x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Good goalkeepers like Schmeichel are hard to come by

Peter Schmeichel was larger than life both physically and in personality, but I didn't like him at first.

Peter Schmeichel, the goalkeeper, had a strong personality and talent. Without him Manchester United could not have won titles they did. Nick Potts / Action Images
Peter Schmeichel, the goalkeeper, had a strong personality and talent. Without him Manchester United could not have won titles they did. Nick Potts / Action Images

The great goalkeeper left Manchester United on a high after winning many titles but I wish he had stayed on for longer A top goalkeeper is worth 12 points a season. 

Peter Schmeichel was the man at Manchester United and we wouldn't have won the league so many times without him, nor the treble in 1999. Big Pete was larger than life both physically and in personality, but I didn't like him at first. He really intimidated new arrivals and I viewed that as arrogance. 

He had mad opinions and never stopped moaning about his gloves, his towels or his kit.

He often played outfield in training and fancied himself as a striker, but seemed to be at the centre of everything that went wrong. He once went heavily into a tackle with Eric Cantona and the Frenchman picked himself up and stood up to the Dane, pointing and shouting: "You, you, you. It's always you." 

Schmeichel clashed with the biggest personalities in the United dressing room, like Roy Keane. On one pre-season tour of Hong Kong, we all had a night out and didn't get back to the hotel until 5am.

Next thing, I heard a big bang from my hotel room. I opened the door to see Keane and Schmeichel scuffling in the corridor. They both had strong personalities and it didn't surprise me so I closed the door and went to sleep. Big Pete had sunglasses on the next morning to cover the black eye which Keaney had given him. 

The other lads used to play tricks on Pete. One day, he was standing naked and went to get a cup of tea. Nicky Butt crept up behind him holding a big silver tea pot. He wanted to put it close to him so that he felt the heat of it and jumped a bit, but as Pete turned towards the pot he made contact with his private parts. 

Everyone looked on as Pete screamed loudly, "Aaargh!" He knew it was Nicky straight away and started to chase him. Naked. Pete would have killed him had he caught him. He ended up getting a big blister, which would have taken some explaining to his wife.

Pete got his revenge during games. He used to scream "Get out of my box!" It was like no player was allowed in his box. Ever. He was very vocal and critical of every player, but that was his way of motivating himself, too. He had good feet and made bizarre star shapes when saving the ball. We didn't care - his saves won us games. We absolutely trusted him in goal, though, and that confidence never faltered.

And while I'd describe him as a freak, I mean that in a nice way because he had a good heart and was a decent person. We really missed him when he left United - admittedly on the massive high of winning the treble. Aged 35, he said the English winters and number of games were taking their toll on his body and opted to play in the warmer climes of Portugal where fewer games were played. 

In hindsight, he should have stayed in Manchester. When you see the age of Edwin van der Sar, United's current No 1, who is 40 next month, it shows that goalkeepers can play into their fifth decade.

United never really replaced Schmeichel until Edwin came along. Mark Bosnich was a completely different type of keeper, a shot-stopper. Fabian Barthez had won the World Cup with France, but he was probably too small. Neither had the presence of Schmeichel. United tried other goalkeepers with sometimes farcical consequences, like the Italian Massimo Taibi who cost £4 million (Dh22.8m) and lasted a month. 

Andy Goram and Roy Carroll were stopgaps as Sir Alex Ferguson searched for a solution he only found when he signed Van der Sar six years after Schmeichel had departed.

I see the problems Arsenal are having with goalkeepers at the moment, in particular their No 1 Manuel Almunia, and it's clear that mistakes are costing them points. 

It has surprised me because Arsene Wenger is a sound judge of goalkeepers and Arsenal have a great history of top goalkeepers like Bob Wilson, Pat Jennings and David Seaman. They were linked with Fulham's Mark Schwarzer in the summer and may sign him in January.

A good keeper but hardly one for the future as he is 37. Who else could they go for? Spain seems to produce the best goalkeepers at the moment, with Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Pep Reina (Liverpool), Victor Valdes (Barcelona) and David De Gea at Atletico Madrid. 

I can't see any of those leaving to join Arsenal. Then I look around and see who else they could buy. Shay Given is a solid keeper at Manchester City. Joe Hart, too. Petr Cech is among the best at Chelsea, but none of them come close to the great, mad, Dane, Schmeichel.

sports@thenational.ae