Last night I watched, Goal 2: LivingThe Dream, and was impressed by the way Casillas was made to perform in the final against Arsenal. And then it stuck me, I did not need to watch a movie to see such magic, I could simply watch Peter Schmeichel.
Christened as ‘the rock unto which SAF built his success at United’ , Peter Schmeichel, was in every sense of the word, a giant between the sticks. The Danish custodian stood at a towering height of 6 feet and 4 inches and was a scary prospect for any oncoming striker.
He wore XXXL jerseys and not only did he have the frame of a giant, he used it brilliantly too. His CV at United reads like a roadmap of excellence, 5 Premier League titles, 3 FA Cups one league cup and unforgetably The Champions League on his final night as a United player was the icing on a very huge cake indeed.
Signed, from Brondby for 550,000 pounds, he was labelled by Ferguson as the ‘bargain of the century’ and the new recruit too it to heart to prove his boss right.
Schmeichel relly came in focus with his performances at Euro 92, he was simply the best player the Danes had, and it showed. He made crucial saves throught the tournament and none more so than Marco Van Basten’s penalty he saved to let Danes reach the final against Germany.
Against the Germans too, Schmeichel was the man who kept his team in it with 4 exceptional saves. Suddenly, Jensen, who had only scored once before in his life, scored and the upset looked imminent, Denmark scored again and the fairytale was complete, but Schmeichel’s story had just started.
The very next season, he helped United secure their first league title in 26 years. Along with Cantona, Giggs, Robson and Bruce, he formed the fulcrum of United’s first great team under Ferguson.
Schmeichel was going from strength to strength, when disaster struck. Schmeichel had a row with Feguson, after United sqandered a 3-0 lead to Liverpool. But after Schmeichel’s apology Ferguson relented and the Dane stayed put at Old Trafford.
A match that for me defined his time at United was a 1996 match, against Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle. The men in red visited, St. James’s Park (not the Sports Direct Arena)trailing their hosts by four points and having playd a game more. Schmeichel was superhuman that night.
He made all kinds of saves, be it one on one attempts, refles saves, or unforgetably catching a cross with one hand. His sheer technical briliane and mental sharpness was on show that night as he single handedly kept United fighting. A goal by Eric Canotna (who else) secured the match for the Red Devils.
That match at Newcastle really summed up why he was considered the best keeper in the world, during his peak at United. He constantly made every kind of superhuman save possibel. He used his considerable frame to block out the goal with his trademark, ‘star jumps’, made unbelievable reaction saves, most notable a Godon Banks moment against Raped Vienna, when he arrived from the other side of the goal to tip the ball over the bar in a couple of seconds.
As if that was not enough, he was brilliant with his ball distribution too. His throws were huge and accurate, he was brilliant with the ball at his feel and also scored 11 goals throughout his carrer. He frequently joined the attack on set pieces when United were trailing, and if nothing, managed to confuse opposition defences. A giant like him could heckle the strongest of defenders.
He had more to his game than his kkeping though. He was a perfectionist and constantly cajoled, abused and adjuted his defense and midfield. He let his emotions out and was frequently caught abusing his defenders for even small mistakes.
The treble winning season could be argued as the best season Schmeichel had at United. On way to all the three trophies, (The Premier League, The FA Cup and the Champions League). He made save after save which at times kept United in the running. His semi-final save against Bergkamps’ penalty was for me the crowning jewel of his campaign.
But the finest moment arrived at the Camp Nou, trailing 1-0 after 90 minutes, United won a corner. Scmeichel rushed up to cause confusion, and succeeded. Sheringham scored and the stadium went mad. A minute later, another corner was fizzed in by Beckham, this time Schmeichel stayed back. Sheringham scored and their number one was caught doing cartwheels in ecstacy.
Even though Schmeichel joined Sporting Lisbon next season, and helped them end their 16 year drought, him doing cartwheels at Camp Nou is the lasting image of the Great Dane. A very happy birthday to the man who served football and United in such a distinguished manner.Published 19 Nov 2013, 16:03 IST