Those times when the goalkeeper of Manchester United was an automatic choice are currently a thing of the past. During a decade a half, Peter Schmeichel (1991-1999, 398 appearances) and Edwin van der Sar (2005-2011, 266 appearances) were outstanding amongst the sticks and amassed a wealthy collection of championships.
"The Great Dane" and "The Quiet Dutch" were true-leaders on and off the pitch, albeit they had completely different characters. Whereas Schmeichel imposed his physique over his rivals in the box and had a penchant for making ‘impossible’ saves, Van der Sar commanded the back-four by using his experience and intelligence, ‘Mr. Reliable’ was always at the right place and almost never made a mistake.
In addition and also crucial for the success of United, both United’s legends enjoyed the tranquility to have decent cover when they missed the odd game. Raimond van der Gouw was Schmeichel’s understudy for several seasons, while Tomasz Kuszczak and Ben Foster played second fiddle to Van der Sar. However, none of them was deemed good enough by Sir Alex Ferguson to inherit such a pivotal position in the squad and ultimately were either sold or release. On the other hand, between 1999 and 2005 a breed of goalkeeper tried to consolidate themselves as United’s steady custodian, but none of them possessed the attributes to do so. Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard, Roy Carroll and bizarre signings such as Massimo Taibi and Ricardo López all failed to make an impact.
The current goalkeeping situation at United is unusual to say the least. When the norm states your #1 needs stability, The Red Devils are likely the only top European team rotating their keeper week in and week out. Sir Alex seems to be more than happy with that scenario and a few days ago claimed: “Everybody wants to play, goalkeepers are no different, but the way I look at it at the moment is getting the two of them experience will help me in the long term.”
Spanish under-21 international David De Gea (75 goals allowed in 60 appearances) boasts a remarkable agility and has demonstrated he’s capable of making outstanding saves; nonetheless crosses and set-pieces are his Achilles heel. De Gea is only 21 and time is on his side but if he’s to succeed in the Premier League, improving that facet of his game is a must. On the other hand, Danish senior international 28-year-old Anders Lindegaard (24 goals allowed in 23 appearances) has had a quieter life at Old Trafford by playing every now often and not making neither impressive saves nor dropping significant blunders, something which has earned him a certain reputation of solidity. Finally English under-21 international and presently on loan Championship outfit Hull City Ben Amos has played just seven matches for United, mostly on League Cup.
De Gea is seen as a potential world-class keeper and the natural future United’s #1 in the eyes of most pundits, fans and likely Sir Alex, but the cold numbers tell us Lindegaard concede less goals (1.04 vs. 1.25) and United win more points with him between the sticks (2.26 vs. 2.18). The general perception may point De Gea is better, but stubborn numbers question this assertion. Having said that, it should be bore in mind that De Gea has played the majority of ‘big games’ of the last couple seasons, so the Spaniard faced a more threatening opposition. Stats do not say always say the truth, but Sir Alex’s reluctance to establish a permanent #1 could be based on numbers more than sensations. A blend of De Gea and Lindegaard may result in the perfect match, but unless the laws of physique say otherwise, the 70-year-old Scottish manager must make up his mind sooner rather than later.