Since Peter Schmeichel left Manchester United after that game, it always seemed that we had a weakness to find good goalkeepers and bring them to the club. Sir Alex tried everything: Mark Bosnich, Tim Howard, Roy Carroll, Fabien Barthez. Nothing seemed to work. It looked like Schmeichel left a ghost behind to haunt everybody who tried to replace him successfully.
But then, after becoming utterly frustrated and bored of experimenting with goalkeepers, he went for the sure choice: Edwin van der Saar. The Dutchman nearly joined United in 1999 before he opted to move to Juventus, but he then moved on to Premier League side Fulham and Manchester United had no problem snatching him from the Premier League strugglers. Suddenly, Schmeichel’s ghost vanished.
Van der Saar has put in two seasons and a bit of steady, good performances and made some miraculous saves since joining the team in 2005. He has become the undisputed number one at Old Trafford, but age is against him. His contract runs out at the end of the next season and it looks unlikely that he will sign (or be given) another extension. If history is to repeat itself even partially, Sir Alex will have trouble replacing him successfully, but the current goalkeeping situation is not one we should worry about.
Standing in the shade behind the big Dutchman, are two other young goalkeepers, both with a full season of Premier League experience. The much criticized Kuszczak is one of them and he has performed up to standards when called upon. The other option, England’s last chance to a good goalkeeper has only played one game for the club, but was highly impressive both in his season with Watford last year and against Derby in his sole performance for the club in three years.
There are two things I cannot understand about Kuszczak: the first being how he got to be called PIG, the second is why just about every Manchester United fan thinks he is not good enough to be the second choice goalkeeper for the team. He has made thirteen appearances for Manchester United in two seasons at the club and he was fairly steady in most of those. His recent game against Bolton was very good and in his first one – against Arsenal – he denied a penalty and made other good saves. Not bad for an out-of-practice goalkeeper, I will say.
He will be a good backup next year and maybe challenge Foster for the first team in the future if he continues to improve. We keep on forgetting that he is not that old, Kuszczak – only one year the senior of Ben Foster. So if he can keep on improving, and learn from one of the best goalkeepers in world football since the Great Dane, his future at Old Trafford might involve some actual football rather than resting on those very comfortable red chairs.
The other option, the one for the future is Ben Foster. He arrived at United at the same time as Edwin van der Saar and was shipped off to Watford almost immediately. He was a major factor in their rather surprising promotion and did all right the following season in the Premier League – although his team finished bottom of the league.
He was a little bit unfortunate to injure himself just as Ferguson seemed set to give him a chance to challenge Van der Saar for the first team spot, but has come back and looks good for several appearances next season, which we can presume will be his apprenticeship at the club. Following that apprenticeship, we can look forward to several good years from Foster. He is young, talented and steady and if he can keep that up and improve on it that Ferguson might have found a really good goalkeeper for the very long term.
Despite this enviable amount of goalkeeping talent and potential within the squad, Manchester United continues to be linked with new goalkeepers, which for me is baffling. But what is more baffling is that this is not only press rubbish; a lot of it comes from the fans as well. Sir Alex might want spend the money he will be given this summer in areas which need some strengthening; goalkeeping is not one of them.
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