An Ode to Edwin van der Sar: The Flying Dutchman Who Became a Man Utd Legend

It was always going to be a difficult task for Manchester United to replace departing goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel in 1999, but when they finally found their replacement, he was well worth the wait.

When the Great Dane left United for pastures new after completing that iconic treble in 1999, Sir Alex Ferguson really struggled to find the man to take over in the sticks as number one. French World Cup winner Fabien Barthez never quite settled, a young Tim Howard seemed too green for the role, and the less said about Massimo Taibi the better.

The signing of Edwin van der Sar from Fulham in 2005 would prove to be the answer to all of United's goalkeeping problems. Van der Sar had impressed throughout his career and boasted a CV that had seen him play for Ajax and Juventus previously, but of all the options United had tried, a 34-year-old seemingly past his best keeper didn't jump out to fans as 'the right answer'.

Born in the South of Holland, Van der Sar signed with Ajax in 1990, before making his debut a year later under manager Louis van Gaal. This was the start of a successful decade with Ajax that saw them win four Eredivisie titles, a UEFA Cup and the 1994/95 Champions League.

Heading to Serie A in 1999, he signed for Juventus amid interest from a certain Manchester United, who were in the market for Schmeichel's replacement. However, just two years later, Van der Sar would move on after Juventus signed a young Gianluigi Buffon for a then-record £32.6m fee.

He joined newly promoted side Fulham in 2001 to the surprise of many, and continued to grow into one of the world's most consistent keepers as he entered what many expected to be his peak years. While United were still trying to make it work with Mark Bosnich - no, Fabien Barthez - no, Roy Carroll - you get it - Fulham were happy as Larry with their Dutch delight.

Van der Sar continued to operate at a high level with Fulham

Ferguson finally signed Van der Sar in 2005 and he would prove pivotal to United's rediscovering their mojo. He made the 2006/07 PFA Team of the Year as United won the Premier League and made an electric start to the following 2007/08 campaign, saving three Chelsea penalties in the 2007 FA Community Shield. Immediately, he had proved a bargain. He read the game with the mind of a veteran, but played like young and hungry up-and-comer with everything to prove.

United won the Premier League three years in a row between 2006/07 and the 2008/09 season, as they reasserted their dominance on the English game. Van der Sar was crucial to their success on domestic and European fronts, as they won the 2008 Champions League and reached the final again the following season, before finally retiring at the end of the 2010/11 campaign, aged 41.

He was impeccable at United, but was great long before that. Truth is, the Dutchman had aged like a fine wine when he arrived at Old Trafford while most players do the opposite, which is again testament to his brilliance.

Van der Sar was so good because he made the great saves look routine. Effortless. An unbelievable reader of the game, his positioning was supremely accurate, which allowed him to be a step ahead of oncoming shots a lot of the time. But even when that wasn't enough, Van der Sar's reactions were razor sharp, right up until his retirement. He was capable of outstanding diving efforts, sweeping up danger one on one, and producing decisive penalty saves on the big stage.

While many are quick to praise Schmeichel for his immense presence and decade of heroics at Manchester United in the 90s, and others continue to heap praise onto David de Gea for his consistently top-level performances in recent years, Edwin van der Sar sometimes slips under the radar. He was directly responsible for arguably Manchester United's greatest spell ever in the late 2000s - while in his late 30s and early 40s - which makes it all the more astonishing.

The debate as to who Manchester United's greatest goalkeeper is will forever be without a definitive answer, but to forget Van der Sar's influence on the club during his six-year spell would be ludicrous. Manchester United's only regret will be that they didn't snap him up sooner than they did.

Source : 90min