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Posted on April 27, 2011
The Atlético Madrid goalkeeper David de Gea, though only 20, has ‘composure, nerve and self-confidence’. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Amid all the euphoria over what Sir Alex Ferguson described as “one of our best performances in Europe” there may have been just one small regret as the Manchester United manager left the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday night. Having seen his team outplay Schalke and win 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final, Ferguson had also witnessed a superb goalkeeping display from the home side’s Manuel Neuer, the 25-year-old who is the established Germany No1.
Neuer has decided to leave Schalke and would have been a natural and inspired replacement for Edwin van der Sar, who is retiring in the summer. The German, however, is set to stay in Germany and join Bayern Munich this summer (unless Schalke’s demand of a fee of EUR25m – £22.1m – scuppers the deal as the goalkeeper has only one year left on his contract).
United appear to have missed out on a gem in Neuer, who is displaying an incredible maturity while potentially having at least 10 years left in top-level football. As Ferguson knows, such goalkeepers are not readily available. When the United manager tried to replace Peter Schmeichel in 1999, he opted for ? Mark Bosnich.
So with Neuer Bayern-bound, which goalkeeper should Ferguson make his new permanent No1?
David de Gea
Club Atlético Madrid. Age 20. Caps 0.
A tall, athletic goalkeeper who is seen as a natural successor to Iker Casillas when the Real Madrid goalkeeper, 30 next month, retires from international football. Made his name in 2007, when Spain beat Belgium on penalties to reach the Under-17 European Championship final (which they won against England) and made his Champions League and La Liga debut within a week in 2009. He saved a penalty in his first league game. He won the Europa League with Atlético as a 19-year-old last season and has continued to improve this campaign. Has few – or no – weaknesses and United have reportedly made the Spaniard their No1 target. Atlético are trying to tie him down to a new contract (he has three years left on his current deal) but may be forced to sell in the summer. De Gea is likely to cost in the region of £18m-£20m.
They say: “This boy is as cold as a wolf. He has composure, nerve and self-confidence. The pressures that others might feel don’t affect him” – Atlético’s youth-team goalkeeping coach, Angel Mejías, in March 2010
The Dutch option
Club Ajax. Age 28. Caps 39.
The 6ft 6in Holland international was, according to United’s first-team coach René Meulensteen, “at the top of our wanted list” in January. A product of the Ajax academy, Stekelenburg has twice been Van der Sar’s long-term replacement with distinction – once at Ajax and then for Holland after Van der Sar retired in 2008 – and could now repeat the feat at Old Trafford. His performances at last summer’s World Cup in South Africa, with only six goals conceded and a strong performance in the final, attracted widespread attention. Arsenal have been linked with the Dutchman, who has a contract until 2012, and Ajax are unlikely to stand in his way.
They say: “Juventus is a big club, but Van der Sar, a decade ago, failed there. Stylistically, Van der Sar is comparable to Stekelenburg. Therefore he should reject Juve. Manchester United seems to me a nicer club for him” – The former Holland and Ajax goalkeeper Stanley Menzo in April 2011
The risky option
Club Lyon. Age 24. Caps 22.
The Lyon goalkeeper has been regarded as one of Europe’s finest goalkeepers for years and is approaching an age where he is looking for a new challenge. He has a contract until 2013 but Lyon may need to sell if they miss out on Champions League football next season, which is still a possibility. Ferguson may be concerned, however, by the 24?year?old’s intermittent troubles with crosses, a deficiency not ideal when playing in England, and the Frenchman made a howler against South Africa at the World Cup. Lyon would consider selling to United but are likely to ask for a fee in the region of EUR15m.
They say: “Lloris was superb. Keeping a clean sheet against Brazil is never easy. His performance against the Brazilians was reward for all the hard work he has done in the past six months. Outstanding” – The France coach, Laurent Blanc, in February 2011
The safe option
Club Liverpool. Age 28. Caps 21.
The Liverpool goalkeeper may have come out this week to say that he is happy at Anfield but has hinted at several occasions this season that he is prepared to move on. “What a player wants, logically, is to challenge for titles,” he told a Spanish radio station in February. The Spaniard has been playing in England since 2005 and would, in contrast to the other contenders, not need any time to adapt to the Premier League. Reina has said that his family is happy in Liverpool but he could conceivably commute to Manchester. It is uncertain, however, if he would be prepared to risk the ire of Liverpool fans by moving to their bitterest rivals while a buyout clause of £20m could also prove a stumbling block.
They say: “‘I have always believed Pepe is one of the best in the Premier League, if not the best maybe even in football. Whatever he feels about us going in the right direction or not is up to him. But, at this moment, he doesn’t look too unhappy to me” – Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s acting manager, in April 2011
The exotic option
Club Lazio. Age 24. Caps 14.
Had an outstanding World Cup for Uruguay last year, keeping a clean sheet in all three group games and saving two penalties as Ghana were knocked out in the quarter-finals. Muslera had a troublesome start at Lazio, whom he joined in 2007, when questions were raised over the legality of his passport, and he was also dropped in favour of a 44-year-old (Marco Ballotta). But the Uruguayan has been the club’s No1 goalkeeper since January 2009 and was man of the match as Lazio won the Italian Cup on penalties in that year, saving from Sampdoria’s Antonio Cassano and Hugo Campagnaro. He conceded a mere 48 goals in 42 games in the 2009-10 season and experienced Europa League football with Lazio. Muslera has only one year left on his contract but – despite having had a wobble this season – Lazio are keen to renew the deal.
They say: “Everything was agreed about the new contract and then suddenly the boy and his agent wanted to change something. But we are still hopeful of reaching an agreement” – Lazio’s president, Claudio Lotito, in April 2011.
And if none of these come off …
And if all these options come to nothing, Ferguson can always throw all the money he has got at making Van der Sar change his mind. The Dutchman is, after all, still one of the best goalkeepers in the world.