Originally written on 1st Dec. for BackpageFootball.com
As responses go, the reaction to Manchester United’s signing of Anders Lindegaard has been colder than a face full of snow. Peter Schmeichel questioned if Lindegaard is of a high enough standard to command the club’s number 1 spot and several other commentators have questioned the price tag and the pedigree of the Dane. Despite his handful of caps for the Danish national side, it looks likely he’s been signed primarily for his bench-warming ability and the occasional Carling Cup or European dead rubber outing. With Edwin Van der Sar likely to hang up his gloves at the end of the season, it’s very unlikely Sir Alex will head into the new season with his goalkeeping division so devoid of top class talent – surely he’s learned his lesson from the Massimo Tiabi incident. But who’s likely to come in? Here’s a look at some of Fergie’s goalkeeping options.
1. David de Gea
So interested is Sir Alex in signing De Gea that he missed his first United game since the ‘you don’t win anything with kids’ era to go and watch him. At the time Fergie passed it off as a routine scouting mission to look at Valencia and Atletico Madrid talent in general, but the repeated visits of his scouts to the Vicente Calderon stadium would suggest the interest is more specific. Having broken into the first team last season, De Gea has gone from strength to strength in an inconsistent Atletico side and the reasons for Fergie’s interest are obvious. He’s agile, got good hands and commands his penalty area with an authority uncommon in goalkeepers only a handful of weeks into their twenties. As a bonus, having cut his teeth in the glare of the Madrid sports media, he should be well accustomed to the scrutiny he’ll encounter as United’s number 1.
On the negative side, he will cost a pretty penny. He’s good and Atletico know it. They’re under little pressure to sell and hung on to Fernando Torres for a couple of seasons longer than expected. Likewise, they’ve withstood the temptation to cash in on Sergio Aguero. Fergie would have to part with around £20 million for De Gea and with that pricetag comes real pressure. One bad game would bring a blizzard of criticism and for a young man in a strange country, it’d be interesting to see how he would react. He hasn’t really endured a significant dip in form to date and if he made some errors early on in his Old Trafford career, it would be interesting to see how he responds. He’d be a great signing for United and if all goes well, could make the spot his own for the next 15 years. But if it doesn’t, it would be a costly error.
2. Manuel Neuer
Let’s get this clear – making a comparison to the Great Dane, does not necessarily mean he’s in the same class as the United legend. Neuer is merely very similar in style to Schmeichel. You won’t find pictures of either in books about goalkeeping technique, but they get the job done. The German has the unorthodox effectiveness that made Schmeichel such a world class keeper. He’s aggressive, his reflexes are top drawer and his physique will be well suited to the demands of the Premier League. He stays big in one on ones and will throw himself courageously at the feet of opponents when the situation requires it. One negative may be his handling, both in dealing with shots and collecting crosses. It’s not always perfect and he sometimes needs a couple of grabs to secure a ball. Similar to the De Gea however, his club are in no hurry to sell and will come with a substantial price tag. Judging by their recent recruitment policy and their loyal following, Schalke are in a healthy financial state. He’ll be expensive, but for such a young goalkeeper, he’s got the high level experience that could justify such an outlay.
3. Hugo Lloris
Followers of the rumour mill will know that Europe’s top clubs have been sniffing around Hugo Lloris for the last couple of years. Moves to Serie A and La Liga have been mooted, but for a time during the summer, a move to a certain French enclave in North London was looking likely. Nothing came to pass and Lloris remains a big fish in the relatively small pond of Ligue 1. He has obvious appeal because despite being just 23, Lloris has amassed over 150 senior appearances and – thanks to his time at Lyon – has sampled plenty of Champions League football. This season has been more of a struggle for the French giants, but Lloris has avoided much of the criticism. He is without doubt a world class goalkeeper. He’s an excellent shot-stopper and his reflexes are superb. His hands and footwork have the technical hallmarks of the famed French coaching system and if there is an Achilles heel, it comes in the form of the difficult-to-teach area of judging crosses. When he does get there, he’s usually good to catch the ball or get a vital hand to it, but he has on occasion completely misjudged the flight of the ball and been left a spectator to the action in his own goalmouth. There’s a potential problem for Fergie if he’s serious about Lloris. If word gets out that he’s available – and club chairman Jean Michel Aulus isn’t exactly renowned for keeping quiet – it’s likely to trigger a bidding war and seriously inflate the price. In this case however, Lyon are renowned as a selling club and they may decide to cash in sooner rather than later. The last time Fergie opted for the French number 1, the results were very much mixed. It’s interesting to know if he’s tempted to go back to this particular well another time.
4. Shay Given
The most controversial and left field of Fergie’s options. The United/City rivalry has moved beyond something Sky Sports emphasize to flog a generally meaningless game. The cash injection has meant City’s aspirations go beyond bragging rights and as such United are a genuine rival rather than a Goliath waiting for a bloodied nose. That may be one obstacle in a potential move, but if selling to a direct rivals was a concern, then the move to Arsenal probably wouldn’t have been mentioned as seriously as it was. In the end it appeared to be Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to do business that scuppered the move. The situation at City has been rough on Given. He remains better than about 85% of the goalkeepers in the Premier League, but it just so happens that Joe Hart is better than about 90% of goalkeepers in the Premier League. The Irishman turns 35 next year, but that shouldn’t be a worry for Fergie as there’s no real depreciation in his talents. Any fumbles or slight mishaps he has had for Ireland or on the rare occasion he does get a game for City look to be as a result of rustiness rather than the onset of age. He should come quite cheap and he’s a proven Premier League performer. He may not be seen as a long term solution, but then again, people were probably saying the same thing about a certain Dutchman a few years back.
5. Edwin Van der Sar
United’s current first choice is now in his fourth decade of professional football, but on the outside at least doesn’t seem to have lost his appetite for the game. It’s thought to be an open secret that Van der Sar will be retiring at the end of this season (so open that one of United’s coaches was talking about it openly a couple of months back)but in terms of ability, he’s got at least another season of top class football in him. With his wife suffering health problems last year, the Dutchman has a vaild reason to feel it’s time to call it a day and go about the business of enjoying life, but if it’s a possibility, Fergie could do worse than testing the Dutchman’s resolve. Much was made of his costly error against West Brom earlier in the season, but that was the type of concentration based mistake van der Sar was making in his twenties and thirties and not a result of age. Aside from that, he has been in fine form and his saves have directly earned United several points they would have otherwise dropped. Such has been the strength of his displays, that if he was still available to Bert van Marwijk, there’s every chance he’d remain first choice for the Oranje. It may only postpone a difficult decision about a long term successor for another season, but sticking with an old hand wouldn’t be the worst of options.