Showing posts with label Alex Stepney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alex Stepney. Show all posts

De Gea is undoubtedly United's player of the decade

David de Gea will eclipse Manchester United's greatest ever goal keeper Peter Schmeichel's record of 398 appearances when the Red Devils take on Aston Villa at Villa Park today. He will become the second most capped goal keeper behind Alex Stepney whose tally is 539. de Gea having shined brilliantly by winning the player of the year awards four of five seasons between 2013-17 that has enabled United to retain their top 6 status to play in Europe despite having a very poor team in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era has made him a torchbearer much like Bryan Robson in the 1980's.

That game away at Arsenal with 14 saves was the zenith of this middle period where literally he saved the club from losing or drawing vital games and thereby always ensured United stay in the hunt for European places while making them punch above their weight consistently.



Manuel Neuer was the bookies favourite to don the gloves at Old Trafford especially after playing well against United in the Champions' League semi-final loss in 2011 when he was with Schalke. Ferguson did not want a repeat of mistakes following the retirement of Peter Schmeichel when he promoted or brought a string of under-achievers starting with Raimond van der Gouw, Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Roy Carroll and Tim Howard; others like Massimo Taibi, Any Goram (on loan) and Ricardo were brought to challenge them. In short the goal keeping position was a mess at United for five seasons considering Ferguson is the greatest manager of all time!

de Gea replaced the retiring Edwin van de Sar who had six trophy laden years that was a tough act to follow. He came to United aged only 20 after having won the UEFA Cup with Atletico Madrid. Sir Alex Ferguson persisted with signing the Spaniard after pulling out to sign Petr Cech at a similar age. At United, de Gea struggled with the physicality of the league initially as he himself at 20 years of age was still developing. United devised a programme to help him add muscle mass.

The first match of 2011-12 season was his league debut vs West Brom when let slip a soft goal after a barrage in the penalty box that Ferguson described as his 'welcome to England' in his autobiography, thankfully United won 2-1 to his rescue. He was even challenged by Anders Lindegaard to be the No.1. Weathering out those early hiccups he has emerged as the best shot stopper in the world over the last decade. He has won the league title under Ferguson, FA Cup under Louis van Gaal, UEFA Cup and League Cup under Jose Mourinho. Champions' League medal is the main prize missing from his trophy cabinet.

Sir Alex Ferguson on challenges facing a young keeper: "David couldn't speak the language and he had to learn to drive, another illustration of how young he was. It could never be easy for a goalkeeper coming to England from Continental Europe at 20 years of age." Gigi Buffon was 23 when he joined Juventus from Parma in 2001 and Petr Cech was 22 on joining Chelsea from Rennes in 2004.

He was in the running to be named Club Captain but his frank answer perhaps to questions about United's style of play cost him. This season Ashley Young started as the Captain and de Gea was in the reckoning until his reaction to a shock 1-0 loss to Newcastle on 6th October "The most difficult time since I’ve been here. I don’t know why, what is happening. Sorry to the fans.", made Solskjaer pick Harry Maguire instead. Not since Jack Mew immediately after first world war has United not had a goal keeper as Club Captain. It shows an utter lack of recognition to this vitally important position especially since United have had legends like Stepney, Schmeichel, van der Sar all having won the European Cup or Champions' League with the club.

Oft talked about criticism is that he does not come out to attack the ball floated out from a corner kick to command his penalty box. Since the retirement of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic he hasn't had a steady centre-back pairs patrolling the defense. This could now change with tall and steady Harry Maguire in front of him. He has a poor record of saving penalty kicks given that early on he saved a penalty from Robin van Persie in that 8-2 win over Arsenal. Taking cue from Sir Matt Busby helping Frank Swift during his playing career with City, Solskjaer being a former striker can help de Gea.
What next? This is his third phase where he is getting used to making fewer yet critical saves and perceptible change in levels of concentration required compared to the second phase of his United career where he was bombarded relentlessly by the opposition in a poor team. Can he break Alex Stepney's record? Certainly. There is more in common between the two: they both came to United at a young age and won trophies in last years of United's two greatest managers Busby and Ferguson while having to see barren, struggling years later on. Early thirties is considered golden period for goal keepers and de Gea only turns 30 this November. Stepney also had a great goal keeper as his understudy in Jimmy Rimmer who won European Cup twice first with United in 1968 and later with Aston Villa in 1982. Dean Henderson's rise at Sheffield United and dip in form of de Gea has let to lots of speculation.

