Sir Alex Ferguson is faced with a huge goalkeeping dilemma, which he must solve come the end of the season. Edwin van der Sar, unsure whether to sign a new one-year contract that would take him into his 40th year, may leave the club, while serious doubts remain over the long-term viability of both Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak. Indeed, such is the looming problem that Ferguson may choose to dip into the transfer market next summer.
van der Sar, who signed from Fulham for around £2 million in 2005, has been on a rolling contract for the past three seasons. Last campaign the legendary Dutchman, who has 130 international caps, signed a new one-year deal in December.
“I’ve said for a few years that it may be my last season,” said van der Sar, whom UEFA named Club Goalkeeper of the Year last season.
“Six months before my contract with Manchester United ended in December 2006, we extended for one year and so far it has been the same every time.
“I wait each season to see how or where I stand, if everyone is happy and if I can get motivated.
“But I know, because I always get older, it is increasingly likely that this will be my last season. In December, it will be clear how it goes. By then, I’ll have clarity. It is a horrible dilemma.”
van der Sar, out injured with a broken hand, will return within a month. With Foster’s form this season unconvincing, many believe that the Dutchman will be straight back in the United side. Indeed, while the Englishman has made some crucial saves – such as those to halt Robin van Persie of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur’s Tom Huddlestone – he has also made mistakes in the same game against Arsenal and Manchester City at the weekend.
Former United legend Peter Schmeichel should know goalkeepers and the giant Dane thinks van der Sar will end up staying at Old Trafford for at least another season. It would be a move that will end Foster’s United career.
“Ben Foster has done well this season and he certainly looks to be a very good goalkeeper. He’s getting a run of games now, but I’m sure Edwin will be back in when he’s fit because the manager knows he’s the right guy for the team at the moment,” said Schmeichel, whose last campaign at United was the 1999 treble season.
“I think Edwin can keep playing for a few more years yet. He’s fit, he’s strong and he’s motivated. Physically, it shouldn’t be a problem for Edwin to carry on and if he wants to, then I’m sure he’ll take that opportunity.”
Schmeichel quit Old Trafford for the warmer climate of Portugal aged just 35 and eventually played on for another four seasons with Sporting, Aston Villa and then Manchester City before retiring.
If van der Sar stays on there will remain serious question marks over the Dutchman’s ability to indefinitely keep up the form of last season, when he kept a clean sheet for record 1,311 minutes in the league. Indeed, the ‘keepers mistake in the Champions League final – beaten at the near post by Samuel Eto’o – was symptomatic of an indifferent end to the campaign.
Meanwhile almost nobody believes that Pole Kuszczak, picked for last night’s Carling Cup win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, will ever be good enough to claim the number one shirt permanently. The question is, after Foster’s gaffe against City, will he be in possession until van der Sar returns?