Edwin van der Sar: Short essays on the greatest Dutch reds

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There is a Dutch flavor in everything around Manchester United at the moment. Erik ten Hag has been in the hot seat for just over a month with Frenkie de Jong and Tyrell Malacia likely to join him as well as Donny van de Beek.

Old Trafford has been home to many Dutch greats, from the flying figures of Edwin van der Saar and Robin van Persie to the fierce like Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Busby Babe staff felt it was only right that we celebrate some of the club’s greatest Dutch Reds by offering short essays on them.

The tries will be part of a series that also serves as a short game to see who ranks as the greatest Dutch red of them all. We decided to take inspiration from The Ringer’s Shea Sarranowho came up with his own original measures to rank different seasons and players in his book Basketball (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated and gave it our own little twist.

We will use the following metrics to assess each Dutchman:

  • Silverware
  • Statistics
  • Transformative
  • Longevity
  • Charisma

We will provide a score out of 5 for each metric. The score assigned to the player by the test author will either be revealed at the end or will form the basis of the piece. Since we have 5 metrics and each metric is scored out of 5, the player will get a score out of 25.

We also have 4 players to write about and each writer will provide a rating out of 25 for those players. These scores will be revealed in a separate room, once all trials have been completed. Do the math and you’ll find that every player will eventually be rated out of 100.

We will also be doing a final play poll and hope to offer at least one more round of trials before the start of the 2022/23 Premier League season.

Now here is a short essay on Colin’s Edwin van der Sar.


Edwin van der Sar

“I remember studying many Chelsea penalties on DVD before the game,” Edwin van der Sar told FourFourTwo in 2017.

“So, for example, I think I probably analyzed around 40 that Frank Lampard had taken in the past. I had taken plenty of notes and noticed that Nicolas Anelka almost always took his shots to the right of the keeper.

In the shootout, he alternated the top 3, dipping left, right, then left again. Each shooter went to the keeper’s left, with Lampard and Cole’s penalties nearly eluding him. He opted to alternate again, going right for Terry as the captain became the fifth Chelsea player to go left of van der Sar, but missed the crucial penalty that would have put the trophy in his hands.

In sudden death, Salamon Kalou also opted to go to the left of van der Sar, and the Dutch goalkeeper appeared to be selling to his right, betting Chelsea would falter.

Anelka did.

It was a good height for him to save anyway, but van der Sar’s strategy eventually paid off as he handed the club their third, and for now last, Champions League title.

It was a step van der Sar had already been, as winners with the remarkable Ajax side in 1995 and runners-up in 1996, losing to Juventus in a penalty shoot-out. He would join Juventus in 1999 as they searched for the final pieces for another side in contention for the Champions League, but after two seasons the bianconeri were unconvinced, opting to break Gianluigi Buffon’s transfer record and to pass van der Sar to Fulham. His quality didn’t fade, in fact it grew, and at the age of 34 the Dutchman moved to Manchester United. This time he wouldn’t lose his place on stage, and when the spotlight found him, he had the experience, skills and intelligence to make this moment his own again.

A specialist in instantaneous saves, anticipation and organisation, van der Sar provided Sir Alex Ferguson with a leader from the back, someone who knew what he wanted from his defense and how to communicate it with authority. His work behind the Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic partnership sped up Ferguson’s team-building process in the mid-2000s in a way that is often overlooked. Of course, the emergence of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo was vital, but the arrival of van der Sar in 2005 and that of Patrice Evra and Vidic in January 2006 gave United 3 guaranteed starters over the next 6 years for around £17 million. Even adjusted for inflation, this is now only around £25m.

One of the greatest goalkeepers of all time cost United just £2m.

And with that value, he brought much-needed leadership and experience, becoming the goalkeeper between the posts that the team lacked since the departure of Peter Schmeichel. He may not have had the longevity of his career at United as either Schmeichel or De Gea, but his output in this era is perhaps more impressive than either of those peers. There was, of course, the incredible 2008/09 streak where he surpassed Petr Cech’s clean sheet record of 1032 minutes without conceding. It was a season that completed a second treble of Premier League titles in 10 years and brought the club level with Liverpool to 18 titles. Stats and trophies aren’t everything, but not all great defenses, or teams for that matter, get their moment in the sun like this team did, and that’s part of what sets them apart, as well than van der Sar, of most teams in the history of the sport. It was the greatness validated at the highest level.

He benefited greatly from the team he was part of, but that didn’t diminish his contributions and played at a high level even in his final season at 40. He is fifth in clean sheets for Manchester United with 135, but he has done that in just 266 appearances. Each of the players above him on this list have 375 or more appearances.

Four Premier League titles, a pair of League Cups, the Champions League and the Club World Cup, he has the CV of a legend in trophies and statistics. As for his transformation, he doesn’t take all the credit, but played a huge role nonetheless. The longevity is odd as he was in his mid-30s when he joined the club, but playing until he was 40 and making the Champions League final says a lot about the quality of play throughout his career over 20 years old.

And of course, he is still respected for his achievements and for his continued footballing prowess at the executive level. That respect and admiration at Old Trafford is assured, however, by his enduring image as a man elated by that indescribable feeling, screaming in the pouring Moscow rain as his teammates rush to embrace him. His palm, like Solskjaer’s boot or Charlton’s head, the last piece of another Manchester United vintage.

And he’s a winner.

Rating: 24/25

Silverware: 5/5

Stats: 5/5

Transformer: 4/5

Longevity: 5/5

Charisma: 5/5

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