Manchester United No. 1 Edwin van der Sar reflects on his career after receiving his award as ESM Goalkeeper of the Year.
World Soccer: How did you become a goalkeeper?
Van der Sar: My uncle was also a professional player, so football was in the family. When I was a kid, because I was already tall, I was a center half -- then suddenly, one day, our goalkeeper wasn't there -- he had a party to go to or something, I don't know, we were only 8 or 9 years old -- and the manager said: "Edwin, you're the tallest, you're in goal today," and probably I did quite well and was never allowed to play out again. Maybe my other football skills weren't so good, so they preferred to keep me in goal.
World Soccer: When you came to the Premier League with Fulham, was it with a view to using them as a stepping stone to a bigger club?
Van der Sar: Juventus to Fulham does seem a strange move, maybe, but I wanted to play for the Dutch national team, so I needed to play for a club and Fulham had a good project: They had money, a newly rebuilt stadium and Premier League football, so I thought it was a good move all around. Then, after the first couple of seasons, things didn't progress there and started to go down a bit. So I started thinking about getting a chance at a bigger club and it was my good fortune that I was able to sign for United.
World Soccer: How is Manchester United coping without Cristiano Ronaldo?
Van der Sar: We had to change the way we play because he has been such a good player for United, but now he's gone. Of course, we wish him all the best and it is strange without him, but we still have 11 players on the pitch and we have to make sure all the players score the goals now. Wayne Rooney has started well and we have brought in one or two players such as AntonioValencia and Michael Owen -- on a free transfer -- so hopefully, all the other players can stand up a little bit and contribute together the way Cristiano did as an individual. Hopefully there's life after him.
World Soccer: How do you view Manchester United's Champions League group?
Van der Sar: What's interesting is that usually in your group, the fourth team is your banker to get six points by winning both home and away, but this time, that is not going to be the case with Wolfsburg. I've seen them a few times over the last year and they have a lot of quality. Also, CSKA Moscow plays on artificial grass so it will be a tricky game over there. [United pulled out a 1-0 in Russia last week.]
World Soccer: Marco van Basten has praised your leadership and organizational abilities. Do you think you can go on improving your game over the years?
Van der Sar: I don't think, by this stage, that I am getting any better, but I have reached a certain level and maintain it quite well with the help of all the team. The players around me at United are all great. It's important for a goalkeeper to have a good defense -- that's how we went so many games without conceding a goal. It was a team effort. I feel fine and happy and honored to receive an award like this [ESM award]. It's nice to be recognized.
World Soccer: You insist you have retired from international football, but would you consider playing for Holland again at the World Cup next year?
Van der Sar: It seems to have become a national topic, but my main focus right now is on recovering from the injury [he recently returned from a broken hand] and to play well for United again and then see what happens.
World Soccer: It's been reported that you would retire at the end of this season. Is this true?
Van der Sar: That's the first I've heard of it! First I have to come back from my injury and see how it does. Then I will sit down with United and see how I'm feeling and what they want. I try to make sure I maintain my fitness, eat the right things -- a glass of wine occasionally. I've been quite lucky. Also, nowadays, the general preparation is better and more detailed. You are more closely monitored so maybe if there's a problem it can be picked up sooner than it used to be.
World Soccer: Which strikers do you respect the most?
Van der Sar: I've had that question loads of times and it's always difficult to answer because I always prepare as well as possible, no matter who we are playing against. The Brazilian Ronaldo has scored goals against me and so have people like Hernán Crespo and Filippo Inzaghi. But they are all different kinds of players -- like Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres are also different in their own ways. So it's not really any one man.
World Soccer: Do you undertake special homework on penalty takers?
Van der Sar: I have conceded more penalties than I have saved, so I have no special secret or I would have stopped the kicks more often. I try to get as much information as I can, but then sometimes, it's also about how a player lines up to take a shot, whether he is left-footed or right-footed. You make a choice ... and hope he shoots for the corner to which you're going.
World Soccer: Which other goalkeeper do you appreciate?
Van der Sar: Probably Iker Casillas. He is still young but he has won so many things already: a couple of Champions Leagues and Spanish league titles. He is also captain of Spain. I can admire that.
World Soccer: You have worked under some outstanding personalities: Louisvan Gaal, van Basten and, of course, Alex Ferguson. What is Ferguson's secret of success?
Van der Sar: I think Sir Alex knows the right moment to change a team, to get the new players he wants and needs. It's his desire, his hunger. It's not a matter of charisma. You don't work with charisma on the training pitch. In football, you have to have a desire to work and win things -- and that is what he has in a very special way.
World Soccer: And the long-term future?
Van der Sar: My idea has always been to concentrate fully on my performance on the pitch and then I will see what other opportunities come later. But at the moment, my career is all about my goalkeeping. For the future -- well, goalkeeping has been such a great part of my life, it might make sense to stay there. Being a goalkeeper coach would be an easy solution, but that's not a decision for now.
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of World Soccer magazine. To subscribe, click here.
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