One-on-one: Ed­win van der Sar

WAS VAN GAAL AL­WAYS SO BONKERS? WHY DID ARIEL ORTEGA HEADBUTT HIM? DOES HE STILL LAUGH ABOUT JT’S SLIP?

FourFourTwo - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view Arthur Re­nard Pho­tog­ra­phy Pim Hen­drik­sen

It’s not of­ten a club CEO is the sub­ject of One-on-one – but it’s not of­ten that a CEO also hap­pens to have won eight league ti­tles and two Euro­pean Cups.

“The way I try to make the club more suc­cess­ful, in terms of rais­ing rev­enue and win­ning tro­phies, is sim­i­lar to how I cap­tained teams as a keeper,” Ajax’s Ed­win van der Sar says, be­fore out­lin­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween dom­i­nat­ing an 18-yard box and a board­room. Van der Sar believes that, although he may not have a strong aca­demic back­ground or years and years of busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence on his CV, his two decades in the game give him in­valu­able in­sight into how to run a club. Par­tic­u­larly this club, where he played with dis­tinc­tion from 1990-99, lift­ing four Ere­di­visie ti­tles, three Dutch Cups, the UEFA Cup and the Cham­pi­ons League, beat­ing Mi­lan in 1995.

All of that should stand Ed­win in good stead when it comes to an­swer­ing your ques­tions about his glit­ter­ing ca­reer, too. Had you al­ways dreamt of be­com­ing a goal­keeper? Do you re­mem­ber the first time that you ever went in goal? Chris Am­bler, Portsmouth For the first one and a half years I was an out­field player. But then one day our keeper didn’t show up for a game and the coach said to me: “Ed­win, you’re the tallest, so you go in goal.” That went so well that I just ended up stay­ing there.

For many years I’d played for a small am­a­teur side called VV No­ord­wijk, and I did not ex­pect my dream of be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional to ever come true. When I was around 19, I was ap­proached by Sparta Rot­ter­dam to be the third-choice goal­keeper. How­ever, they only of­fered to cover my travel ex­penses, so I chose to stay where I was at No­ord­wijk. Then a few days later Ajax phoned and asked me to go and sign for them, which I did.

What are your thoughts on the rise of the sweeper-keeper? You were al­ways good with your feet, did you in­spire it? Nav Singh, via Face­book Dur­ing the 1990s we de­ployed a sys­tem at Ajax where I was in­deed in­volved in the build-up play, and it can be an as­set if you want to use a cer­tain style of play. Some­times I be­lieve that peo­ple at­tach too much im­por­tance to it. A goal­keeper is there mainly to stop the ball go­ing in.

Louis van Gaal oc­ca­sion­ally ap­peared a bit ec­cen­tric when he was man­ag­ing in Eng­land. Was he like that at Ajax? Laura Matthews, via Face­book He hasn’t re­ally changed very much, in terms of how he deals with the press or how he is with peo­ple in pri­vate – like at a din­ner party, for ex­am­ple. I vis­ited one of his train­ing ses­sions when he was at Manch­ester United and I still saw a very driven man who is con­tin­u­ously fo­cused on im­prov­ing his play­ers. The way that he dealt with play­ers, the key el­e­ments of his train­ing ses­sions and his gen­eral rules – it was all still very recog­nis­able to me, even af­ter so many years away.

Do you think an­other Dutch team will lift the Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy? It is not very likely now, un­for­tu­nately. Andy Green, Mersey­side [Puffs out cheeks] That will be very, very dif­fi­cult. Even in my time, like 20 years ago, it was still a mas­sive achieve­ment, but back in those days you had only one club per coun­try and per­haps 16 teams over­all in fi­nal stages of the com­pe­ti­tion.

With the new model the ro­mance has some­what gone, I be­lieve. Even if they im­ple­ment some new rules, I think the big­ger teams will al­ways dom­i­nate the tour­na­ment as they will over­take all of the other clubs with their huge bud­gets.

