At some point during the next season Sir Alex Ferguson will have to make a decision which will be present him with an agonising dilemma. Goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar will turn 40 in six months time and while the giant Dutchman continues to show the same class that has been his hallmark throughout his long career, the time is fast approaching for him to hang up his gloves.
Remembering how long it took Ferguson to adequately replace the legendary Peter Schmeichel after that famous treble was completed in 1999, it will not surprise to see a painstaking world wide search before Sir Alex settles on someone who he can feel comfortable with.
England itself has sadly long lost its ability to produce world class keepers. The likes of Gordon Banks, Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton have long been forgotten as demonstrated by the struggle that England manager Fabio Capello faces in selecting anyone with outstanding ability for his World Cup squad.
One reason among many for this situation can be found by simply having a look at the Premier League which is stacked with foreign born keepers amongst whom Van der Sar, Liverpool’s Pepe Reina and arguably Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer are possibly the safest. Can anyone remember the last time that a major European club showed any sort of interest in signing an English goalkeeper?
It also says much that one of United’s own backups is 27 year old Ben Foster who despite having been capped by England four times, his last being as recently as four months ago in the 1-0 defeat by Brazil, he is not considered by Ferguson as the natural successor for Van der Sar.
The Premier League is therefore unlikely to be a happy hunting ground as apart from Reina there hardly seems to be anyone else who could fit the bill. Dragging the Spaniard away from Anfield however will prove to be much easier said than done.
Short of Ferguson pulling some sort of rabbit out of a hat the only option will be to look overseas if he’s going to sign the quality keeper that he would expect. The last thing he wants is a repeat of the drama that was experienced at the club following the departure of Schmeichel therefore, getting the best available will be one of his top priorities.
Going on past history keepers do not generally hit their peak until their early thirties so potentially great ones like the German Manuel Neuer from Schalke 04 may at 23 years of age be considered to be still at the early stages of his development. The same thinking may apply to Lyon’s Hugo Lloris, another 23 year old even though he’s likely to be the number one keeper for France in South Africa.
Getting who he wants and settling on who he’s able to get is obviously what life itself is all about and Sir Alex is pragmatic enough to realise it. There are at least three goalkeepers however who are able to tick most of the boxes so any one of them will be welcomed to Old Trafford with open arms by Ferguson and United fans alike.
Most knowledgeable pundits regard Italy’s World Cup winning Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon as the best of them all and at the age of 32 should still have years of football ahead of him. Others have a preference for Real Madrid’s 28 year old Iker Casillas tipped to help Spain add the World Cup to the European title won in 2008.
Should Ferguson fail to clinch a deal for either of those two, 30 year old Brazilian Julio Cesar will also fit in nicely and may be tempted to make the move from Inter Milan. His almost faultless performance in last seasons first leg scoreless quarter final against United in the Champions League at the San Siro would have undoubtedly left a lasting impression.
If – and yes it’s an admittedly hefty IF, any one of that trio can be convinced by Sir Alex to replace Van der Sar at Old Trafford once he decides to call a halt to an outstanding career, fans will be highly unlikely to see a repeat of the capers performed by a certain Massimo Taibi ten years ago during his disastrous four match career at United.
Which goalkeeper would you like to see replace Ven der Sar upon his retirement?