Peter Schmeichel is widely considered to be one of United’s greatest goalkeepers of all time, if not the greatest. He was the rock upon which the Sir Alex dynasty was built. The fact that United failed to replace him for a long time speaks volumes of the talent that the Dane possessed.
Signed for a fee of £505k, it was described as the ‘bargain of the Century’ by Sir Alex. The fact that he was relatively unknown outside Denmark contributed to the paltry fee. In his first season at Old Trafford, Schmeichel played an important role as United finished runner-ups in the league. The finish was a springboard for the first league success in 26 years. Schmeichel was named the ‘World Best Goalkeeper’ in both years.
Schmeichel had an unorthodox style of goalkeeping. He changed the rules of how to keep the ball out of the back of the net. With his style of goalkeeping, he should not have been as good as he was but, his supreme athleticism helped him master every commonly taught goalkeeping technique. Whatever the occasion, Schmeichel was up to the task. His aggressiveness bordered on reckless. He was quick to rush from his line and put the attacker on the defensive. Great strikers are supposed to be composed in a 1v1 situation, right? No, sir. Not on Schmeichel’s watch. The sight of the Great Dane charging off his line is a nightmare for any striker.
Schmeichel was part of the famous Denmark team that lifted the European Championship in 1992. In the semi-final, he saved a penalty from Marco van Basten. In the final, he collected a cross with a hand. He made a string of important saves throughout the tournament. Schmeichel and Denmark completed the fairytale run and ended up with the winner’s medal. He could not repeat the success in England 4 years later but, did reach the quarterfinals in the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. Schmeichel score for his country in 2000, it was one of the 11 he scored throughout his career.
The 1998-99 season was Peter Schmeichel’s greatest and his last for United. In the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, he saved a penalty from Dennis Bergkamp in the final minutes of the match. Schmeichel later revealed that he was unaware of the time left in the match. In the Champions League final in Barcelona, Schmeichel had the captain’s armband because of a suspension to Roy Keane. He kept United in the game when trailing 1-0. United scored 2 goals in added time to complete the greatest comeback in Champions League finals history. After Solskjaer’s winning goal, Schmeichel could be seen doing cartwheels in his penalty area. It turned to be his last game for United.
Schmeichel’s career can best be summed up by a picture of a striker mid-curse, pulling his hair back in disbelief. While his mechanics weren’t textbook, Schmeichel had the mindset every goalkeeper of knowing every possible goal-scoring situation and know how to stop each one. Being a little sloppy in the process is not as important as the ball hitting the net. If there’s one thing that Peter Schmeichel has taught us, it’s that if you’re going to break the rules, you’re going to have to be one of the best in the world to get away with it.