That Ajax squad was full of play­ers ev­ery club in Europe wanted to sign. Who did Ju­ven­tus have to com­pete with to fi­nally land your sig­na­ture? Paul Kelly, via Face­book When I left Ajax in 1999, I trav­elled to Liver­pool and spoke to Ger­ard Houl­lier. I was shown around An­field and also met with the chair­man and a cou­ple of the play­ers. I thought about it prop­erly, but when Ju­ven­tus came to the ta­ble I came to the con­clu­sion that it would

be a big­ger chal­lenge to go and play in Italy. But just as I was about to sign for them, Manch­ester United ap­proached me as well! At that time I talked to the brother of Alex Fer­gu­son, though I was al­ready at an ad­vanced stage with Juve. I liked the thought of go­ing some­where that had a com­pletely dif­fer­ent cul­ture and play­ing style, but it was a leap into the un­known to move to a Serie A club.

Later, I found out that Fer­gu­son had al­ways been re­ally keen on sign­ing me, but the chair­man of United had a deal to sign Mark Bos­nich on a free in­stead. So the idea had al­ways been for me to suc­ceed Pe­ter Sch­me­ichel, but it ended up tak­ing six years longer than planned and they tried out some other keep­ers in that pe­riod. While I was with Ful­ham I also heard about vague in­ter­est from Ar­se­nal but that never ma­te­ri­alised into any­thing con­crete, which was a pity at the time. That made it pretty nice when I won a few times against Ar­se­nal with United later on in my ca­reer [Laughs].

What is the most amaz­ing thing you ever saw Zine­dine Zi­dane do dur­ing your time to­gether at Juve? And what was the French­man like as a per­son? Will Clay, York­shire He was a re­ally nor­mal guy. In Italy you also have those flashy boys, with nice cars and ex­pen­sive clothes, but Zi­dane was al­ways very ca­sual. You would just see him in jeans and a white T-shirt. He was down to earth but he had in­cred­i­ble qual­ity. If you ever passed or threw the ball out to him and the ball was slightly in­ac­cu­rate, he would con­trol it in such a way that it was in­stantly playable. He knew ex­actly what was go­ing on around him and could pass the ball ev­ery­where. Some­times it seemed as if he was even quicker with a foot­ball, than with­out it.

What did you say to Ariel Ortega just be­fore the Ar­gen­tine head­but­ted you and saw red at the 1998 World Cup? Dar­ren Walsh, via Face­book Ortega had at­tempted to win a penalty by throw­ing him­self over the leg of Jaap Stam. As he was get­ting up, I leant over him and ‘ques­tioned his parent­age’. He got ir­ri­tated and stood up a bit too fast!

Do you get night­mares think­ing about Francesco Totti’s chipped penalty at Euro 2000? Do you think you could’ve saved it? And how heart­break­ing was it to lose in the semi-fi­nals like that? Gus­taaf Hen­rik­sen, Maas­tricht The chipped penalty wasn’t the hard­est part of that to han­dle – a goal is a goal, whether it’s done with a chip or not. No, if I had any night­mares about that one game, they would’ve more likely been about all of those penal­ties we missed. We missed two spot-kicks dur­ing nor­mal time, then an­other three in the penalty shootout. Francesco Toldo saved three – two of them from Frank de Boer – and Patrick Kluiv­ert hit a post with one. The other one from Jaap Stam is prob­a­bly still some­where in that top tier be­hind the goal! We man­aged to miss five out of six penal­ties, which is prob­a­bly a few too many if you want to reach a fi­nal...

How did you feel to be ousted by Gigi Buf­fon at Juve? Look­ing back, did they make the right choice or do you think they should have just stuck with you? Jimmy Wain­wright, Cardiff It didn’t hap­pen in par­tic­u­larly pleas­ant cir­cum­stances, although I must ad­mit I didn’t reach the level at Ju­ven­tus that I had reached be­fore in Hol­land. In that sum­mer [2001] I had ac­tu­ally re­quested a meet­ing to hear about their ideas for the forth­com­ing sea­son. They said they were look­ing to bring in one or two new play­ers, but as­sured me I didn’t have to worry. Then, prob­a­bly a week later, they brought in Buf­fon for about £30 mil­lion. Ob­vi­ously that deal must have been in the pipeline for some time, though they de­cided not to tell me any­thing about it when I went for that meet­ing. So, yeah, it took me by sur­prise and I had to start look­ing at my op­tions to find a new club.

