The news that veteran goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is to retire at the end of this season did not come as a big surprise. Although his performances for Manchester United this season have been up there with his best (he has conceded just 30 goals in 32 Premier League appearances and just 3 goals in 9 Champions League games), at the grand old age of 40, he has enjoyed a far longer career than many players dream of.
Since the announcement, speculation has been rife as to who will replace van der Sar as Sir Alex Ferguson’s first-choice goalkeeper.
So, let’s assesses the likely contenders.
Allan McGregor – Glasgow Rangers
Back in October 2010, when it was reported that Manchester United’s chief scout Martin Ferguson watched McGregor produce an outstanding display in Scotland’s 3-2 defeat against Spain, it looked as though Sir Alex Ferguson was lining up a bid for the Ibrox stopper.
Speculation has cooled in recent months, but the 29-year-old has been in superb form for the Glasgow giants this season and would probably be available for less than £8million.
Manuel Neuer – Schalke 04
The 25-year-old captain of Schalke 04 has been touted as a prospective Manchester United goalkeeper since impressing during last summer’s World Cup.
As if his exploits for Germany were not enough, when United took on Schalke 04 in the first leg of this year’s Champions League semi-final, Neuer produced what Sir Alex Ferguson described as “probably the finest display of goalkeeping against us.”
On 20 April 2011, Neuer announced that he would not be extending his Schalke contract, which is set to expire at the end of the 2011–2012 season. Bayern Munich is reported to be his most likely destination, but the young star may see Manchester United as being more likely to fulfil his Champions League aspirations.
David de Gea – Atlético Madrid
A product of Atlético Madrid’s youth system, this Spanish wonder kid might not have the experience of other goalkeepers mentioned in this list, but the 20-year-old has a growing reputation as one of the best shot stoppers in the world, and is now considered to be the long-term replacement for Spain’s current number 1, Iker Casillas.
Whether Sir Alex will risk splashing the cash on a relatively unproven player remains to be seen.
José Manuel Reina – Liverpool
Reina is a consistent performer and, after nearly seven years at Liverpool, may feel it is time for a new challenge.
However, Liverpool will be reluctant to sell the 28-year-old to their Premier League rivals, especially as Reina’s current contract keeps him at Anfield until 2016. After signing the deal in April 2010 he said: “I am happy here and I think the club is happy too. I see no reason to leave.”
Then, in February 2011 (with Liverpool languishing in mid-table in the Premier League), Reina hinted on Spanish radio station Onda Cero, that he might be open to a move to the Red Devils. He said: “Yes, van der Sar will hang up his gloves in the summer so of course they are looking. I can’t do anything. I can’t say anything logically as I have a contract with Liverpool. Of course one likes to fight for titles and be in a team that does that.”
Kasper Schmeichel – Leeds United
The 24-year-old has impressed in the Championship this season with Leeds United. With just one year remaining on his contract, and Leeds United resigned to another season outside the Premier League, Sir Alex may see it as an opportunity to get an highly regarded goalkeeper for a reasonable price.
His father, Peter, is widely considered to be Manchester United’s greatest ever goalkeeper. Will his son follow in his footsteps?
René Adler – Bayer Leverkusen
When Adler negotiated his latest deal at Bayer Leverkusen he insisted he would only accept their contract of new terms if it made provision for his lifelong ambition to play for Manchester United. The controversial release clause was duly written into the German international’s contract.
The asking price for the 26-year-old will be high, but the prospect of a hassle-free release from Adler’s current club may appeal to the United manager, who sent goalkeeper coach Eric Steele to Germany in March for a closer inspection of the shot-stopper.
Hugo Lloris – Olympique Lyonnais
The French number 1 has reportedly been on Manchester United’s radar for some time, and prompted the 24-year-old to issue a come-and-get-me plea to Sir Alex Ferguson in February of this year. He is quoted in the French press as saying: “Manchester United is a great football club. They are one of the most successful clubs in the world, so, of course, it is a club that makes me dream.”
Olympique Lyonnais, having guaranteed Champions League football for next season, would be reluctant to allow Lloris to leave. Will Sir Alex tempt them with a bid in the summer?
Maarten Stekelenburg – Ajax
Having already followed in the footsteps of van der Sar by succeeding him as goalkeeper for Ajax and the Dutch team, it is not unthinkable that the 6 foot 6” shot stopper could also replace him at Old Trafford.
The 28-year-old, who has played for Ajax all his career, and is expected to leave the club in the summer, has previously spoken of his admiration for the Red Devils, saying Manchester United “is a club where everyone wants to play.”
Ferguson’s assistant, Rene Meulensteen, told Dutch radio: “Stekelenburg is indeed a keeper who is at the top of our wanted list. We naturally talk a lot among ourselves about who should replace van der Sar. Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken about Stekelenburg with Edwin, and that does not seem strange to me at all.”
Tomasz Kuszczak – Manchester United
The Polish international has been a perennial understudy during his five years at the Manchester club. Therefore, with the departure of the team’s current number 1, it could be expected that Kuszczak will make the step up next season.
However, the 29-year-old poured scorn on the idea when he spoke to The Sun newspaper last month. He said: “I’m definitely leaving the club. My time in Manchester is coming to an end. I’ve worked hard for five years but I never played as much as I wanted. It’s a shame the manager didn’t really give me a chance. I always believed I could be Edwin van der Sar’s successor. Unfortunately, Sir Alex has decided differently.”
Anders Lindegaard – Manchester United
Signed by Manchester United in November 2010, Lindegaard cannot be overlooked when it comes to considering who will replace van der Sar as the team’s first-choice goalkeeper. The 27-year-old, who was a boyhood United fan, has played just two games for the club (both in the FA Cup, in victories against Southampton and Crawley Town) and is more likely to be viewed as a back-up goalkeeper for next season.
About the prospect of replacing van der Sar, Lindegaard told Norwegian newspaper Sunnmørsposten: “The only thing I can do is show myself and prove to everyone that I should be the first-choice ‘keeper.”
Ben Amos – Manchester United
After the signing of Lindegaard, the 20-year-old Amos went on loan to Oldham Athletic from January until the end of the season, to gain match experience.
Before then, the England youth international played in United’s final Champions League group match against Valencia at Old Trafford, where he failed to prevent the first goal United had conceded in the Champions League that season.
As he is behind Lindegaard in the current pecking order, it is highly unlikely that Amos will become Sir Alex’s first-choice goalkeeper for the 2011-2012 season.
Edwin van der Sar – Manchester United
What? Edwin van der Sar will be replaced by… Edwin van der Sar?
Well, it is possible that he may be persuaded to stay on if a suitable successor cannot be found. Given the calibre of goalkeepers mentioned above, however, that scenario seems unlikely.
The Big Man’s verdict?
When Peter Schmeichel left in 1999, Sir Alex utilised a series of relatively ineffective goalkeepers, including Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Massimo Taibi, Raimond van der Gouw, Andy Goram and Roy Carroll. The United manager has vowed not to make the same mistakes in replacing van der Sar. In January of this year, he said: “We hope we’re better organised this time.” In other words, a big-name, experienced goalkeeper will be sought.
David de Gea and Stekelenburg would both be exciting purchases, however, the Dutchman has much more experience in big matches (he played for the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup, where they reached the final). Presumably, his 40-year-old compatriot will have given a glowing reference of his ability to Sir Alex. If so, considering van der Sar’s legendary status, that would be a highly significant commendation.