Sir Alex Ferguson has whittled down the search for Edwin van der Sar’s replacement to a shortlist of three after deciding that Tomasz Kuszczak and Anders Lindegaard cannot be trusted to succeed the Dutchman at the end of the season.
Van der Sar confirmed today that he will retire this summer and that has left Ferguson intent on bringing in another goalkeeper despite the £3.5m arrival of Lindegaard from the Norwegian club Aalesund. Ajax’s Maarten Stekelenburg, the Germany international Manuel Neuer and, to a lesser extent, Atlético Madrid’s David de Gea are among those under consideration and that, in turn, is likely to lead to Kuszczak’s departure, with the Pole having decided to seek a transfer if he continues to be seen in the role of understudy.
A summer of change at Old Trafford will also see Gary Neville end his 17-year playing career. The defender is not even guaranteed to be in United’s 25-man squad for the Champions League knockout stages, to be submitted next Tuesday, now Ferguson has to find a space for Lindegaard. Plans are being made for Neville’s testimonial and Ferguson is contemplating finding a role for the former England international, 36 next month, behind the scenes.
Ferguson is also planning to hold talks with Paul Scholes to ascertain whether he wishes to extend his career by another year – the 36-year-old is undecided about whether he should follow Ryan Giggs, a year his senior, by playing on – and then the priority will be to find a goalkeeper who can bring an assurance to the team that has not always been there since Peter Schmeichel left.
“He [Van der Sar] is going to be a very difficult man to replace,” Eric Steele, United’s goalkeeping coach, said. “Lindegaard has been brought in to have five months working under the master, while Tomasz Kuszczak has done admirably every time he has gone in for us but we are naturally looking for potential successors ready for the summer when Edwin finally says goodbye.”
Asked if that meant another target had been identified, Steele added: “Yes. Come the end of the season, the whole thing will be totally reassessed by the manager. I would never give away all the work we have done [scouting potential replacements] but the question is: can we get somebody to replace Edwin van der Sar? We could do it internally but we have looked at the best targets and we now have a nice one, two and three who we think can fill the job.”
Van der Sar informed Ferguson of his decision a month ago and the man who saved Nicolas Anelka’s penalty to win the 2008 Champions League final plans to have an extended break before deciding whether he wants to return to the sport in a coaching or managerial role.
“[He’s] a magnificent person, professional, [it’s] an absolute marvellous career he’s had,” Ferguson said. “He’s an example to anyone who wants to become a goalkeeper. He’s going to take a break, and I understand that, but he’ll have a part to play whatever he does in football in a couple of years’ time.”
Van der Sar has been thinking more seriously about retirement since his wife, Annemarie, suffered a brain haemorrhage in December 2009. “It is now time to pay attention to my family,” he said. “Let’s just say that it was playing on my mind from the moment Annemarie had her stroke. She has fought back from it. We decided on another year in England and to stay at Manchester United.
“But once in the season, the thought of saying goodbye started to gnaw away at me a bit more. Right now, I’m happy with my form. I just want to [leave] that on a high level. You can’t play Superman into your 40s.”