Van still the man

With so many achievements to his name, it is no wonder that many consider Edwin van der Sar to be currently the greatest goalkeeper in the world, writes Abigail Cockayne.

Even as he prepares to hang up his gloves, Edwin van der Sar, 40, is still very much the driving force in a Manchester United team that appears to be closing in on the Barclays English Premier League and UEFA Champions League success this season.

The most-capped player in Holland's history, Van der Sar has enjoyed an illustrious career spanning over 20 years in his homeland, Italy and England.

Along the way, he has picked up numerous pieces of major silverware and prestigious awards, most notably two European Cup titles. And he could put the seal on his playing days by winning a third Champions League crown and another EPL title as we near the end of what is his final season between the posts.

With so many achievements to his name, it is no wonder that many consider him to be currently the greatest goalkeeper in the world.

Van der Sar was something of a late developer in football terms, as it was not until he turned 20 that his potential was spotted by Ajax. He went on to enjoy nine successful years with the Amsterdam club, winning the Dutch Eredivisie title four times, the UEFA Cup and the Champions League.

The Dutchman's talent soon drew the attention of many clubs, including United, with Sir Alex Ferguson looking to fill the void left by the Old Trafford legend, Peter Schmeichel. However, Ferguson would have to wait as Van der Sar joined Juventus for a fee believed to be around GBP5million.

Things did not go as planned in Italy, though, as Van der Sar endured a frustrating two years in Turin and eventually found himself behind Gianluigi Buffon in the pecking order.

Being second best was never an option for a man of Van der Sar's calibre and so a move to England beckoned.

After spending four years with Fulham and making over 150 appearances, Ferguson finally got his way as Van der Sar signed for United in 2005.

At the time, many questioned whether Van der Sar, then aged 35, was past his peak. However, the Dutch giant went on to prove his critics wrong in stunning fashion.

The doubts about Van der Sar's age and ability were well and truly banished in his second season with the club when his penalty save in a 1-0 win over Manchester City in May 2007 proved a pivotal moment in securing United's ninth Premier League trophy and the first of his three English top-flight titles.

Van der Sar's knack of saving vital penalties was evident once more in the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea when he kept out Nicolas Anelka's effort as United held their nerve to triumph in a shootout.

“He is phenomenal. He really is top dog,” reflected Ferguson in October 2009.

With Van der Sar in the form of his life, he reached new heights in 2009 and set a record by going 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal.

Van der Sar has continued to impress since, but now the countdown to his retirement is on. He had announced in January that he will bow out at the end of this season.

“I am at my peak and it will be nice to finish at my peak,” he said. “Maybe it is a weight off my shoulders. It is nice to get recognition from the fans and I will miss football and the buzz.

“The time has come for greater attention to my family, although they have never complained.”

One of the all-time goalkeeping greats, Van der Sar will be hoping for a fairytale finish, while Ferguson has his work cut out unearthing a worthy long-term successor.

Van der Sar is married to Annemarie van Kesteren and they have two children together.

A family man, Van der Sar drives an Audi Q7. FACTFILE Name: Edwin Van der Sar Position: Goalkeeper Club: Manchester United D.O.B: 29/10/1970 Holland caps: 130 Holland goals: 0 Holland debut: v Belarus, June 1995 Moment to remember

Saving Anelka's spot-kick in Moscow during a nerve-shredding penalty shootout in the 2008 Champions League final to seal Manchester United's third European Cup victory.

Moment to forget

Van der Sar is usually a model of consistency, but he will not look back on his uncharacteristic fumble that gifted West Brom a point at Old Trafford in October last with fond memories.

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