It’s a well known fact that Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs is the most decorated footballer in England, possibly anywhere. But his team mate Edwin van der Sar is not all that far behind. The former Netherlands goalkeeper who will hit the big four 0 in October made his senior debut for Ajax Amsterdam in 1990-91, the same season that 17 year old Giggs made his breakthrough into the first team at Old Trafford. Since then, the 6ft 6inch Dutchman has won 7 League titles and 2 European Champion League winning medals between the two clubs but he has made it clear that he’s still hungry for more.
Speaking on the club’s pre season tour of America, VDS insisted that regaining the Premier League title from Chelsea is undoubtedly the number one target for the new season. “The first thing you want is to get the Premiership back, that’s for sure. We narrowly missed out last year although we had loads of injuries and lost too many games. We were still in it until the penultimate game of the season and I think that’s the priority” he said.
“We never thought it was our title to keep after winning it for three seasons running” he went on “you have to work hard for it all season. That’s what we are doing now, working hard, and hopefully when the big boys come back at the beginning of August we should be ready for a new challenge. Of course we went out of Europe too early last season and that also has to be one of the focus points.”
It’s a winning attitude which has either been built into the squad by Sir Alex Ferguson or a natural mentality that the manager looks for in his players. It may explain the reason why United has been so successful for so long because veteran Paul Scholes expressed a similar desire when he admitted that “As a team, we all want to get back on track after finishing second to Chelsea last season. It wasn’t great for us obviously, we would have liked to have won the league but the injuries we had last year were a massive blow for us. We just hope we can stay injury free next season, play a bit better and hopefully win some more trophies.”
The veteran keeper was capped a record 130 times for Holland but has no regrets over retiring from international football in 2008 after playing twice for his country in the 2010 World Cup qualifying matches against Iceland and Norway. He could have been a member of the squad that reached the final in South Africa but does not look back on his decision “Not at all” he said “of course when you reach the World Cup final you always think ‘What if?’ But I made the decision to retire two years ago and at a certain point, enough is enough.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, VDS has a different opinion to those who have been critical of Holland after their physical approach to the final against Spain “I think the criticism has been unfair” he said in their defence “I saw a couple of headlines mainly in the English press and I thought they were a bit too harsh. It was a hard game but Spain are a tough team to play against and you have to do everything in your power to win a game. Of course you would rather do it with nice football but sometimes that is not possible.”
He admitted that “It was agony losing to Spain. That’s three finals now and three defeats. It would be nice to finally get that star on the Holland shirt but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.” A quiet understandable assessment from someone who has devoted so many years to his country…and to his various clubs.
Is a winning mentality the secret of United’s success over the years?