The United goalkeeper today tendered his retirement from football at the end of the season. Although the news was expected, every United fan was hoping that the Dutch stopper would extend his stay for just one more season. Since his arrival in 2005, he has played a vital role in the team, finally filling the void left by the great Peter Schmeichel and helping us win 9 trophies. In his time with United he has won three Premier League titles, three Community Shields, the Champions League, the League Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup trophy.
The keeper moved from Fulham to United for a bargain fee of £2 million. He has pulled on the United jersey 174 times and demonstrated consistency with his world-class performances throughout. His presence helped the defence set a Premiership record of 14 consecutive clean sheets in 2009 and it was these foundations which allowed Ronaldo & Co to run riot. The highlight of his United career however must be the penalty save in Moscow, from Nicolas Anelka, which sealed the Champions League trophy
The keeper cited family reasons as this basis for his retirement, following the illness of his wife. He reiterated that physically he is still up for the task and this is consistent with what the stats show. This season he has played in the Premier League 21 times, making 45 saves and keeping 10 clean sheets in the process. It is not just his shot stopping abilities that have been so vital but his work with the ball and his ability to deal efficiently with crosses, due to his 6ft 6 frame, that have made him a fans favourite. This season he has averaged 52 touches of the ball each game, 4 more than Dimitar Berbatov, and has been successful in distributing the ball with a success of 78%. His ability with the ball has been particularly evident over the past week with long balls to Rooney (v Wolves) and Giggs (v Blackpool), leading directly to goals in the opposition half. His success rate of over 90% (compared to Kuszczak’s 60%) in dealing with crosses also highlights the ability he has to instill confidence in the back four with his performances. It is all this, coupled with his experience, which makes Edwin so much more than a great shot stopper.
Now that Ferguson has confirmation of his imminent departure, it his responsibility to decide on who will claim the #1 Jersey next season. In house, there is Tomasz Kuszczak, the Polish International, and Anders Lindegaard, the new arrival who has displaced Thomas Sorenson in the Denmark team (and to a lesser extent, Ben Amos, who is performing valiantly at Oldham Athletic currently). There has been much debate as to whether or not Ferguson needs to dip into the transfer market though in order to truly replace Edwin. It is clear that the young keeper Amos, from Macclesfield, is not ready to take his place in the first team regardless of the praise lavished upon him recently by Ferguson. Similarly, the new arrival from Aalesund has only featured in a few reserve fixtures and has been unable to showcase his talents to the wider public. A lot of United fans suggested the Dane was bought in to provide cover for the #1 next season because they believed he would be happy to sit on the bench, while provided adequate cover when needed. This theory concurs with the views of Peter Schmeichel who aired his criticisms of the new keeper publicly. Therefore, the Polish stopper seems the only realistic option for the jersey.
The question is whether or not Sir Alex believes Kuszczak has what it takes to be United’s #1. The keeper has said that if he is not first choice keeper then he will leave, in which case a replacement will need to be bought. I was impressed with his performances when I first saw him playing for WBA in the Premiership, but was surprised when I heard that we had signed him. His shot stopping and reflexes are second to none but his ability to deal with crosses and distribute the ball has always been in question. Realistically, some fans are always going to be critical of his performances because they expect him to be as good as Edwin, which is unrealistic and unfair. When he has had to step in this season,he has performed well and not attracted any adverse publicity, unlike Ben Foster with his mistakes last season. However my biggest concern about the Pole is his presence; whereas Edwin provides confidence and certainty, I constantly see myself twitching whenever the Pole is called into action. At times he can be wasteful and uncertain with the ball but more importantly shows a reluctance to deal with balls thrown into the box. It is seemingly this lack of confidence which I believe is holding him back. However, will a sustained run in the team improve his confidence or not?
Looking back at the problems we had replacing Schmeichel: Taibi (£5 million), Barthez (£8 million), Carroll (£3 million), Ricardo (£2 million) and Howard (£3 million), there has been a lot of keepers linked with Manchester United over the past 6 months. Personally, I believe Ferguson will go into the transfer market in the summer and replace the Dutch international with a big money signing. Personally, I would like to see David De Gea come in, or Steklenburg, from Ajax, having been unconvinced by Neuer at the World Cup. Interestingly, it was widely publicised that Ferguson went and watched De Gea with Eric Steele, the United goalkeeper coach, and the usually reliable Spanish commentator, Guilleme Balague, believes United have activated Athletico’s release clause. However, I have no contacts inside Old Trafford, and can only speculate on what Ferguson will do.
In summary, thank you Van Der Sar for providing all us the United fans with your great performances. Hopefully we can repay you with that one trophy that has always eluded you, the FA Cup, firstly by beating Southampton on Saturday at St Mary’s.