History looms for Manchester United's Edwin van der Sar

26 January 2009 08:46
The Manchester United goalkeeper has not been beaten for a club-record 942 minutes since Samir Nasri slotted the ball past him at the Emirates on Nov 26, and will overhaul Petr Cech's record, set with Chelsea during the 2004-05 season, to secure the Premier League's longest run without conceding should he stop the likes of Roman Bednar and Craig Beattie.

Such has been Van der Sar's form, even in the twilight of his career, it is no surprise that he was the man singled out by Schmeichel, the barometer by which all Old Trafford goalkeepers are judged, as his successor when he left the club in 1999.

It may have taken Sir Alex Ferguson six long years – during which the likes of Fabien Barthez, Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi filled the role – to take the Dane's advice, but Schmeichel was never in any doubt that Van der Sar would live up to his billing.

Schmeichel said: "When I left Old Trafford, it was Edwin that I said the manager should sign. I said it then and I said it every time I spoke to Sir Alex afterwards.

"He is the sort of keeper they need for the style of football they play. He is probably the best goalkeeper there has ever been with his feet.

"Edwin is a very modern goalkeeper, he doesn't stay on his line, he pushes right up and that means the defence can play very high too. Knowing that it is Edwin behind them gives the defence confidence.

"A team like Manchester United don't need a shot-stopper, though of course he can do that as well. You don't play for the best team in the world without being excellent at everything you need to do. They need someone who can help to start attacks, delivering the ball quickly and accurately up the field.

"For me, he is right up there with the likes of Iker Casillas, Petr Cech and Gianluigi Buffon as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. It's hard to say if he's one of the best ever, but he's definitely one of the top goalkeepers of the last 20 years."

That is quite a sea change for the Holland international, whose career seemed to be petering out at Fulham. He signed for the London side in 2001 at the age of 31, after falling behind Buffon in the pecking order at Juventus.

It seemed like the move of a man winding down a glorious career, but Van der Sar turned it into a launchpad. He made the switch to Old Trafford four years later and has, if anything, improved with age. How long the Indian summer will last is open for debate, but Schmeichel feels there is no reason to suggest that Van der Sar, now 38, could not play for another four years at least.

He said: "To talk about his age is wrong, because what the manager will be looking at is whether he's still producing the quality of performance that Manchester United need.

"I retired at 40, but that was because there were things in the job that didn't inspire me any more. Physically, I could have gone on for maybe another couple of years. Perhaps, because Edwin went to Old Trafford quite late, everything is still new and fresh for him, so he will play on for a few years yet, as long as he is producing the standard required.

"This is the culmination of a long-term plan to build a fantastic defence at Manchester United, and Edwin is a vital part of that. I think everyone recognises that while there are players at United who will always grab the headlines, you have to be a superstar performer to play for the club, and that's what Edwin is."

Ferguson, too, is clearly delighted by his veteran goalkeeper, securing the Dutchman on a new contract to keep him at the club until 2010.

He said: "Edwin's calmness and concentration are doing us a power of good and he is playing as well as he has ever done. This season, I have given him breaks and he didn't like it at first, but I think he sees the wisdom now in me nursing a player of his age through the season.

"He has certainly been at a peak during our recent run. He's won 20 club honours during his career and that will count for a lot in the coming weeks because the smell of the title run-in is there and I am looking for us to raise our game even more. We have been on a good run lately and what we want now is a great run."

Safe hands

1,196British record for minutes without conceding a goal – Chris Woods (Rangers),1986-87

1,103Football League record - Steve De'Ath (Reading), 1978-79

1,025Premier League record - Petr Cech (Chelsea), 2004-05

942Manchester United record - Edwin van der Sar 2008-09

Source: Telegraph