The Manchester United Goalkeeper Hunt Continues

by Aidan Elder

Paper talk over the last couple of days have attempted to shed more light on who’s likely to replace Edwin van der Sar at Old Trafford, but if anything, it’s only highlighted how messy the picture has become. Here’s the latest attempt to cut through the double-talk and go through Sir Alex Ferguson’s likely wishlist.

Pepe Reina
1. Pepe Reina
As unthinkable as it might be to Liverpool fans, Reina joining their most despised of rivals isn’t as far-fetched as some may think. The Spaniard’s fiercely competitive nature is evident on the pitch and he wants to win trophies. Fernando Torres’ conclusion that aspirations of silverware were best served by moving elsewhere will have got Reina thinking about something similar. A move back to Spain has been spoken about, but only to Atletico Madrid where his father played for much of the 70s, even reaching a European Cup final. His contemporaries at Barcelona and Real Madrid would seem to have those plum goalkeeping berths locked down and the move to the Mattress Makers is more likely to happen towards the end of his career.

Not for the first time in his life, Liverpool’s recent upturn in form won’t be to the satisfaction of Sir Alex, but on this occasion it has nothing to do with rivaling the Red Devils for silverware or honours. The Anfield club are about as far away from a title challenge as at any point during Fergie’s reign at Old Trafford, but their resurgence under Kenny Dalglish may convince Reina to hang tight for at least another season. Ferguson and his goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele are said to be big fans of Reina, but with improved form and the promise of further investment over the summer, extending his stay on Merseyside could be worth the risk. Time would appear to be on his side. He’ll only turn 29 towards the start of next season and such is the peak physical condition that Reina keeps himself in, it’d wouldn’t be a surprise to be talking about him in 2020. Reina has the option of having his cake and eating it by giving Liverpool another chance to return to the top of the English game. If it doesn’t work out and Man Utd are still the dominant force in the Premier League in a couple of years, he could move then and still enjoy an extended stay at Old Trafford.

David de Gea
2. David de Gea
With the Reina option looking less and less likely with each improvement King Kenny gets from his team, Man Utd have been exploring the possibly of raiding the next generation of Spanish custodian. David de Gea is at the forefront of the generation after reportedly impressing Steele on several scouting missions in the recent past. Purely of terms of talent, de Gea has exactly what it takes to succeed in the Premier League right now and with the potential for further improvement he could excel for Man Utd. At the age of 20, he’s a hugely exciting prospect, but his youth is something of a double-edged sword for Man Utd.

On one hand, snapping up a player barely out of his teens who has a proven track record of success has the potential – if the best of the dream-like best scenario’s comes to pass – of sorting out the Man Utd goalkeeping position for a decade and possibly more. On the other, de Gea is reported to have misgivings about moving abroad quite so young. De Gea seems to be a young man of uncommon maturity and attitude, but the option of staying with Atletico to develop further prior to a big move is said to be tempting him into staying put for the next couple of years.

One concern may centre around the step up in expectations. In terms of media attention and pressure, his time at Atletico Madrid will have given de Gea at least an idea of what he will go through in the spotlight of Old Trafford, but the expectations at each club are vastly different. With the team in front of him regularly misfiring, on the occasions when de Gea has made mistakes, the consequences haven’t been too grave. That won’t be the case at Man Utd where – regardless of the opposition or the competition – he’ll play two high pressure games a week with virtually zero margin for error. With silverware expected, allowing the goal that turns three points into just one and could in turn prove costly at the end of the season will not be tolerated and de Gea has to decide if he’s ready for that level of scrutiny at this early stage of his career.

Manuel Neuer
3. Manuel Neuer
Neuer would be a great option for Man Utd, but he has made noises about preferring to stay in Germany and wanting to win a Bundesliga title. The interest from Bayern Munich would give him an option to complete both of these stated goals.

There had been hope that Thomas Kraft would be the long-term solution to Bayern’s goalkeeping issues, but for all his potential, he may not be the immediate remedy that the Bavarian club require. Attention has been turned back to Neuer and for good reason. He has always been highly rated, but over the last season and a half, the Schalke keeper has come along in leaps and bounds. Mistakes have been less and less common and his has become a more commanding presence around the penalty area. He is strikingly similar to the great Peter Schmeichel in terms of style and pure effectiveness and the experience he has amassed in six years of first team football make him vastly more tried and tested than the typical 25 year old. He has the talent to make a big impression at Old Trafford, but the signs are he’s staying put in the Bundesliga for the time-being. With age on his side, a move may again be discussed in the future, but for the moment – barring a change of heart or bags of money – it’s looking unlikely.

Maarten Stekelenburg
4. Maarten Stekelenburg
In the midst of all the speculation, Stekelenburg has remained a constant in the background. Rumours have trickled through consistently and the lack of agitation for a move and comment from Stekelenburg hints at a man confident in the knowledge a deal has been struck and where he’ll be playing his football next season. The Dutch connection makes the narrative of this particular option all the more appealing, but rest assured it has little influence on how Ferguson and Steele are assessing their options – Stekelenburg is being considered simply because he’s good enough to be considered and similarities with the departing Van der Sar are purely coincidental.

Technically good and physically robust, the current first choice for the Oranje would be well suited to the challenges of the Premier League and he comes across as the type of level-headed personality who will take the move to Old Trafford in his stride.

Gianluigi Buffon
5. Gianluigi Buffon
I’d be stunned if Buffon turns up at Old Trafford next season, mainly because it’s his agent who has been doing most of the talking about a possible move to England and purely on a personal basis, moving to the Premier League wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Having spent his entire career in Serie A, moving to England would require uprooting a young family to a completely new culture for a few years. Otherwise he could try the commute, but that’s only likely to meet with disapproval from Sir Alex and eventual homesickness. It would appear that Buffon’s agent has looked at the only two major European clubs in need of a top quality goalkeeper in an attempt to frighten Juventus into offering him a much improved contract. My guess would be Buffon will get his contract, stay in Turin for the next couple of years before moving to one of the Gulf states for one last lucrative pay-day.

The financial situation at Juve is often cited as a reason why Buffon’s departure is a possibility, but how much is a 33 year old – admittedly top class – increasingly injury-prone goalkeeper likely to fetch in a depressed transfer market? Whatever figure you arrive it, it’s unlikely to be enough to chase the financial gloom away. The benefits of hanging on to Buffon almost certainly outweigh the benefits of selling him on. Possibly adding fuel to the rumour is a fractious relationship with head coach, Luigi Del Neri. After recovering from the injury sustained at the World Cup, Buffon declared himself fit and ready to return for Juventus. Rather than immediately reinstate Italy’s number 1, Del Neri kept faith with Marco Storari for an extended period of time and that didn’t go down well with Buffon. As he was one of Del Neri’s first signings when taking charge last summer, there may have been an element of politics involved in the manager’s decision to stick with Storari, but whatever the reason, it’s judgment like that which makes it likely Buffon will be at Juventus next season whilst Del Neri will not.

The ‘all things considered’ most likely options list
1. Stekelenburg
2. De Gea
3. Reina
4. Neuer
5. Buffon

This article first appeared on the excellent Ministry of Glove.

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