With David De Gea guarding the space between the posts for Manchester United these days, it’s hard to imagine a time when the Red Devils didn’t have a reliable shot-stopper.
But there was a dark period between 1999 and 2005 when United were distinctly under-stocked in the goalkeeping department.
Fresh from their brilliant treble-winning season of 1998-1999, the legendary Peter Schmeichel opted to leave the club, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson with a huge gap to fill.
And while few of us would dare to question Fergie’s wisdom, some of the men he choose to don the ‘keeper gloves after Schmeichel were questionable at best.
Look away now, United fans, because some of these were pretty horrendous.
Let’s start with the man himself, then.
Schmeichel joined United in 1991 from Danish club Brondby for just over £500,000 – which Fergie would later describe as the “bargain of the century.”
He’s not wrong.
Schmeichel spent eight years at United, winning the Premier League five times, to go along with three FA Cups and of course the Champions League.
The towering Dane was renowned for his lightning quick reflexes, incredible long throws and his habit of running into the box for corner kicks if his team was behind.
He even scored a few, as well.
Schmeichel opted to leave Old Trafford at the end of the 1998–1999 season, lifting the Champions League trophy as captain.
Schmeichel cited his age (he was 35 at the time) as his reason for leaving, saying: “I am enjoying the game as much as ever but it is getting harder to keep pace. I need to train more than I have ever had to in order to prepare myself properly. I need more time between games than I can get in England.”
He skipped off to Portuguese side Sporting, before ending up back in England with Aston Villa and then Man City.
Raimond van der Gouw
With Schmeichel out, next in the pecking-order was van der Gouw.
But while the Dutchman was a reliable understudy to Schmeichel, he was no long-term option.
For starters, he was 35 – eight months older than the Dane.
Still, he managed to make 22 appearances the season following Schmeichel’s departure, playing enough games to pick up his first Premier League medal, and eventually left Old Trafford in 2002.
He’s now a goalkeeping coach for Vitesse Arnhem, no doubt passing down his vast experience and knowledge to those poor Chelsea loanees.
Fergie’s answer to the loss of Schmeichel was to sign Aston Villa’s Bosnich on a free transfer.
The Australian had left Old Trafford in the early nineties because of work permit problems, but made a name for himself with Villa, and by the time United came sniffing, he was widely considered one of the finest goalies in the Premier League.
But his return to United was blighted by a lack of consistency (to put it mildly), but he did play 23 times during the 1999–2000 season, when United won the title by a pretty incredible 18-point margin.
The less said about the rest of Bosnich’s career, the better.
United’s youth option at the time; Culkin’s career was underwhelming to the point that he holds the record for the shortest debut in Premier League history, when he replaced van der Gouw in stoppage time against Arsenal.
Later spells with the likes of Hull, Bristol Rovers and Livingston were as good as it got, unfortunately.
Crikey, here we go.
With Bosnich and van der Gouw both suffering injury problems at the start of the 1999–2000 season, Ferguson moved for Italian ‘keeper Taibi from Venezia.
Signed for his experience and so-called reliability, his time at Old Trafford was a bit of a nightmare.
Nowadays, he’s remembered for a number of goalkeeping errors, which include flapping a free-kick against Liverpool, letting a tame long-range shot from Matt Le Tissier trickle through his legs and allowing Chelsea (before Russian money, no less) stick five past him.
Needless to say, he was gone the following year.
Another young understudy, American-born Rachubka became a bit of a journeyman after making just three appearances for United, turning out for the likes of Charlton, Huddersfield, Blackpool, Leeds, Oldham and Crewe, among others.
This guy was pure entertainment.
Growing tired of his club’s goalkeeping woes, Fergie moved for Barthez following his success with France at the World Cup and Euros.
And he became an instant fan favourite at Old Trafford, mainly because he was a bit mad.
Known for playing mind-games and psyching out his opposition, memorable Barthez moments include trying (and failing) to trick West Ham’s Paolo Di Canio into believing he was offside as he ran through on goal, clattering into Leeds’ Ian Harte and saving the resulting penalty and, of course, standing on the far post for as long as possible before a spot-kick.
He also had an extremely kissable bald head; just ask Laurent Blanc.
With Barthez and van der Gouw injured during United’s bitter title run-in in 2001, Fergie gave Scotland international Goram a call.
But the 36-year-old’s initial reaction went something like “Eff off, I’ve got a pub to run and goats to feed!”
Coming towards the end of his career, Goram had just opened a bar, bought some livestock and had pretty much retired.
Still, he eventually moved to Old Trafford, making two appearances during a three-month loan spell.
Mention this guy to any Tottenham fan and they’ll likely reply with “Pedro Mendes” before shaking their head in disbelief.
The Northern Irishman joined United in the summer of 2001 to provide competition for Barthez and was generally a solid shot-stopper during his time at the club.
But a series of notable mishaps – including that goal that wasn’t a goal against Spurs – meant he never truly established himself as a first-team regular.
United paid Rayo Valladolid £1.5m for this guy in 2002, and he barely did a thing during his three years at the club.
Mainly used to warm the bench, Ricardo made just a single, memorable Premier League appearance against Blackburn Rovers, fouling Andy Cole with his first touch, but saving the resulting penalty.
People often forget that Howard began his Premier League career at United, after his long and successful spell at Everton.
Signed from MLS side MetroStars in 2003 as a proper replacement for Barthez, Howard had a debut to remember in the Community Shield against Arsenal, helping his side win the season opener with a double penalty save in the shoot-out.
But a lack of consistency saw Howard frequently swapped for Carroll, who himself was prone to mistakes (see above).
This eventually lead to Fergie delving into the transfer market once again.
Edwin van der Sar
With Carroll and Ricardo released in the summer of 2005, United went for someone with experience, Premier League pedigree and a hunger to play in the Champions League.
That guy was van der Sar.
The Dutchman moved to United from Fulham with 99 caps for Holland and previous honours for Ajax and Juventus to boast.
And he was exactly the guy they needed, helping United win four Premier League titles during his six-year spell at the club, notably setting a new club and Premier League record for consecutive clean sheets by not conceding a goal for 1,311 minutes.
The comparisons with Schmeichel were constant, while Ferguson would later describe him as undoubtedly the best ‘keeper to have played for the club since Schmeichel.
Personally, we just love him that performance during the 2008 Champions League final shoot-out.
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