Yesterday it was finally sealed. The crowning glory on a wonderful era as Ferguson followed through on the claim he himself never thought possible – perch scaled. However the strength of Ferguson is he is always looking ahead. Football is a game for the soul rather than a cold, emotionless transaction and in my view the joyless Keane approach has been hugely over-acclaimed; I like to see the players indulging themselves after such an achievement. The manager himself visibly joined in with the celebrations yet he knows that one decision (that may already have been made) will influence whether number 19 is a full stop or a comma.
I won’t eulogize the Dutch stopper; more eloquent lyricists than myself will no doubt write pages of deserved purple praise in salute to the feats of our retiring number one. The choice of his successor has sparked fervent debate and what is glaring is the lack of an overarching consensus on who should be given the task. There isn’t a single outstanding candidate for the job.
De Gea is the name I read most often, yet how many of his advocates have actually watched him play beyond Europop soundtracked YouTube montages? I confess to not having devoted my time to scouting the young Spaniard so cannot make a fair judgment. If as some claim he is the heir to Cassilas then it would be a magnificent capture, but is the foundation of Cassilas’ brilliant career not his development from a young age in an environment he is entirely comfortable? He is the embodiment of Madrid. Will De Gea adapt so comfortably to life in Manchester? Only this morning the ever knowledgable Juventini Adam Digby explained how even an established, decorated international in Gigi Buffon would not adapt to a change in culture. It is easier to look at van der Sar through rose tinted specs but he has made howlers that have cost us points. This season at home to West Brom Edwin van der Sar cost us points. Did we question how he would recover? Did it lead to a crisis of confidence? Of course not, because Edwin van der Sar has won numerous trophies, played for the biggest clubs, and represented his country over a hundred times. He joined Manchester United as a proven success and the value of this cannot be overestimated.
How might De Gea have reacted to the mistake? Alone, in a country he doesn’t know, at a club he is unfamiliar with, and faced with endless comparisons to his predecessor. To compare him with Ben Foster would be unfair; Foster had only played for Watford whereas De Gea has been under the spotlight at the Vicente Calderon where many have fallen apart. However Fabien Barthez had won a world cup and he rarely looked like a man at ease with the responsibility of being our custodian. I don’t know enough about De Gea to make a fair judgment but I hope the mental strength of the individual is supplemented by a strong support network for whoever comes in. My concern at the De Gea situation is the indications that he is taking so long to make up his mind and has doubts about the move. There is nothing wrong with considering your options – it shows maturity – yet there is a nagging fear that the same doubts could resurface when an inevitable sticky patch occurs at Old Trafford.
Marcus Neuer’s ‘superman’ display in the semi-final first leg sparked a return of the risible ‘Fergie sign him up’ brigade. He was absolutely superb but even before the game the chatter was of an agreement with Bayern Munich. Either he was a genuine contender who turned us down, or our scouts never rated him; either way the mistakes in the return leg seemed to halt the clamour from the fickle cheerleaders and we can all move on.
Stekelenberg is another well backed option. I have seen more of Stekelenberg and have liked what I have seen. He may lack the wonderous agility of De Gea but he seems to command his area and isn’t shy about claiming crosses. As you will no doubt have adjudged I am far from a goalkeeping expert so it is the mental side that makes me lean towards Stekelenberg. He has played for a successful club (albeit at a lower standard), represented his country in a world cup final – taking on the mantle of replacing Edwin already, and culturally the move from Holland to Manchester to my ignorant mind appears less of a sea change. A key asset is his relationship with van der Sar which would prove invaluable in the earlier example of dropping a clanger in front of 70,000. Words of wisdom from the elder Dutchman could prove the difference between bouncing bank or wanting to jump on the next flight home. However all this is immaterial if he isn’t good enough, and again I must reiterate that with the exception of the ruled out Buffon, I haven’t seen enough of the leading contenders to make a fair judgment between them.
So to conclude, I am not writing to beat the drum for a preferred candidate. Whomever Ferguson chooses will get my full support. The catalyst for this post is just how integral to our ambitions this next decision is. The comic display of Kusczak yesterday saw panic spread through the team; the heavy ball back from Ferdinand, the failure to track Emerton, the ease with which Olsen outjumped Valencia – thankfully the rock of Vidic was unmoved and steadied the ship. However the lack of a first class keeper almost led to me waking this morning without the smug satisfaction of number nineteen safely in the bank, and that is a terrifying thought.