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

Next up in the series, United’s original flying dutchman...

Manchester United Dutch goalkeeper Edwin Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images

There’s a Dutch flavour to everything around Manchester United at the moment. Erik ten Hag’s been at the hot seat for a little over a month with Frenkie de Jong and Tyrell Malacia likely to join him and Donny van de Beek.

Old Trafford’s been home to many a great Dutchman, 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 that it was only right that we celebrate some of the club’s greatest Dutch Reds by coming up with short essays on them.

The essays will be part of a series that also serves as a little game to see who ranks as the greatest Dutch Red of them all. We decided to take inspiration from The Ringer’s Shea Sarrano, who came up with his own quirky metrics 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 spin.

We’ll be using the following metrics to rate each Dutchman:

  • Silverware
  • Stats
  • Transformative
  • Longevity
  • Charisma

We will provide a score out of 5 for each metric. The score assigned for the player by the writer tasked with the essay will either be revealed at the end or form the basis of the piece. Since we’ve got 5 metrics and each metric is scored out of 5, the player will get a score out of 25.

We’ve also got 4 players to write about and each writer will provide a score out of 25 for these players. These scores will be revealed in a separate piece, once all the essays are done. Do the math and you’ll realise that each player will be ultimately marked out of 100.

We’ll also do a poll for the final piece and hope to come up with at least one more series of essays before the season 2022/23 Premier League season starts.

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

Edwin van der Sar

“I remember studying a lot of Chelsea’s penalties on DVD before the match,” Edwin van der Sar told FourFourTwo in 2017.

“So, for example, I think I probably analysed about 40 that Frank Lampard had taken in the past. I had made plenty of notes and noticed that Nicolas Anelka would almost always take his penalties to the goalkeeper’s right.”

In the shootout he alternated through the first 3, diving left, right, then left again. Each taker went to the keeper’s left, with Lampard and Cole’s penalties nearly escaping his grasp. He chose to alternate again, going right for Terry as the captain became the fifth Chelsea player to go to van der Sar’s left, but missed the crucial penalty that would have put the trophy in his hands.

In sudden death, Salamon Kalou also chose to go to van der Sar’s left, and the Dutch goalkeeper appeared to be selling out to his right, betting the Chelsea would flinch.

Anelka did.

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

It was a stage van der Sar had been too before, as a winner with Ajax’s remarkable 1995 team and a finalist in 1996, losing to Juventus in a penalty shootout. He would join Juventus in 1999 as they looked for the final pieces to another Champions League contending team, but after two seasons the bianconeri were unconvinced, opting to smash the transfer record for Gianluigi Buffon and pass van der Sar off to Fulham. His quality didn’t fade, in fact it grew, and at the age of 34 the Dutchman earned a move to Manchester United. This time he wouldn’t lose his spot on the stage, and when the spotlight found him he had the experience, skill, and intelligence to make the moment his once again.

A specialist in instant reaction saves, anticipation, and organization, 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 expedited 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 van der Sar’s arrival in 2005 and Patrice Evra and Vidic arriving in January, 2006 gave United 3 guaranteed starters over the next 6 years for collectively around £17 million. Even adjusted for inflation, that’s only about £25 million today.

One of the best goalkeepers of all time cost United just £2 million.

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

He benefitted greatly from the team he was a part of, but it doesn’t diminish his contributions, and played at a high level even into his final season at age 40. He’s fifth in clean sheets for Manchester United with 135, but he did that in just 266 appearances. Each of the players above him on that list have 375 or more appearances.

Four Premier League titles, a pair of League cups, the Champions League and World Club Cup, he’s got the resume of a legend in trophies and stats. As for how transformative he was he doesn’t take all the credit, but played a huge role nonetheless. Longevity is a weird one as he was mid-30s when he joined the club, but playing til age 40 and making the Champions League final says everything about the quality of play throughout his 20+ year career.

And of course he’s respected still for his achievements and for his continued footballing prowess at an executive level. That respect and admiration at Old Trafford though is insured by his lasting image as a man high on that indescribable feeling, shouting in the pouring Moscow rain as his teammates charge over to embrace him. His palm, like Solskjaer’s boot or Charlton’s head, the final piece for another Manchester United vintage year.

And that’s a winner.

Score: 24/25

· Silverware: 5/5

· Stats: 5/5

· Transformative: 4/5

· Longevity: 5/5

· Charisma: 5/5