Why did you de­cide to sign for Ful­ham from Ju­ven­tus? We were not ex­actly the big­gest club around at the time! ‘Raf M’, via Twit­ter Around that time, there was quite a lot of move­ment amongst keep­ers in Italy, with Buf­fon sign­ing for Juve, Francesco Toldo go­ing to In­ter Mi­lan and Se­bastien Frey mov­ing to Parma. It was a kind of jos­tle be­tween goalies at the top clubs, but I was sort of left out. I then spoke to Ajax, to Liver­pool and to Dort­mund. The lat­ter two wanted to wait un­til the end of the sum­mer trans­fer win­dow. I did not want to be hang­ing on for that long. Ful­ham had some big am­bi­tions – they had just won the First Di­vi­sion ti­tle to go into the Pre­mier League and were sign­ing a lot of new play­ers. I just wanted to play some foot­ball. I con­sulted Louis van Gaal, who was the Nether­lands’ na­tional coach at the time, and he was re­ally pos­i­tive about the move. I saw it as maybe tak­ing one small step back in or­der to then try to make sev­eral steps for­ward fur­ther down the line. What was Mo­hamed Al-fayed like as a per­son dur­ing your time at Ful­ham? Did he do any­thing par­tic­u­larly odd? Matt Bag­nall, via Twit­ter He was an ec­cen­tric man – he def­i­nitely did a few un­usual things! Be­fore games, he would turn up pitch­side and walk on the pitch wav­ing a scarf. Usu­ally he’d make sure he came round to say hello to me while I was do­ing my warm-up. He would of­ten talk to play­ers – on match­days he would come in­side the dress­ing room to see us, and some­times he even turned up at train­ing in his he­li­copter. On more than one oc­ca­sion, af­ter a good run of re­sults, he would treat all of the play­ers to a big ham­per from his Har­rods store.

Were you sur­prised that Jean Ti­gana got sacked as Ful­ham boss in 2003? It seemed a lit­tle harsh given he’d got them up to the Pre­mier League in ’01 and kept them up the fol­low­ing year. Trevor Bai­ley, via Face­book

It was a pity, par­tic­u­larly for me, as he was the man­ager who had brought me

to the club. Jean had a good knowl­edge of foot­ball and you could tell he played at a high level. Some­times he’d join in train­ing and you could see his qual­ity.

Did you ever wish you’d gone straight from Ju­ven­tus to Manch­ester United in 2001, rather than hav­ing to spend four sea­sons at Ful­ham in be­tween? Dar­ren Chin, Brunei I re­ally en­joyed my time in Lon­don, but I hadn’t an­tic­i­pated that I’d be play­ing for Ful­ham for four years. I was think­ing it would prob­a­bly be about one or two years, then I would take the next step. To­wards the end of my Ful­ham ca­reer, I even signed a lit­tle con­tract ex­ten­sion so the club could get a trans­fer fee for me. I was told I wouldn’t be play­ing if I did not agree to ex­tend my con­tract!

I found out that United were go­ing to sign me when I dis­cov­ered a voice­mail from Alex Fer­gu­son. That was a spe­cial day. That was the mo­ment I thought: ‘This is why I came over to Lon­don – to even­tu­ally make this next step for­ward.’ Fer­gu­son told me he needed some­one who could lead and give guid­ance to the de­fence. He said he knew I wouldn’t get flus­tered if the side was un­der pres­sure. What would you look for when do­ing your home­work on the op­po­si­tion’s penalty-tak­ers? And what was go­ing through your mind as Ni­co­las Anelka stepped up to take his in the 2008 Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal shootout? ‘Penal­ty­kick­stat’, via Twit­ter I re­mem­ber study­ing a lot of Chelsea’s penal­ties on DVD be­fore the match. So, for ex­am­ple, I think I prob­a­bly an­a­lysed about 40 that Frank Lam­pard had taken in the past. I had made plenty of notes and no­ticed that Ni­co­las Anelka would al­most al­ways take his penal­ties to the goal­keeper’s right. Later on, I heard that Chelsea had also done their home­work on me and learned that I usu­ally dived to my right. So I think their play­ers were told to shoot to my left, which most of them did. I’d an­tic­i­pated Anelka would choose to shoot the other side, though, and thank­fully that is what hap­pened.

Af­ter I had pushed away his penalty, I felt like I was sep­a­rated from the world for a cou­ple of sec­onds. I don’t think I’ll ever ex­pe­ri­ence a more ec­static mo­ment than when I re­alised we’d just won the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal and no­ticed all of my team-mates run­ning to­wards me. It was the high­light of my whole ca­reer.

