With Edwin Van Der Sar set to retire at the end of the season and Tomasz Kuszczak having done little to cement his place in the Utd line-up when given the chance, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has a very real dilemma on his hands about how to replace the outgoing Dutch stopper.
It’s fair to say Ferguson had a difficult time replacing Peter Schmeichel when he left the club in 1999 and it wasn’t until 2005 when Van Der Sar signed for the club that Ferguson had truly found an heir worthy of the number one jersey.
Ferguson, though, may have already replaced Van Der Sar with the signing of 26 year old Danish international Anders Lindegaard from Danish club Aalesund for a reported £4m, and he’ll become available to play for the club when the registration window reopens in January, having signed for the club in November.
Many people have cast aspersions on Lindegaard’s ability to succeed Van Der Sar, most notably Schmeichel himself, when the Great Dane opined: “We are talking about Manchester United here. You can look at talent, you can look at young good players (but) you don’t want that, you want someone who can go in straight away and give performances in 80 per cent of the games that the number one choice will play for Manchester United.
“Too many goalkeepers have been through, in and out of the doors at Manchester United, and the general perception is, for this team to play well and win trophies, that position has to be (filled by) someone who is of the very, very highest quality, but also the right experience.” Lindegaard it has to be said, does not fit the above description at the moment.
It is worth noting however, that very little has been seen of Lindegaard and although he is 26 years of age, that is a relatively young age for a goalkeeper and lest we forget, Peter Schemichel signed for the club in 1991 at the tender age of 28, so Lindegaard may yet be the one for the long haul, but the likelihood is that Ferguson will surely have to move for an experienced stopper in the summer and that Lindegaard is set to become the club’s new number two, taking that position over from the unsettled Tomas Kuszczak.
Julio Cesar would seem to fit the bill perfectly and at the age of 31, he is entering his peak years. Whether a deal for him could be done remains to be seen and looks doubtful at best in my opinion. Cesar is probably the second best keeper in the world at the moment, just behind Iker Casillas, and if Ferguson managed to pull off a move for the Brazilian international, it would represent the club’s first superstar signing for many a year.
Another name to come into the mix has been Igor Akinfeev, but there have been question marks posed over his size, with the Russian standing at just over 6ft 1in, and it’s become clear over the years that Ferguson prefers his goalkeepers to be big, imposing figures at the back. Rene Adler and Michael Neuer at Leverkusen and Schalke respectively have also come into the mix, and at the ages of 25 and 24, they represent longer term solutions to the goalkeeping problem at Old Trafford.
If Ferguson does move for Cesar, now would be the time to strike, with the club in an apparent state of turmoil after the departure of former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez and subsequent appointment of the inexperienced AC Milan legend Leonardo as their new head coach. They have failed to live up to the standards expected of them in both the league and in Europe this term and as a result Cesar may fancy a new challenge abroad.
Another potential spanner in the works is whether Ferguson will be given a transfer kitty capable of attracting the likes of Cesar to the club, with Man Utd’s transfer policy the last couple of seasons moving away from big money moves, instead choosing to focus on bringing the top young talent from around Europe.
While most fans haven’t got on Ferguson’s back too much over the last few seasons about his relative prudence in the transfer market, there have been murmurings of discontent on the terraces about the club’s perceived lack of financial clout. A signing such as Cesar would do well to head off such unease and show that Utd are still a force in the transfer market, while also sending a signal across the bowls of neighbouring rivals City to show that the natural order of things around Manchester hasn’t changed just quite yet.
A good goalkeeper is the basis of any great side, and with Ferguson taking nearly 6 years to find a keeper’ capable of filling Schmeichel’s boots when he brought Van Der Sar to the club, he’d do well not to take nearly half as long this time and Cesar represents a bankable move for the wily old Scot and means that a vital position is tied down for a number of years.
There’s a school of thought bandied about that Ferguson would have ultimately failed as Utd manager if he doesn’t adequately replace his ageing squad with a new one capable of challenging at the very top, hence the club’s pursuit of top young talent the last few years, and that unless he replaces the likes of Scholes, Giggs and now Van Der Sar, then he’d have left the club in a transitional phase. Something tells me Ferguson won’t leave the club until he thinks it’s ready to move on with a new manager and a new generation of stars – a move for Julio Cesar could go some way to starting that new era.