United’s goalkeeping coach Eric Steele recently confirmed what every United fan suspected but few were willing to accept- Edwin Van Der Sar will retire at the end of the season.
Although VDS’s retirement was something of a foregone conclusion, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in holding on to the small chance that United’s number one may have decided to give it one more season. Part of the reason for hoping for another season from one of United’s best ever goalkeepers was his fine form of late, where he’s been just as vital a member of the team as he was when he first joined.
The number one jersey at United has been one fraught with difficulties over the past forty years. For every Alex Stepney, there’s been a Jim Leighton, for every Peter Schmeichel a Massimo Taibi. In fact if you look a the list of ‘keepers that have played for United, just in Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign you’ll realise that it’s not always been the easiest position for the United manager to fill.
Proven Premier League stars- Mark Bosnich, World Cup winners- Fabien Barthez, up and coming potentially world class stoppers- Tim Howard, and future England number ones –Ben Foster have all failed when it’s come to minding the space between the sticks at Old Trafford.
Edwin Van Der Sar’s arrival at United, finally gave the fans and no doubt Fergie, the chance to breathe a huge sigh of relief. After all United fans had seen more than one or two duffers don the goalkeeping gloves for the Reds and there’d been a few horror stories along the way- Porto at home, Arsenal away, the 3-3 with Southampton,- you know what I’m talking about.
Replacing VDS should not be underestimated, it’s one of the most difficult tasks Fergie will ever face as, as previous ‘keepers have shown, just because you’re good doesn’t mean you can handle the pressure at United. Many keepers who’ve struggled at United have gone on to be reliable, dare I say even world class stoppers somewhere else, just look at Tim Howard for example.
With so much importance being, rightly, placed on VDS’s successor the rumour mill has been going into overdrive with stories of the nest ‘keeper ‘destined’ to be heading towards Old Trafford.
The latest nugget suggests that Spain’s second choice and beach ball lover Pepe Reina could be a new target for Fergie to set his sights on. Roy Hodgson has already wubbished such claims insisting that his number one, who signed a new deal in April is going nowhere- especially to the arch rivals down the M62. So who is coming to United as the next number one? There’s been so many rumours it’s difficult to keep track so I’ve tried to narrow it down to five who could have the unenviable job of filling VDS’s gloves.
7. Craig Gordon. Sunderland, The Gordon to United rumours started last week and seem to come from nowhere with no real substance behind them. The Sunderland stopper may be very talented and has certainly been on top form this season but having cost the Black Cats anything from £7-11 million, depending on who you believe, he would not be cheap and I’m a little doubtful as to whether he really is the answer to United’s goalkeeping dilemma. Gordon took a while to settle into the EPL following his move from Hearts and I fear he may take even longer to settle into life at Old Trafford.
6. David De Gea. Athletico Madrid 20 year-old De Gea has taken La Liga by storm these past tow seasons with a string of stunning displays. Rumours of him being top of Sir Alex’s wish-list have been circulating for months but with the youngster recently signing a new contract his chances of coming to Old Trafford seem to have diminished. The full ins and outs of his contract are still very much unknown and should there be a ‘get-out clause’ then maybe a deal could be made. The only problem with De Gea is at such a young age could he handle life away from Spain playing in the EPL week in week out for a club that is, with all due respect, far bigger than Athletico Madrid.
Having seen De Gea on several occasions, I have to confess that he seems that talented it’s hard to imagine him being anything other than a success wherever he goes.
5. Pepe Reina. Liverpool. It’s a far-fetched rumour but it’s still doing the rounds so I’ll give it some credence, although not much. Could Reina really come to United? It’s highly unlikely, after all having signed a new contract only months ago, it would be up to Liverpool to sell him and that’s never going to happen.
The recent takeover by ‘good’ American owners, means that the Anfield outfit will probably not have to sell any players to balance the books, least of all one of their best ones to United. Plus the return of ‘King Kenny’ seems to have made the bin dippers more of a happy family again. Could Reina do a job at Old Trafford? Probably. Although he is highly thought of and no doubt a very good stopper, he does like the occasional blunder and with any United keeper having large parts of the game where he’s not called upon, his concentration may be a slight worry. Personally, I’d prefer it if United went for someone a little but more reliable and a little less scouse-infected.
4. Shay Given. Manchester City. This may seem equally as far-fetched as the idea of Reina joining the Red and White Army, however there is a part of it that makes sense. Given is highly unlikely to want to stick around seeing the twilight of his career off by keeping Joleon Lescott warm on the City bench. He’s a proven world class keeper who has shown, not least in the 4-3 last season that he can produce stunning saves at the drop of a hat. The only problem to any such move would of course be City themselves who are about as likely to sell any player to United as they are to sign Wayne Rooney- but you never know. At 34, Given wouldn’t be a long-term signing but he could arguably do a job for at least two seasons if the unthinkable happened.
3. Igor Akinfeev. CSKA Moscow. Akinfeev is Russia’s international keeper and at only 24 years of age already has an impressive 34 caps. Fergie’s long meant to have been an admirer of the Russian and there’s little doubt that a significant bid could tempt CSKA to sell him. The only question mark would be could he handle the pressure of life at Old Trafford? That’s pretty impossible to tell unless he actually signed but there’s every reason to believe a player who’s stock is constantly rising could well be the man to take over from VDS. There’s been talk of Russian team mate and part time agony uncle- check out his blog it’s hilarious- Andrei Arshavin trying to convince him to go to the Emirates. Whether Arshavin is successful remains to be seen, but if Akinfeev did end up at Old Trafford, I for one wouldn’t be complaining.
2. Maarten Stekelenburg. Ajax. The Dutch stopper was one of the few players to emerge from the Holland team with his reputation enhanced following the world cup- despite their run to the final. Stekelenburg has taken over from VDS in the Dutch goal so replacing him for United may seem like a logical step- after all Ajax is also a former club of the United keeper. Standing around 6 foot 6 Stekelenburg is certainly one of the tallest keepers in world football but like VDS is pretty adept at getting down quick and as he proved in the World Cup final the big stage doesn’t faze him.
If Edwin has a quiet word in his ear then Stekelenburg may well be Fergie’s big summer signing, he has already ruled out a move to Arsenal- who seem to be in the hunt for every goalkeeper who’s currently playing.
1. Anders Lindegaard. Aalesunds FK. The Red’s latest signing would seem like the most obvious choice to replace VDS, after all he’s a goalkeeper and he’s just signed for United. There are signs however that Lindegaard may not be ready to don Van Der Sar’s gloves just yet. The Danish international’s cause wasn’t helped by his fellow countryman Schmeichel who claimed Lindegaard wasn’t good enough to play for United. Lindegaard’s yet to make an appearance for the United first-team although he has played for the reserves.
With only a few Danish caps plus 60 appearances in the Norwegian league, Lindegaard is extremely inexperienced and quite how ready he is to step into the side is anyone’s guess. Whether Sir Alex sees him as merely an understudy to the eventual number one or someone with the natural ability to take over from Van Der Sar -at the tender age of 26 – only time will tell, but if Lindegaard is to get a chance this season, I can only see two ways it will happen: an injury to Van Der Sar, or if we wrap up the league with a few games to spare. With Van Der Sar retiring though whether Fergie would trust Lindegaard to start next season as United’s number one.
Follow Redflagflyinghigh on twitter @RFFH