Being a goalkeeper is really a tough job. No matter how many good saves you make at the end people will remember the mistake you have done.Iker Casillas
The position goalkeeper is really the most thankless job in the football world. A keeper can make numerous saves in a game but if his team concedes just one goal, it’ll be remembered as his mistake at the end. Edwin Van der Sar endured such unfair criticisms as every other of his fellow counterparts under the bar, but at the end established himself as a goalkeeping legend in World Football. We’ll cherish the journey of one of the all-time great Guardians under the goalpost on the occasion of his birthday.
Childhood and Introduction to Football
Edwin Van der Sar was born in Voorhout, a small province in the South Holland on 29th October 1970. He started his football venture when he was 10 years of age at his hometown club Foreholte, and then VV Noordwijk. He played for 5 years in both the clubs’ youth team. Then in 1990, he was spotted by then AFC Ajax manager Louis Van Gaal who signed the 20 years old talented kid for the Amsterdam club.
Edwin Van der Sar started at the reserves side of Ajax but gradually made his way to their senior side. He won the 1991–92 UEFA Cup with Ajax as the reserve keeper though making no appearances in the run. Then he was promoted as the Ajax no.1 and played some sensational football at the Amsterdam Arena(now Johan Cryuff Arena). He played an instrumental part in Ajax’s UEFA Champions League victory in 1995-96 season against Milan and rightfully won the 1995 Best European Goalkeeper award.
He again helped his side to reach the final of the same tournament the following year but this time ended as the runners-up after a penalty shootout defeat to another Italian outfit Juventus. In his first full season as Ajax No. 1, he won the Dutch Football Goalkeeper of the Year, he would then go on to retain the award for the next 3 consecutive years.
Van der Sar dramatically scored a penalty goal for Ajax in an 8–1 victory over De Graafschap in the 1997–98 season. He remained at the Dutch Capital for 9 long years playing a staggering 312 matches and won Eredivisie 4 time and UEFA Champions League once. He bid farewell to the Ajax fans in 1999 to start the next chapter of his football journey.
In 1999, Edwin Van der Sar’s stature as one of Europe’s top goalkeepers drew attention from Manchester United, who sought a replacement for Peter Schmeichel; however, Van der Sar moved to Italian club Juventus for a fee believed to be in the region of £5 million. He made his debut for The Old Lady in the 1–1 draw with Reggina at the Stadio Delle Alpi. He became the first non-Italian to keep goal for the Turin club.
He was the first-choice goalkeeper during his first two seasons in Italy, making 66 Serie A appearances as Juventus finished runners-up in the league twice under Carlo Ancelotti, with the best defensive record in the league on each occasion. He performed well in his first season, winning the 1999 UEFA Intertoto Cup, and helping the Old Lady to compete for the Serie A title. On the final day of the 1999–2000 season, however, Juventus lost to Perugia Calcio, after Van der Sar was beaten by Alessandro Calori’s volley. As the result Lazio overtook Juventus and win the league title by a single point.
The following season was less successful, however, as Juventus suffered a first-round exit in both the Coppa Italia and the Champions League, while Edwin Van der Sar committed several errors, including a high-profile one in a league fixture at home against eventual Serie A champions Roma, on 6 May 2001, when he spilt Hidetoshi Nakata’s shot, allowing Vincenzo Montella to tie the game 2–2; Juventus again fall short to win the Scudetto as they finished two points behind the league champions.
These high profile errors cost Van der Sar his place in the summer of 2001 after the Bianconeri purchased Italian international goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon from Parma for 100 billion lire (approximately £32.6 million), a world-record fee for a goalkeeper. But he refused to remain as second-choice behind Buffon. Edwin Van der Sar then made it clear he wished to move on after two years in Serie A.
After the short spell at Italy, Edwin Van der Sar opted to play in England in 2001 and joined newly-promoted Premier League side Fulham for a fee of 7 million pounds. Upon his arrival at the West London club, he described the move as a “nice friendly atmosphere” and that he felt “appreciated”. He made his league debut on 18 August 2001 in a 2–3 away defeat against Manchester United.
In total, he notched up 127 league appearances while at Fulham. In a game against Aston Villa in his final season at the club, he memorably saved two penalties from Juan Pablo Angel in a 1–1 draw. Overall he made 149 appearances for the Cottagers in 4 years and kept 49 clean sheets. This impressive display of him caught eyes of the ‘Big Boys’. He left Craven Cottage in 2005.
