When Peter Schmeichel left Manchester United all the way back in 1999, Sir Alex Ferguson always knew it was always going to be a tough battle to find his successor. From the likes of Barthez, to Tim Howard, nobody it seemed was ready to finally step up and becomes United’s new number one goalkeeper. Then came, Edwin Van Der Sar.
His sheer presence alone made him such an intimidating keeper for the opposition, standing at a whopping 6 feet 6 inches in between the goalposts. It was clear right from the off that this is where van der Sar belonged and what was to follow was nothing short of sensational as United went on to rule not just European but World Football with van der Sar leading from the back.
However it wasn’t all plain sailing at the start, far from it in fact. With the club still looking to find a solid left back and a defensive partner for Rio Ferdinand, United found themselves shipping goals left right and centre. There was no stability or consistency at the back leaving van der Sar little else to do but pick the ball out of the back of the net. Throughout the first half of the 2005/06 campaign the club were falling seriously short on all fronts before the arrivals of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra in the January transfer window, this would be where it all started.
The following season United looked a different animal, they meant business, with the club finally having a solid back 4 in place van der Sar looked more at home, more at ease, as the confidence started to come into his game. As the season wore on van der Sar played a significant role as the club won the Premier League Title back from rivals Chelsea. Moments from crucial saves against Fulham at Craven cottage to a decisive penalty save at the City of Manchester Stadium. The goalkeeper we had waited for to finally replace Peter Schmeichel was here.
The joys of last season were about to be piped up another level as United won not just the Premier League but went on to famously win the UEFA Champions League in Moscow against Chelsea with van der Sar saving the all important spot kick. When the big games came calling van der Sar didn’t go hiding. Without van der Sar in between the sticks there may have been no Double.
As mentioned above, the importance of having a solid defence is crucial if not just as crucial as the goalkeeper position. No matter how good of a goalkeeper you are if you haven’t got a top defence in front of you then you are in real trouble. Fortunately for van der Sar he had Vidic and Ferdinand. Both centre backs became vital for Edwin, it was evident at times if one were missing then things didn’t go as smoothly. Having all 3 of van der Sar, Vidic and Ferdinand fully fit and available week in week out was one of the reasons why United were able to go on to rule world football, they may not have got the headlines like Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney but they were just as important.
Nothing it seemed could go wrong for the Dutchman, he was in the form of his life whilst sitting at the peak of world football with Manchester United. He even went on to set a new clean sheet record going an outstanding 14 games without conceding a goal. It was almost like we had our very own Super Man in goal and his name was Edwin van der Sar.
Of course just like anything good it does have to come to an end eventually, as the club were brought back down to earth by Barcelona as they were defeated 2-0 in the UEFA Champions League final; the feeling of invincibility gone, so too had Ronaldo.
In no means am I saying United were poor after this, as lets be real they were still successful the following season after but in between 2006-2009 I felt United were right at the peak of World football and had arguably one of their greatest sides of all time, it was a special time.
After persuasion from Sir Alex Ferguson, van der Sar penned a new contract at the club in 2010 where he would then finish his career at Old Trafford at the end of the following season. The invincibility that hanged around the club may have gone but van der Sar’s form didn’t as he continued to impress again stepping up to the plate when it most mattered.
His final outing came in the UEFA Champions League final against the mighty Barcelona, where the club could do little else but stand back and applaud as they were defeated 3-1.
His time at the club may have come to an end but his legacy left at the club will live on.
By Alexander Robert Brian
Follow me on Twitter: @alex_brian92