Edwin van der Sar will be playing his last match on Saturday, and he’ll be hoping to finish his career on a high. The ultimate heir to Peter Schmiechel’s mantle at Old Trafford after Sir Alex Ferguson have gone through a bevy of failed replacements, van der Sar, now 40, is sure to face a tough test in dealing with Barcelona’s fearsome attak at Wembley.
Never really heralded as the best goalkeeper in the world, van der Sar’s greatness relies on his consistentcy rather than any flashes of brilliance – which isn’t to say he isn’t entirely capable of stealing a game on his own (just ask Chelsea!). The infrequency of his mistakes, more than anything else, is the most striking aspect of his play.
Having joined United in 2005, van der Sar has now played 292 games for the club, having won four Premier League titles and a host of other honours, including the 2008 UEFA Champions League final in Moscow. Now he’s looking for another.
Stopping Barcelona is, of course, a fairly tough assignment for anyone. The likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa are arrayed against him, and even the Catalans’ second-tier player are more than capable of causing anyone problems. Ferguson, though, will trust utterly in his goalkeeper, knowing that there are few better equipped to stop the La Liga giants from causing havock, and is hoping that van der Sar is rewarded for his hard work with another trophy:
The reason Edwin has played for so long is that he has sacrificed himself to be at the very top. He trains every day, never misses a session, and that is unusual at his age. He is getting the rewards for that, so every reward that he gets, and I hope he gets one at Wembley, he will deserve it.
It was an entirely different story a few short years ago as Ferguson cycled through goalkeeper after goalkeeper in an attempt to replace his last great. When Schmeichel left after the 1998/99 season, United went through no less than six keepers before eventually landing on van der Sar – Ferguson admitted he had been given the opportunity to buy him far sooner, but turned him down, allowing him to go to Fulham instead – and the club will want to avoid a repeat of that scenario.
The answer could well be Spaniard David de Gea, currently of Atletico Madrid. United have already all but bought the 20-year-old, but there remain some questions about whether he has what it takes to play at the top level under the sort of pressure he’ll be facing in the Premier League. His ability isn’t in question, but there’s a certain special something it takes to play for Manchester United, and the transtion between greats have already been particularly hard.
No doubt Ferguson wishes that he could keep his Dutch stopper for longer. After 21 years on the football pitch, van der Sar is more than ready to hang up his spikes. But there’s still one game left to be played first.
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