The expected retirement of Dutch legend Edwin van der Sar in May – the best goalkeeper to appear for Manchester United since Peter Schmeichel – will pose a huge problem for Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scot will be left to replace a goalkeeper who last season set a club and Premier League record for consecutive clean sheets at 1,032 minutes.
United’s visit to CSKA Moscow for a Champions League fixture this week offered supporters the chance to run-the-rule over a potential successor, Igor Akinfeev. United, linked with a £10 million bid for the 23-year-old in the January transfer window, is known to be compiling a dossier on the Russian.
United, linked with a number of ‘keepers following Ben Foster’s indifferent displays during van der Sar’s absence, may also look elsewhere for van der Sar’s successor.
Sporting Lisbon’s Rui Patricio may lack van der Sar’s experience at just 21-years-old but has already matched the goalscoring exploits of Peter Schmeichel by netting in the Champions League against FC Twente. 6ft 2in Patricio, who comes recommended by Cristiano Ronaldo, could be an option given United’s links with Sporting.
Manuel Neuer, the 6ft 4in 23-year-old Schalke 04 goalkeeper, is another youngster with Champions League experience, who has already been capped by Germany. However, Ferguson may wish to pay heed to Oliver Kahn who believes that Germany has no World Class ‘keepers.
30-year-old 6ft 2in Brazilian Julio Cesar is widely considered one of the best in the world. With 40 caps for Brazil and over 140 appearances for Internazionale, the former-Flamengo ‘keeper offers experience even if Inter is unlikely to sell.
An outside tip could be Heurelho Gomes from United’s feeder club Tottenham Hotspur. After a troubled first season in English football, the 6ft 3in ‘keeper has become a consistent performer Spurs. Gomes had an outstanding game against Portsmouth last weekend and his ability to launch counter attacks with a long throw is reminiscent of Peter Schmeichel.
United could still look closer to home for its next ‘keeper. Ferguson recently stated that he has “two excellent” goalkeepers in Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak. Kuszczak, it seems, will never be considered the first choice at Old Trafford. Meanwhile, Foster is young enough to improve after a troubling season in which questions have been asked of the former-Stoke City player’s concentration and decision-making. Ferguson is known to rate Foster’s excellent technical ability and shot stopping.