“THE IDEA HAD AL­WAYS BEEN FOR MEI TO RE­PLACE SCH­ME­ICHEL FERGIE WASUSE KEEN BUT THE CHAIR­MAN HAD ALREADYOW DONE A DEAL TO SIGN BOS­NICH ON A FREE”FAV

How of­ten do you think back to John Terry’s slip and have a lit­tle laugh? Pe­ter John­ston, via Face­book No, I don’t laugh about it, as I re­alise it was a nar­row es­cape. We were lucky in that mo­ment. I have to ad­mit that the pitch was bad – I slipped a few times.

You’ve been cred­ited with end­ing the long-run­ning feud be­tween Ruud van Nis­tel­rooy and Marco van Bas­ten, so that Van Nis­tel­rooy could a be part of the Euro 2008 squad. What was it you said to them to smooth things over? Thijs van Damme, via Face­book I wouldn’t say that I was the one who man­aged to bring them to­gether again. I just ex­pressed my own opin­ion, as the cap­tain of the team, about what I felt would be good for the squad. I pointed to the value of Van Nis­tel­rooy – that he could be im­por­tant to the team dur­ing the tour­na­ment. I think they are quite stub­born char­ac­ters, re­ally. I gen­er­ally em­pathise quite well be­tween dif­fer­ent peo­ple and groups, so I ex­pressed my thoughts. But it wasn’t like I or­gan­ised a meet­ing or any­thing and de­manded they put their dif­fer­ences be­hind them. Did you ever get bored dur­ing the run of 14 straight clean sheets in 2008-09, with Gary Neville, Ne­manja Vidic, Rio Fer­di­nand and Pa­trice Evra prov­ing an im­preg­nable bar­rier in front of you? Grif­fin Pyle, via Twit­ter No, ab­so­lutely not! [Laughs] But at the time, I said that the run wouldn’t count for any­thing if we were not cham­pi­ons come the end of the sea­son. Ev­ery­thing was geared to­wards that goal. Per­haps the me­dia and peo­ple around me were get­ting a bit more con­cerned about the run of clean sheets than I was my­self.

How an­noyed were you when the long run with­out con­ced­ing was ended by an er­ror at New­cas­tle, al­low­ing Pe­ter Lovenkrands to score on the re­bound? I bet you wish it had been a screamer. Lewis Meagor, via Face­book Yeah, I would rather the se­quence had been bro­ken by a rocket, right in the top cor­ner. Sure, I could have set the record a lit­tle bit higher. But on the other hand, I can also re­mem­ber the mo­ment when a West Brom player hit the post just 10 min­utes be­fore I was about to break the record, so they evened them­selves out.

OF­TEN KEEPER’S RIGHT. D NOD N H’ TE TISHMINYKI’ L LEVER HAVE MO­MENT”

It’s of­ten said that Wayne Rooney and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo were at very sim­i­lar level as young­sters, but went on to hit dif­fer­ent heights be­cause Ron­aldo was more ded­i­cated to im­prov­ing him­self as a player. Would you say that’s fair? Sam Hirst, Le­ices­ter They both worked in­cred­i­bly hard on the pitch, but Cris­tiano took it up a level. Off the field, Ron­aldo was also fo­cus­ing on ev­ery­thing ex­ten­sively, such as rest­ing up prop­erly and strength­en­ing his body.

Af­ter train­ing ses­sions he would of­ten work on his free-kicks and then come to me and say: “Ed­win, can you go in goal?” I’d say I was old so he would be bet­ter off us­ing one of the youth-team keep­ers, but he would in­sist I went in goal as he wanted to score past me. I would tease him a lot and say things like: “You won’t score against me, Ron­nie, you know it. Ask the re­serve goalie, that’s bet­ter for your con­fi­dence.” He’d get ag­i­tated and re­ply: “No, no. You’ve got to go in goal!” Cris­tiano is a re­ally good guy, how­ever, and the com­mon per­cep­tion of him is not a true re­flec­tion of his per­son­al­ity.

Is the United team you played in that lifted three suc­ces­sive Pre­mier League ti­tles and also got to three Cham­pi­ons League fi­nals in four years un­der­rated? They don’t get talked about as one of the best but few have won as much... Brian Wood­ford, via Face­book Well, if we wanted to be a re­ally great team, then we should have won two of those three Cham­pi­ons League fi­nals we played in that pe­riod. For ex­am­ple, if we had won in 2009, we would have been Europe’s best for two sea­sons and also the first team ever to win con­sec­u­tive Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles. So if we’d won the fi­nal against Barcelona in Rome, we would have been a great team. But of course, if you look at the play­ers we had back then, we were cer­tainly very good.