After the departure of Peter Schmeichel in 1999, Manchester United’s goalkeeping position saw jeopardy as many talents as well as big names failed to justify their selection as United no.1 during that time. In 2005 manager Sir Alex was determined to fix the most important position of his team and signed Edwin Van der Sar from Fulham for a fee in the region of 2 million pounds. Sir Alex considered him the best goalkeeper to have played for the club since Peter Schmeichel.
Edwin Van der Sar gave the much-needed stability in United’s last line of defence although during his first season with the Reds he had to be satisfied with runners up medal in the Premier League. But he didn’t have to wait long as United laid their hands on the Premier League trophy in the very next season in which Van der Sar played a big role.
On 5 May 2007, his penalty save from Darius Vassell helped assure a 1–0 triumph over Manchester City in the Manchester derby. The following day, Chelsea’s failure to beat Arsenal at the Emirates ensured Manchester United’s ninth Premier League trophy and Van der Sar’s first. He was also named in the 2006–07 PFA Team of the Year. Three months later, he was a catalyst in Manchester United’s 16th FA Community Shield victory, as he saved three consecutive penalties in a shoot-out after Manchester United and Chelsea played to a 1–1 draw at the end of regular time.
The 2007–08 season was Van der Sar’s best season since his arrival; he had several great performances despite a niggling groin injury. He would help United secure their second successive Premier League title on the final day. Then came his best performance in the Red shirt when United won the Champions League by beating Chelsea in a rainy night in Moscow after a nailbiting penalty shootout. Edwin Van der Sar saved the final penalty of the shoot-out from Nicolas Anelka and helped the Red Devils to win the Champions League in the first-ever all English Final.
It was Van der Sar’s 2nd and United’s third UEFA Champions League triumph. When the sky were gray, the big Dutchman appeared like a God-sent gift for the Mancunian outfit and rescued them from an almost loosing position.
Edwin Van der Sar signed a one-year extension to his current contract with Manchester United on 12 December 2008, keeping him at the club until at least the end of the 2009–10 season. That season his form reached the zenith as he set and broke several records in World Football.
On 27 January 2009, Van der Sar helped Manchester United set a new club and Premier League record for consecutive clean sheets – the club’s 5–0 win over West Bromwich Albion meant that they had gone 11 games and 1,032 minutes without conceding a goal, beating the previous record of 10 matches and 1,025 minutes set by Petr Čech in the 2004–05 season. He then broke the overall English league record in the club’s following game four days later, beating the previous record of 1,103 minutes, set by Steve Death of Reading in 1979.
Another clean sheet, against West Ham on 8 February 2009, extended the record to 1,212 minutes, beating the British top-flight record of 1,155 minutes previously set by Aberdeen’s Bobby Clark in 1971. Finally, on 18 February 2009, Edwin Van der Sar further extended the record to 1,302 minutes, and in doing so, he broke José María Buljubasich’s single-season world record of 1,289 minutes, set in the Chilean Clausura in 2005.
Van der Sar signed a one-year extension to his current contract with Manchester United on 26 February 2010, keeping him at the club until at least the end of the 2010–11 season. On 23 December 2010, the British press reported that Sir Alex Ferguson had confirmed Van der Sar would retire at the end of the 2010–11 Premier League season.
Although he denied the reports at the time but ultimately confirmed it on 27 January that this was his intention. On 12 March, Edwin Van der Sar was named Man of the Match against Arsenal in the FA Cup after making several fine saves. United won the match 2–0 with goals from Wayne Rooney and Fábio. He was included in the PFA Team of the Year, making his third appearance there, others in 2007 and 2008.
On 22 May 2011, he played his final game at Old Trafford in a 4–2 victory over Blackpool resulting in Blackpool’s relegation from the Premier League. He captained United as a farewell treat and also lifted his fourth Premier League trophy with United. His last game for United was against Barcelona in the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final on 28 May, which United lost 3–1.
At 40 years, 211 days he was the oldest male player to feature in a European Cup final in the Champions League era with Dino Zoff holding the all-time record at 41 years, 86 days when he appeared in the 1983 European Cup Final. Following the match, van der Sar retired from professional football. He bid an emotional farewell to the Old Trafford faithful after playing 266 games in 6 years and keeping 135 clean sheets across all competitions.
Though he was included in the Netherlands’ 1994 World Cup squad Van der Sar had to wait until 7 June 1995 for his international debut, against Belarus. He was in goal for three successive eliminations from major competitions by penalties: Euro 96, the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. The Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup after competing with Portugal and the Republic of Ireland and so during his career with the Netherlands, he had missed one tournament.
