Kasper Schmeichel: Keeping up the family tradition

Having spent so long in the shadow of his dad — Manchester United legend, Peter — Schmeichel Junior has now moved out into the light, earning the respect of the footballing world for his own triumphs.

Kasper Schmeichel has always protested against any comparisons with his dad, calling the pursuit “ridiculous.” He is his own man.   -  REUTERS

Football is littered with failed tales of sons attempting to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. The success stories are much harder to find, however. Even then, those that do make the grade and go on to achieve a respectable career in the sport are forever compared to the achievements of their seniors. Just ask Jordi Cruyff or Darren Ferguson what they’re most remembered for.

With that in mind, Kasper Schmeichel’s recent feats for Leicester appear all the more impressive. Having spent so long in the shadow of his dad — Manchester United legend, Peter — Schmeichel Junior has now moved out into the light, earning the respect of the footballing world for his own triumphs. Peter Schmeichel is one of the greats of modern football. Of that there is no doubt. Few goalkeepers come close to his stature and skill, never mind the last-ditch heroics and flamboyance that occasionally saw him venture up the opposite end of the pitch in search of goals. He was a player that won over the hearts and minds of football fans, his personality shining as brightly as his ability.

Kasper has always protested against any comparisons with his dad, calling the pursuit “ridiculous.” He is his own man, and he wants you to know that. However, Kasper has never shied away from the association, happily accepting his heritage and embracing the benefits it brings.

It was thanks to his father, in fact, that Kasper got his first major break as a teenager. Watching on from the sidelines as the Denmark team of EURO 1992 celebrated their 10-year anniversary with a friendly against a Swedish side, Kasper was called to play in goal for the second half. Peter, keen to play in a more attacking role, ditched his gloves at half-time and with no replacement around, Kasper, then aged 14, stepped in.

A fine performance, and a trial with Danish side Bronby, followed, before Peter’s former club Manchester City came calling. A deal was struck soon after. From then, frustration accompanied Kasper for almost a decade, as he was continually loaned out. In the space of five seasons as a professional at City, Kasper made just eight first team appearances. New contracts came and went, hopes that the next one would bring with it more opportunities. Yet he could never find his way to establish his credentials as the No. 1 shot-stopper, fellow-youngster Joe Hart taking up the position instead. Kasper would later lament signing a four-year agreement with the Manchester club.

He eventually got his wish and left in 2009, dropping down three divisions of English football to join Notts County and team up with former Man City boss Sven-Goran Erikssen. The move proved controversial. Promised riches by the high-spending owner, the mega bucks were pulled part way through the season. Schmeichel thoughtfully cancelled all future wages, so as to not sink the club, and departed in the summer.

A move to Leeds materialised, where Kasper spent one year prior to the manager contentiously letting him go, and then moved to his current home, Leicester. The long list of loans, incessant changes, and struggles to hold down a place for longer than a season would maybe indicate a questionable character, someone unable to settle. Yet scratch beneath the surface and Kasper has proved quite the opposite, putting on heroic displays more often than not. At Notts he had an astonishing clean-sheet-to-game-ratio of 55.8%, as the club comfortably won the league in 2009-10.

His sudden ascent to the top, then, hasn’t really been so sudden after all, it was more a perfect timing of an accomplished player joining a club on the up; a moment of intangible beauty. The achievements at Leicester since his arrival are unexpected, but his rise as one of the best keepers in Europe should not be considered so.

At a time when demands on goalkeepers are shifting, requiring them to possess footwork and composure on the ball as good as any outfield player, Schmeichel has forged his own path, mastering the art of long-distance passing instead. Sweeper-keepers may be in vogue, but Schmeichel has conquered the goalkeeper’s greatest gift: launching attacks from defence. His hard, low kicks cover most of the pitch and, importantly, find their target, releasing fast-paced counter attacks. It allows Leicester’s responsive tactics — adopted from the likes of Atletico Madrid and an antidote to possession football that has ruled Europe for the past decade — to thrive.

He is a keeper with good judgement and temperament, able to make the right choice when called upon even in pressurised situations. It may even be his most impressive talent. For while the shot-stopping and diving parries look awesome on camera, the slow-mo replays enhancing each save further, his decision-making when not involved for large chunks of the match is exemplary.

This was best shown in the recent Champions League clashes with Sevilla, where he made a handful of match-defining saves, the most important trio coming in the second leg. Called upon almost straight after kick-off, Schmeichel denied Samir Nasri, before saving a second penalty of the round, and then keeping out a powerful shot to ensure Leicester reached the quarter-finals for the first time in the club’s history. He is a man for whom responsibility was designed. These performances were merely an extension of the duty he puts upon himself that has also seen him conduct the recent media requirements during a tricky spell where the players came under suspicion of engineering Claudio Ranieri’s dismissal.

But being depended upon is how Schemichel, both father and son, have spent their careers. How fine it would be, then, if Kasper could also replicate his father’s achievements and secure five Premier League titles. Both Schmeichels won their first Premier League at the age of 29 and, with the way fitness and conditioning has improved, there’s no reason why Kasper can’t continue in England until the same age Peter retired, when 39. A big summer move to Manchester United for Kasper is already being touted if David de Gea seals a transfer back to Spain. There would be no greater fit than a Schmeichel reigning supreme at Old Trafford again.