What did you make of all the pres­sure David de Gea was un­der when he first ar­rived at United? Is the English me­dia a lit­tle harsh on for­eign goal­keep­ers? Aaron Cas­sidy, Coven­try No, I didn’t find the crit­i­cism too harsh at the time. He didn’t play very well and made some er­rors, which is maybe to be ex­pected if you go to such a huge club like United at such a young age. It’s a new coun­try where the peo­ple speak a dif­fer­ent lan­guage and the style of foot­ball is very dif­fer­ent. But since then he has worked very hard and been able to turn things round. He has de­vel­oped into a re­ally good goal­keeper now.

What’s hap­pened to the Dutch side, Ed­win? The Eu­ros last year weren’t the same with­out the Oranje fans... Ryan Byrne, Liver­pool I think ev­ery now and then you face a set­back in your qual­i­fy­ing record, like in 2002 when we missed out on the World Cup. At the mo­ment I feel we are lack­ing top play­ers at a peak age – those 25, 26 and 27-year-olds who can carry the team. When you lose twice to Ice­land, you do not de­serve to be a part of a Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship.

Twice dur­ing your time at United, you had to de­part the field and we ended up with an out­field player in goal. Rio Fer­di­nand went in goal vs Portsmouth and John O’shea against Tot­ten­ham. What ad­vice did you give them both? Han­nah Ste­wart, via Twit­ter In those sit­u­a­tions I did not re­ally have time to pass on much ad­vice! Against Portsmouth, I sus­tained a groin in­jury and my re­place­ment To­masz Kuszczak got a red card later on in the match, so by the time Fer­di­nand was go­ing in goal I was al­ready sat high up in the stands. In the match against Spurs I broke my nose af­ter a col­li­sion with Rob­bie Keane and went down the tun­nel to get some treat­ment. A few min­utes later I heard a mas­sive roar, and it turned out O’shea had ac­tu­ally made a pretty good save!

How much can you ac­tu­ally hear from the sup­port­ers be­hind the goal dur­ing a match? What’s the weird­est heckle that you’ve ever re­ceived from a fan? Michael Baker, Lon­don The West Ham fans were not that nice. Let’s just say they all seemed to have quite a, er, lim­ited vo­cab­u­lary... but the kind of abuse you would re­ceive at an away ground usu­ally de­pended on whether your side were win­ning or los­ing the game. When you were in front, you did not need to rush the goal-kicks and the fans would all get an­gry. When you were be­hind, and you had to rush to col­lect a ball from be­hind the goal, then ev­ery­body would be jeer­ing in the stands. But on the whole, the at­mos­phere with English fans was great and I felt at home when I was liv­ing in Eng­land.

I heard that you did the New York Marathon in 2012 – why did you do it and how long did it take to run? Nathaniel Bul­lock, Leeds A few years be­fore, a friend of mine had told me he was go­ing to be run­ning that marathon. The idea re­ally ap­pealed to me so I said to him: “Why don’t you just wait for a lit­tle while and I will join you when I re­tire from foot­ball.” But it then took a few more years as I ex­tended my United deal a cou­ple of times. [Laughs] In the end, I had about two and a half months to pre­pare for it. It was a huge bur­den on my body and it needed quite some time to re­cover, but even­tu­ally my time was four hours and 19 min­utes.

Top to bot­tom Ed­win won the Cham­pi­ons League in ’95 with Ajax; smil­ing for the cam­eras with Ful­ham gaffer Jean Ti­gana af­ter his sur­prise move to west Lon­don in 2001; VDS had been forced out of Juve to make way for Gigi Buf­fon

Top to bot­tom Van der Sar takes the high road to deny Di­dier Drogba; and the low one as Andy John­son goes close; Mo­hamed Al-fayed liked a hands-on ap­proach dur­ing his reign at Ful­ham

Above left Van der Sar led United to three Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal ap­pear­ances in four years Left He made one out­ing for home­town team VV No­ord­wijk at the end of his ca­reer Bot­tom “Quit pos­ing, Ron­nie, it’s my turn with the tro­phy”

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