In the quarter-finals of 1998 FIFA World Cup against Argentina, Van der Sar confronted Ariel Ortega after Ortega received a yellow card for a dive in the penalty area; the Argentine was then sent off for headbutting Van der Sar. Shortly after Ortega’s red card, Dennis Bergkamp scored the winning goal in Netherlands’ 2–1 victory. Edwin Van der Sar backstopped the Netherlands to the semi-finals of the 1998 FIFA World Cup, where they were eliminated by Brazil 4–2 on penalties after a 1–1 draw. In the third-place playoff, Netherlands suffered a shock defeat to the surprise package Croatia 2–1.
Van der Sar started the Netherlands’ first two group games at UEFA Euro 2000, but suffered an injury in the closing stages of their 3–0 win over Denmark and was replaced by Sander Westerveld for the final group match against France. Van der Sar returned for the quarter-finals but was again replaced by Westerveld after 65 minutes, by which point the Netherlands had a 4–0 lead.
Van der Sar kept another clean sheet in the semi-final against Italy, resulting in a goalless draw after Frank de Boer and Patrick Kluivert both failed to score from the penalty spot in regulation time. During the penalty shoot-out, and although Van der Sar saved the effort from Italy captain Paolo Maldini, the Netherlands scored just one of their four kicks and lost 3–1. Van der Sar finished the tournament without conceding a single goal but was left out of the Team of the Tournament in favour of France’s Fabien Barthez and Italy’s Francesco Toldo.
During the penalty shoot-out in the Euro 2004 quarter-final against Sweden, Van der Sar saved a penalty from Olof Mellberg, as the Netherlands won the shoot-out 5–4 and advanced to the semi-finals where they lost to hosts Portugal.
Prior to the 2006 World Cup group match against Côte d’Ivoire, Van der Sar had not conceded a goal in nine consecutive competitive matches. As captain of the Netherlands, he broke Frank de Boer’s record of all-time caps for his country in the 2006 World Cup second-round match against Portugal.
On the occasion of his 37th birthday, Van der Sar was interviewed by Radio 538 and stated that he intended to retire from international football after Euro 2008. Prior to the tournament, he was instrumental in bringing an end to a long-time dispute between veteran striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and manager Marco van Basten.
He captained his country in EURO 2008 and started with an impressive 3–0 victory over Italy on 9 June 2008, and also on 13 June for the 4–1 victory over France. On 21 June, he played in the 3–1 quarter-final loss against Russia, which was believed to be his final international. This was his 16th appearance in a European Championship finals match, with which he equalled the record set by Lilian Thuram a few days earlier. Along with 22 other players Van der Sar was named in the team of the tournament. Following Euro 2008, Van der Sar had the distinction of playing more minutes at the European Football Championship than any other player.
On 3 October 2008, at the urging of new coach Bert van Marwijk, Van der Sar agreed to come out of international retirement for the Netherlands’ 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification matches against Iceland and Norway after injuries to regular keepers Maarten Stekelenburg and Henk Timmer made both unavailable for the two games. Van der Sar kept a clean sheet in both matches, which were won by the Dutch 2–0 and 1–0 respectively. In Oslo, the Dutch defeated Norway 1–0 courtesy of a Mark van Bommel goal, thus ensuring a fitting send-off for Van der Sar who earned his 130th cap during that match, a record for a Dutch player, and put him in the top forty most capped players of all time. He remained the Dutch team’s most capped player until Wesley Sneijder surpassed him in 2017.
Personal Life and Post Retirement
Van der Sar and his wife Annemarie van Kesteren have two children. The couple’s wedding ceremony took place at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam, on 20 May 2006. His son, Joe, was on the pitch celebrating when his father saved a penalty in the Netherlands’ 5–4 shoot-out victory over Sweden in the quarter-finals of UEFA Euro 2004. In December 2009, Van Kesteren was admitted to the hospital just two days before Christmas with reports saying that she had suffered a suspected brain haemorrhage and was in a “very poor” condition. Van der Sar was granted indefinite leave following his wife’s collapse, and it is understood that she has made a good recovery, with no long-term effects.
Edwin Van der Sar returned to his first professional club Ajax and appointed as the club’s Chief Executive Officer on 11th November, 2016. He has done some wonderful moves as the CEO by bringing in young talented players as well as experienced players to mix raw talent with experience and this resulted in Ajax’s appearance in Europa League Final in 2017 and their commendable run in the 2018-19 Champions League as they reached to the semi-final beating the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus. He also invested the money received from player transfer to improve the club’s youth academy. In one word he is as successful in the administrative role as he was during his playing days.
We wish one of the most humble person and one of the best goalkeepers of all time a very happy birthday and best of luck for his future commitments in his professional as well as personal life.
What’s your opinion about Edwin Van der Sar as a player ? Let us know in the comment section below.