Manchester United plan for life after van der Sar
Sir Alex Ferguson once again faces up to the task of replacing a great goalkeeper and the Manchester United manager would hope that filling Edwin van der Sar's gloves proves simpler than finding the new Peter Schmeichel.
Ferguson expects Van der Sar to confirm that, at the age of 40, this season — his sixth at Old Trafford — will be his last.
The Dutchman has always said that there will come a time when he will take his young family back to the Netherlands; and that time will come in the summer. There has been no formal announcement but yesterday Ferguson said: “We are planning for this to be possibly his last season.”
Had Ferguson signed Van der Sar in the wake of Schmeichel's decision to quit Manchester United in the wake of the 1999 European Cup final, the transition from great goalkeeper to great goalkeeper would have been a silken one.
Instead, Van der Sar went from Ajax to Juventus and Ferguson found himself with Massimo Taibi and Mark Bosnich.
The latter was occasionally brilliant but frequently overweight while Taibi let in 11 goals in four appearances and was dismissed by Ferguson as “not a Manchester United player.”
“I learned lessons from that,” he said yesterday.
“I should have signed Van der Sar after Schmeichel. I made a mistake but now we think we know where we are going.”
Van der Sar may be six feet six inches tall but the metaphorical space he fills is far bigger.
Of his recent understudies, Tomasz Kuszczak has not made an overwhelming case that he is a Manchester United player.
Ben Amos shaped up well against Valencia earlier this month but is still only 20 while Ben Foster, described by Ferguson last season as the best English keeper in the country, is now at Birmingham.
Anders Lindegaard, the 26-year-old Dane, signed from the Norwegian club Aalesund last month will not be eligible to play until January 4.
When he arrives, Ferguson expects a three-cornered fight between United, Arsenal and Chelsea for the title, although he will not rule out Manchester City.
However, he believes the demands of winning the Europa League may weigh on Roberto Mancini's squad, just as a first tilt at the Champions League may derail Tottenham.
“I know Harry Redknapp is talking up his chances very well at Tottenham but they are involved in the Champions League and that is a new thing for them,” said Ferguson, whose first experience of the competition in its current format in 1994-95 contributed to a rare trophyless season at Old Trafford.
“Particularly if they get through this next stage (against Milan) it is not easy to manage European competition at that level and then do the league programme and FA Cup ties.
“It is very difficult and usually only your experience gets you through.”
But for the postponement of last Sunday's encounter with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United may already have opened up a decisive lead in the Premier League.
Ferguson does not expect it to be replayed until “after March at least” and there remains the possibility that a league wanting to milk more drama from the competition will reschedule it for the penultimate game of the season.
“We have had to look at the fixtures in the past few days and it's quite a difficult one,” he said.
“Because you have FA Cup dates, it is difficult to know where to place it. It certainly seems like it is not going to be played until after March at least.
“Obviously, Chelsea are in a bit of bad form and they were probably quite happy to get the game called off.”
So, just who is Anders Lindegaard?
He is 26 and Danish but, built more like the gangly Edwin van der Sar than the bear-like frame of Peter Schmeichel |(pictured), who doubted Lindegaard had what it took to be a number one at Old Trafford.
“We are talking Manchester United here,” he said.
“The position has to be filled by someone of the very, very highest quality who also has the right experience.”
Lindegaard was brought up in Odense, the club that produced Thomas Sorensen, but moved to Norway when Bruce Rioch brought Roy Carroll to the club.
At Aalesund, Lindegaard plays in a stadium seven times smaller than Old Trafford but helped the club win the Norwegian Cup for the first time in its history.
At £3.5m, he cost United more than Van der Sar and Schmeichel combined.