The cat is finally out of the not particularly secure bag.
It has been confirmed that Edwin van der Sar is retiring at the end of the season much to the shock of no-one. Fergie’s scouting activity gave a few subtle hints the move was on the way and a further less subtle clue came when Manchester United goalkeeping coach. Eric Steele came out and effectively said ‘Edwin is retiring at the end of the year.’
Barring a sudden and catastrophic downturn in form – think Chelsea but isolated to the United goal – Van der Sar is going out on a high. I’ve made that argument several times this season that despite turning 40, Van der Sar is still playing to a very high standard – arguably the best he’s ever played. He’s getting plenty of chances to show there’s life in the old dog yet thanks to United’s defending and there can be no doubt that without his contribution, the plump cushion the Red Devils enjoy at the top of the table would be slimmer if not non-existent. A reflex save here, some assured command of his penalty area there and all of a sudden United have picked up points their performances probably don’t merit, but that’s the advantage of having a world class keeper. Even in the winter of his career, Van der Sar deserves to be considered one of the world’s best.
Keane, Cantona and Schmeichel are often touted as Ferguson’s best bits of business, but Van der Sar should be mentioned in the same category. Having been displaced by Gigi Buffon at Juventus, it looked like Van der Sar was trying to rake in the cash as he winded down his career when he joined free-spending Fulham in 2001. It wasn’t quite on the Man City scale, but surely silverware wasn’t to the forefront on the Dutchman’s mind when he joined the Cottagers. Where some saw a glorified halfway house to retirement, Fergie saw a top class goalkeeper capable of performing at the highest level. I looked to be a risky move at the time, but the £2 million odd he parted with for the 34 year old back in 2005 looks like small potatoes at this stage. Without him, you’d seriously have to question how much of United’s haul of 3 Premier Leagues and one European Cup would have actually come to pass.
It leaves Fergie with a serious headache. There are few goalkeepers of Van der Sar’s quality around the world and those being mentioned as possible replacements lack the consistency of the Dutchman. A whole host of young goalkeepers have been linked, but they’ll be expensive and Fergie tends to like an older and more experienced hand in goal – generally a player in his late twenties at least. Julio Cesar, Shay Given and Gigi Buffon have all been mentioned, but do any of them sound like they’ll be an improvement on even a 40 year old Van der Sar?
Perhaps that’s the greatest indication of how good United’s retiring no. 1 has been for the club.