The Greatest XI: The Number One

Football began over 150 years ago. For myself, personally, it began in 1990. At the age of ten, I fell in love with the sport and of course Manchester United. Watching the FA Cup Final with my father and his mates, followed by Italia ’90. It really did capture my imagination, which got me thinking, what or rather who, would be my dream Manchester United eleven? Over the coming weeks I shall be selecting my one to eleven.

1. Peter Schmeichel – Goalkeeper

The Great Dane, as he was to be known, during his time at Old Trafford. Alex Ferguson signed Peter Schmeichel in the summer of 1991 for just over £500,000. An absolute steal in modern times. Brian Clough once said that a good goalkeeper will save you around twelve points a season. Schmeichel was probably double that amount. His large frame and vocal presence were all parts of his goalkeeping armoury. Having played Handball, while growing up in Denmark, Schmeichel would use these skills to try and save the ball by any means necessary. His star like

His large frame and vocal presence were all parts of his goalkeeping armoury. Having played handball, while growing up in Denmark, Schmeichel would use these skills to try and save the ball by any means necessary. His star like technique would soon be followed by many keepers all over the world.

“I don’t believe a better goalkeeper played the game. He is a giant figure in the history of Manchester United.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Schmeichel had an amazing knack of plucking crosses out of the sky, to take the pressure off of his back four, during the dying moments of the game. His on-field disagreements with his back four, would usually lead to Schmeichel racing out of his goal after a chance had been created by the opposition, to berate the guilty person.

It was in the big games that the Dane would come into his own. During a Champions League game in 1995 and with United trailing to Rotor Volgograd from Russia, Schmeichel was sent upfield for a loner and with the game going into the dying minutes, popped up with a goal. Unfortunately for United, they would go out on away goals. Some of the saves that he would make would be beyond belief. Against Rapid Vienna, a ball crossed into the middle was not dealt with by United and the Vienna forward was unmarked for a free header. What was to follow was a Gordon Banks-style save, reminiscent of Banks’ save against Pele and Brazil in 1970. Somehow the Dane managed to get his 6ft 3-inch frame down to his right and flick the ball over the crossbar.

Remember the Kevin Keegan meltdown? ” I would love it if we beat them, love it ” well that season, Newcastle led United by twelve points at one stage. United managed to claw back the deficit, and by the time United arrived at St James Park, Newcastle had all but surrendered the league. Schmeichel was amazing on that day. Keeping out Ferdinand, Ginola and Rob Lee. Cantona would make the Magpies pay for their missed chances.

Dennis Bergkamp of Arsenal, no doubt hated Schmeichel. During the World Cup of 1998, Schmeichel saved a penalty from the Dutchman in the shootout, fast forward nearly eighteen months, and it was a repeat performance. This time it was the FA Cup Semi Final replay. With United down to ten men and the game tied at 1-1, Phil Neville’s lazy tackle on Ray Parlour, signalled a penalty kick. With literally seconds to go on the clock, Bergkamp, placed it low to Schmeichel’s left, the Great Dane guessed right and ensured the game would go to extra-time. Cue Ryan Giggs and his wonder goal.

“An enormous presence in goal. Intimidated strikers with his size and ability. The best I goalkeeper I played against in England.” – Emmanuel Petit

Peter Schmeichel decided that he needed a change of career. Playing three games in seven days was too much for him in terms of how much recovery time he would need in between. His final match for United, was the Champions League Final in 1999. He captained United that day. A day which goes down in history as the day United won a historic treble of League, FA Cup and Champions League. The cartwheel across the pitch, as Solskjaer notched the winner, is still shown over and over to do this day.

“What a fantastic goalkeeper. I played with David Seaman and he was a very good goalkeeper but for me, Schmeichel was another level. Just the fact that, one on one’s, normally when somebody goes through on the goalkeeper you just pray that they’re going to save it but you just knew Schmeichel was going to save it, so we’d always set up a counter-attack because we knew he would. He could also throw the ball as far as he could kick it and the amount of times we would get corners against us, he’d pluck it and release it to Giggs and Kanchelskis and we’d score goals. Best goalkeeper in the world during his time.” – Paul Ince

Peter Schmeichel’s career then took him to Portugal where he signed for Sporting Lisbon, before making a Premier League return to both Aston Villa and Manchester City. Despite playing for the blue half of Manchester, Schmeichel will always be classed as a legend, and as far as I am concerned, the greatest keeper to ever don a pair of gloves.

About the Author

John McNicoll
Southern Red and Football enthusiast.