Every now and then you get a goalkeeper who defies the aging process but none has done so as spectacularly as Edwin van der Sar. At the ripe old age of 38 the Dutch keeper set the record for the number of minutes without conceding a league goal – a spectacular 1,311. Not bad for an old campaigner who just the season before saved Nicolas Anelka’s penalty to make Manchester United the champions of Europe.
The most capped Dutchman of all time’s glittering career began when he was spotted by Louis van Gaal in 1990 and added to the exciting group of youngsters he was assembling at Ajax. That side hit their peak in 1995 when they lifted the European Cup. Van der Sar kept a clean sheet as the young pretenders overcame the might of AC Milan in the final.
After nine years with the Amsterdam club he moved to Italy to test himself in Serie A with Juventus. Van der Sar held the number one jersey at the Delle Alpi until the arrival of Gigi Buffon pushed him onto the substitute’s bench.
Craving a starting place, Van der Sar moved to the Premier League to join newly-promoted Fulham. After four successful seasons at Craven Cottage, Alex Ferguson offered the 35-year-old keeper another chance to test himself on club football’s biggest stage – the Champions League. He grabbed it with both hands. His performances since then have earned comparisons with the last truly great keeper at Old Trafford – Peter Schmeichel.
Not as vocal or intimidating as the great Dane, Van der Sar exudes an aura of calm that breeds certainty in the defenders around him. He looks almost nonchalant as he patrols the Manchester United penalty area, comfortably dealing with awkward back passes, one-on-ones, or anything else thrown at him.
Raised in the total football school at Ajax, he is renowned as one of the most gifted goalkeepers with his feet. He even scored a goal in his time in Holland – a penalty against De Graafschap.
But goals by goalkeepers are interesting novelties; it is for keeping goals out at the other end that players become legends. On May 21, Van der Sar wrote himself into the European history books for the second time and secured a place in Manchester United folklore.
After superb performances in the build-up to the final it was fitting that the giant Dutchmen was given the chance to seal the win. As Nicolas Anelka placed the ball on the spot Van der Sar looked even bigger than his six feet five inches. He mischievously pointed to his left as the Frenchman approached the ball before leaping full-stretch to his right to palm away the ball and with it Chelsea’s chances of European glory.
Mobbed by his jubilant team-mates, it was Van der Sar’s night. Considering the level at which he is still playing, that may not be his last night on the big stage.