Red Icons: Peter Schmeichel – the great Dane

Peter Schmeichel was the man mountain between the sticks for Sir Alex Ferguson, pulling off remarkable saves and ensuring Manchester United’s last line of defence was every bit as solid as those in front of him.

Schmeichel joined United in 1991 from Danish side Brondby and went on to spend eight illustrious years under Sir Alex Ferguson. He won virtually everything with United, Premier League winners’ medals, FA Cup winners’ medals, and a Champions League Winners’ medal in his final season at the club.

Nicknamed the ‘Great Dane’, he was renowned for pulling off remarkable saves which looked destined for goal. In addition, he was one of the most commanding Goalkeepers to have graced Old Trafford, blasting his defenders for having given the opposition the chance in the first place. He absolutely had the ability to back up his loud nature on the pitch, and it earned him the respect of his team-mates. Gary Neville said of him:

“If he wasn’t a world-class goalkeeper, then I don’t know what is.”

Aged 27, he joined United for £500,000, which was no small fee at the time. However, despite being a relative unknown, Ferguson knew he had his man between the posts who would be the foundations of a solid defence, calling him the:

“Bargain of the century.”

He went on to prove it, as he won the Euros with Denmark in 1992 and was voted the seventh greatest goalkeeper of the century. Some would have had him higher than this and perhaps rightly so; his importance to the United side was illustrated by the struggle to replace his towering presence after his departure. It took until the signing of Edwin Van Der Saar from Fulham for United to find another permanent first-choice keeper who instilled confidence into the defence.

If Schmeichel instilled confidence into his defence, he also occasionally struck fear into the minds of the opposition defence; if United were ever in need of a goal the Dane would become a major presence in the penalty area from corners. Although he only ever scored a singular goal during his United career, his presence was a major factor in Teddy Sheringham scoring the equaliser in the 1999 Champions League Final against Bayern Munich. This was Schmeichel’s farewell game for the Reds, and he captained the side on the evening they completed the Treble, some way to bow out.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Schmeichel during his United career though. He was accused of racially abusing Arsenal striker Ian Wright, though both eventually drew a line under this as Schmeichel categorically denied the charge. It wasn’t just with members of the opposition that he had his issues though. He and Roy Keane had a feisty relationship, which Keane admits ended up in the Irishman headbutting Schmeichel, leaving him with a black eye.

Perhaps his biggest feud though came with Sir Alex himself. In a game against Liverpool in January 1994, United squandered a 3-0 lead to only come away from Anfield with a point. After the game Ferguson targeted Schmeichel for poor goal-kicks, which the United keeper felt was unwarranted. This led to a fiery dispute and Schmeichel was sacked, albeit only briefly. After privately apologising to his team-mates, Sir Alex decided to allow him to return. Though it may seem a harsh move, it evidently paid dividends as the Great Dane went on to be one of the most successful goalkeepers in United’s history.

Written by Rob Potter

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