a goalkeeper for my local football team, a position I had been playing for two to three years at the time. Peter Schmeichel was a great goalkeeper for United, but being born in 1996, I never actually saw him play live in the flesh – when I did see him on television, I was too young to know what was going on.

Van der Sar was the guy I watched, tried to learn from and form by ability on. I don’t think it worked, but you can have a dream, right. The Dutchman, upon signing for United, was a successful player. Van der Sar won the Eredivisie four times, the KNVB Cup three times, the Johan Cruyff Shield three times, the UEFA Champions League once, one UEFA Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, and one Intercontinental Cup – all whilst with Ajax. For Juventus, Van der Sar won the UEFA Intertoto Cup, winning that again with Fulham. It was at United where his past glories would come back, seemingly ending his career at the top.

Manchester United were heading into a very exciting period when the Dutchman arrived at the club, Peter Schmeichel has left six years earlier and United have failed to find that goalkeeper to full the Danish legends gloves. Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard, Roy Carroll – all had been tested. Even Massimo Taibi got a chance – and failed. Edwin van der Sar was the guy to instil that confidence in – and he showed us all why.

During his six-year stay at United, the Dutchman won four Premier League titles – match the four title he won in his native Holland – two League Cups, three FA Community Shields, one UEFA Champions League trophy, the second of his career – 11 years apart and a FIFA Club World Cup. Eleven trophies in six years, maybe not the same heights he achieved with Ajax, but it was a good haul for United, especially Sir Alex Ferguson’s second Champions League trophy, the club’s third. Winning the FIFA Club World Cup was a great achievement too.

My best memories of Van der Sar would have to be the UEFA Champions League final in Moscow in 2008 against Chelsea. A 1-1 after extra time, goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo (the opener) and an equaliser from Frank Lampard at the end of the first half – then nothing, at least until penalties. Chances were created, saves were made but it was the penalty shootout which made me remember Edwin van der Sar. Carlos Tevez took United’s first spot kick, finding the back of the net, Michael Ballack scoring too. Michael Carrick putting United 2-1 up, Juliano Belletti sending the score to 2-2. Cristiano Ronaldo missing his – advantage Chelsea after Lampard put them 3-2 up.

Owen Hargreaves making it 3-3, advantage still with Chelsea. Ashley Cole 4-3 to Chelsea and destined to lift the cup. Luis Nani 4-4 and all down to Chelsea’s final spot kick. John Terry. He ran, he slipped and missed his kick, still 4-4. United were still in it. Sudden death. Anderson, bang 5-4. Saloman Kalou 5-5. Ryan Giggs 6-5. Then, up comes the ‘sulker’ Nicolas Anelka. Edwin van der Sar saved it. Manchester United had won the UEFA Champions League again. Watching the video is much better than reading about it. Viva John Terry was a great feeling, but Van der Sar saving that final spot kick was magic.

The Dutchman retired from the game after leaving United at the end of the 2010/11 season with David De Gea replacing the legendary goalkeeper. Van der Sar is currently at his first club, Ajax where he is the chief executive officer. He was named the Best Goalkeeper in Europe in both 1995 and 2009, also UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year in 2009 and will be remembered fondly in Manchester. If a player ever gets to be mentioned in the same sentence as this prolific Dutch goalkeeper, he will have done well during his career.

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