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Keeping an open mind is secret of Edwin Van der Sar's success

18 February 2009 11:29
At the post-match party that followed Manchester United's

FA Cup final defeat by Chelsea in 2007, there was debate about the future of goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

The Dutchman had been marginally slow to react as Didier Drogba scored in extra time at Wembley and there were suggestions, as disappointed players mingled at the Royal Lancaster Hotel, that he may have passed his peak. Perhaps - they mused - it was time for the young English goalkeeper Ben Foster to take over.

Mean record: Van der Sar attempts to rack up his 14th straight Premier League clean sheet against Fulham

A year-and-a-half on from that rather sombre gathering, the debate has been put to rest. Tonight against Fulham - his old team - Van der Sar will attempt to take his run of clean sheets in the Barclays Premier League to an astonishing 14.

It is 1,212 minutes of playing time since Arsenal's Samir Nasri lashed a shot past the 38-year-old at the Emirates Stadium on November 8 and - against a Fulham team that have scored just three times away from home this season - the chances are Van der Sar will not be troubled unduly tonight.

VIDEO SPECIAL: Who is better? The moments that made Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar Manchester United legends

With a contract extension ensuring that he stays at Old Trafford until midway through his 40th year, Van der Sar's longevity has surprised some team-mates, but not everybody.

Dave Beasant, who was Van der Sar's coach at Fulham, told Sportsmail last night: 'Great footballers - great goalkeepers - are always learning. That was one of the things that made Ed stand out to me.

 VIDEO SPECIAL: Who is better? The moments that made Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar Manchester United legends

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'He has an insatiable need to understand why you are asking him to do something. He will just be, "Why? Why? Why?" all the time. For example, if you look at him now he will come out of his box and sweep and pass the ball. He never used to do that until we talked about it. And that's just three or four years ago.

'There was also a time when he was dropped at Fulham. It was simply because we were on a bad run. But his attitude was remarkable. Mark Crossley was in the team ahead of him but instead of sulking he just said: "What has he got that I haven't?" We told him that Crossley communicated better and talked more.

'Ed was a Holland international and a Champions League winner. He could have looked at me and taken it as an insult. But he went away and thought about it. Within a week his communication was better.

Silent but deadly: Van der Sar has a ruthless, competitive streak that hasso far kept the challenges Foster andTomasz Kuszczak

'This is why he has lasted so long. He has never, ever closed his mind.'

Van der Sar, who moved to Old Trafford from Fulham in the summer of 2005, will perhaps never be viewed in the same light as the great Peter Schmeichel.

Nevertheless, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted he should have bought him earlier and it is not lost on the fans that Van der Sar made the decisive penalty save from Nicolas Anelka in last season's Champions League final shootout against Chelsea.

A quiet man, Van der Sar nevertheless has a ruthless, competitive streak that has so far kept the challenges of Foster and Poland international Tomasz Kuszczak at bay.

'This record will mean the world to Edwin,' added Beasant. 'I remember when he became the most capped Dutch player and how much he wanted that. He will want this, too. Had United signed him sooner, they probably would have won the Champions League more times.'

Van der Sar will feature in a strong United team as they seek to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League. Wayne Rooney, back after seven games out, will be on the bench. The England striker suffered a hamstring injury against Wigan a month ago but is ready to resume in a much-changed United squad.

Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Carlos Tevez, Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov are among those who return following the FA Cup win at Derby.

 VIDEO SPECIAL: Who is better? The moments that made Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar Manchester United legends

Schmeichel hails United's rock solid defence as they home in on the title

It's all yours! Wenger concedes 'untouchable' United have the title wrapped up in February

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Source: Daily_Mail