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. The name Edwin van der Sar may not be one of the most obvious but he was an important player in his time at the club.
A player who replaced the unreplacable, so to speak. Back in 2005 when the Dutch goalkeeper signed for the Old Trafford club from Fulham, he effectively ended a period of regret for United having failed to find a goalkeeper of the same standard as Peter Schmeichel. The Dane was a great goalkeeper for United, earning the plaudits with his great saves, leadership, that goal he scored and for helping his country win the European Championships, which will be a big feat for him.
“Edwin [van der Sar] is the best goalkeeper we have had since Peter Schmeichel. He is a winner.
“He has brought with him a strength of character; he really looks after himself and he trains very well.
“There are many players who, having achieved what he has done, want to take it easy. But he has a desire to carry on.
“Edwin’s professionalism and dedication to his job and the way he looks after himself has given him longevity in the game.“
Van der Sar was a successful player before signing for United, where more success would come along. The Dutch goalkeeper 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 playing for Ajax. For Juventus, Van der Sar won the UEFA Intertoto Cup, winning it again with Fulham.
It was at United where his past glories would come back, seemingly ending his career at the top. United were heading into a very exciting period when the Dutchman arrived at the club, Schmeichel had left six years earlier and United failed to find that goalkeeper to full the void left by the Dane. 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 – matching the four title he won in the Netherlands – 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. There will be many memories of Van der Sar – the most memorable would have to be the UEFA Champions League final in Moscow in 2008 against Chelsea.
A 1-1 draw after extra time, goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo 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 that Van der Sar would be remembered for. 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 made 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. Van der Sar saved it. Manchester United had won the Champions League again. It was a great night in club football, although not for Chelsea’s captain, leader, legend who would have been feeling sorry for himself, at least until 2012 when he saw his side inn the Champions League, suspended from the final, but picking up the trophy in full kit, which was a bit weird.
“Besides my family, my wife and kids and everything, I have two loves in my life.
“That’s Ajax, who gave me the opportunity to develop, they scouted me, they gave me the chance to shine in the world of football.
“And the last club of my career, also gave me a lot of attention, recognition and everything, developed even at a later stage.
“So of course I’d be interested, I’m interested in a position.
“But I need to learn a little more here [at Ajax], develop myself further and of course eventually let’s see what the future brings.
“Manchester United is a fantastic club, there’s a great following all over the world. Everybody wants to play for them and eventually, work for them.”
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 played once for VV Noordwijk at amateur level before he headed back to Ajax where he took the role of managing director in 2012, working his way to chief executive officer in 2016. He was named the Best Goalkeeper in Europe in both 1995 and 2009, and UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year in 2009 and he 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. Van der Sar played 266 times for United in six seasons, 820 throughout his professional career, playing during 21 seasons professionally and scoring one single goal, for Ajax during the 1997/98 season. For the Netherlands, Van der Sar played 130 times in 14 years. When you think of world class goalkeepers, Edwin van der Sar just has to be one of them.
Written by John Walker