AUTHOR: — Bricki
With the announcement that Edwin Van Der Sar will hang up his gloves and return to Holland at the end of the season, the question appears to be… Who will replace the Dutchman?
Every major and emerging Goalkeeper in Europe has been mentioned but im not going to look at them in this article. I feel it is more pertinent to look at the way that Van Der Sar has changed the role of Goalkeeper at the Club and the impact it has had.
The common consencus going round is that Sir Alex Ferguson missed a trick when he didn’t pick up Van Der Sar when he left Juventus for Fulham in the Summer of 2001 instead opting for a mix of Barthez/Van Der Gouw/Bosnich and a fair few others. The only one who could be viewed as a success in parts was Barthez, though he did implode to a degree towards the end of his time with the club.
So what did Van der Sar bring to the club that had been missing since Schmeichel’s reign?
If you were to look at the areas of his game where Van der Sar excels he shares many traits of Schmeichel when he dominated the penalty box. Whilst not as physically imposing as Schmeichel, who was like a brick out-house, Van der Sar has a command over his box that had been missing in the mid 2000s at the club. This created a confidence between the defence he had in front of him and allowed an instant understanding between both sides, cutting most of the errors that were being made through ‘mis-communication’
The arrival 18 months later of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra coupled with Rio Ferdinand starting to reach the levels required after his move from Leeds United after the 2002 World Cup created a strong backline that was in place to play together for many years to come.
In the ‘Schmeichel Era’ it was commonplace for the Great Dane to come out and ‘Rollock’ his players if the opposing side created a chance or if any player made an error. Whilst Van der Sar has never been the most aggressive player on the field he is quick to ‘discuss’ with his teammates any problems or concerns that come up during a game. This might not appear to be a big issue but it was something we didnt see too much of after Schmeichel, with Barthez being an exception as he just needed any excuse to come out of his box.
The confidence this will harbour between the keeper and defence, the idea that they are all in this together, breeds a team mentality that is the very foundation of Manchester United as a club.
One of Van der Sars’ strong points is his ability with the ball at his feet. The introduction of the ‘Passback’ rule after the shocker that was Italia 90 meant that Goalkeepers could no longer get away with not having at least one ‘good’ foot. This was the one area of Schmeichels game that was viewed as weak, whereas it is one where Van der Sar has excelled. With the ability to use either foot as well as his distribution with his throws, Van der Sar offers valuable back up and another option for the side in terms of ‘keeping ball’. In times gone by, a wayward kick out of touch or a long ball the opposition win meant that we would be back on defence and causing our own problems. This now very rarely happens to the team and very often Van der Sar will use passing triangles with his back four or the deep lying midfielder to ensure the team retains possession.
The following Chalkboards show Van der Sars distribution methods and success in the recent game against Manchester City
The Chalkboard above shows that in ‘open play’ Van der Sar looks to keep play short with passes into the defence or the edge of the centre circle the norm. This allows the team to build from the back and gets players such as Scholes, Giggs, Nani and Carrick onto the ball faster and able to conduct the tempo of the game.
This Chalkboard shows the use of the ball from goal kicks. Again the importance is ball retention and leads to the back four and the wide players being the players who are targeted.
The Chalkboard above showing his unsuccessful passes in the game shows that from 38 attempted passes in the game he was unsuccessful with just 11 but all were over a longer distance and appeared to be concentrated on two areas – balls towards the area that Rooney would challenge and also balls wide towards Nani. This can be viewed as trying to release pressure on the team as well as looking to possibly get the team on the counter attack quickly. Its interesting to note that only one of his unsuccessful passes is a goal kick. This highlights the point that with free kicks and the ball in hand Van der Sar looks to switch the play quickly and catch the opposition cold.
Two great examples of Van der Sars awareness and accuracy in his passes came in the home game against Aston Villa
The ability for Van der Sar to see a pass in the first minute and catch the opposition defence not fully alert led to the opening goal for Wayne Rooney and meant it set the tone for the rest of the game.
In the build up to this goal the Villa team is drawn in by the close passing between Ferdinand and Carrick and once the ball returns to Van der Sar he is able to eliminate the Villa midfield with a pass into Berbatov who in turn finds Nani and then a cross into Rooney seals the win.
This abilty with the ball at his feet brings a confidence to the team and a new method to the attacking intent of the team.
Van der Sars reflexes and shot stopping ability are there for all to see and mixed in with his mind games (which accounted for Anelka in the Champions League Final) makes him a goalkeeper with few to compare.
With each game now it draws a little closer that the Dutchman will soon be on his way back to Holland and we will have a giant gap to fill in the Stretford End goal. Is there a goalkeeper out there who can bring the sort of game that Van der Sar has given us in the last 6 years? Fortunately im not the one who has to find him but looking at how special a goalkeeper Van der Sar has been… its not going to be an easy task.