The flattening of transfer market due to pandemic and lack of open positions at other leading European clubs like Madrid or PSG or Juventus coupled with David de Gea being highest earning player at United (discounting Alexis Sanchez who is loaned out) has ensured there is no clear cut answer. Schmeichel drawing on his immense knowledge made this assessment “David is our no.1 - he’s still a young lad, by the way. He could play on for another 10 years. Let’s back him. We should support what we have because we know what we have is really good.” Schmeichel tops with 180 clean sheets with one of the best defenses compared to 140 by de Gea in 398 games for United, while Edwin van de Sar has 135, Gary Bailey has 161 and Alex Stepney is at 175 at the end of their careers.

de Gea is the only United player to have won Sir Matt Busby player of the year award four times! "It's amazing to play for the club, the history, the fans, everything. It was hard in the beginning, but I believed in myself, I worked hard and I am proud of myself as well. I want to say thanks to everyone. I didn't expect to win this one. I have four, it's amazing for me and thanks again to everyone.”

Over the nine years David de Gea has become fans favourite and endears them further by active social media presence and interaction with fans especially the younger ones. Like the talisman Bryan Robson lifted the league title and retired, most fans believe it will be far easier for United to win back the English Premier League and perhaps Champions' League with David de Gea in goal. #DaveSaves need to considered in the same manner of superlatives as goals of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo through the last decade irrespective of United not challenging for Champions' League honours. David de Gea can become United's undisputed greatest keeper in this decade under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. For world football in general he has perhaps blazed a trail for young goal keepers to become mainstay of the first team.

Double over City proof of Solskjaer getting it right at United

The first league double over local rivals City since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson has cleared all doubts about United's rebuild under Solskjaer. The squad had all of his signings three from the summer and two in January and importantly without Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones while Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba are out with long term injuries. Solskjaer made the most of his squad while sustaining 70% City possession that could not breach the solid defensive unit of United. Kevin de Bruyne not even in the squad and Pep Guardiola bringing off Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva after 60 minutes hinted City's priorities were elsewhere even though they had enough talent to win in Sterling, Foden, Fernandinho while Jesus, Mahrez and Mendy came on to improve them further.

Brilliance of Bruno Fernandes chip from a free kick caught City back line by surprise as Anthony Martial latched on to score past Ederson who could have done better. This shot from Martial atoned a previous lapse of judgement when he could have passed to Fernandes to score. Fred was unlucky to not get a penalty when he was judged to have dived while the replays clearly showed a City player clipping his run although it was a bit soft but a yellow card was unjust. Sergio Aguero goal was ruled offside by his front leaning shoulder was a close call for the VAR whose introduction this season has caused more harm than good to the English game. Anthony Martial persisted until he was substituted even though he hurt his leg after colliding with the post as he attempted a chance off error prone Ederson. Late in the second half substitute Scott McTominay intercepted the throw from Ederson as they chased the game to slot home from long range to an empty net.
Rookie Brandon Williams was ran over by experienced Riyad Mahrez in the second half and rightly substituted by Eric Bailly which meant Luke Shaw moved to left-back role from left centre-back where he had another great game a position he first played against Liverpool in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October. Recoveries by Nemanja Matic was excellent through out the game and talks about his contract extension does again demonstrate how Solskjaer has won over the experienced Serbian leading him to regain his form at a crucial juncture for United who are chasing the fourth Champions' League spot. Aaron Wan-Bissaka again pocketed Raheem Sterling that deserves an England call-up while playing as left wing-back is now enabling him to grow his attacking and crossing skills.

There might be a section of fans thinking why Paul Pogba should be reinstated to the squad when for most of this season he has been absent given that he might be sold in the summer with just two months left to play. Firstly the club will suffer financially next season if it does not make it to the Champions' League as Sponsors will give less money as per penalty in the contract for non-qualification for two straight seasons to Europe's premier competition and hence Solskjaer must use all resources available to him. Secondly he might not be an automatic choice given the form of Fred and Fernandes now but with United playing Thursday's & Sunday's till the end of the season the squad does require a good backup option.

During the most recent conference call on United's financial results Cliff Batty did respond to a direct question on the funds available to spend in the summer transfer window which is 190 million. Pursuit of English duo Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho might take up the complete allocation. As yet there is no indication of United wanting to offer Paul Pogba a contract extension but to use the proceeds from his sale thought to be in the region of ~80 million with only one year left for the summer transfers.

Dean Henderson doing well between the sticks at Sheffield United has given another option for United to raise funds for the rebuild provided clubs like Juventus, Real Madrid or PSG can match the salary of David de Gea that is highest in the world for a goal keeper. The only counter to this argument is that with de Gea, United can aim to win the Champions' League as he is of the same stature as legends Alex Stepney, Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Saar. Henderson who joined United as a teenager and has come up through the ranks might know the club well but as Schmeichel used to say being a United goal keeper is a really tough ask both physically and mentally. Right approach would be for Henderson to be an understudy to de Gea for a year and then take up the No 1 spot. Alex Stepney is the youngest keeper at United to win the European Cup at 25 years 8 months 11 days while Dean Henderson turns 23 this week. Iker Casillas though won it at just 19 with Real Madrid. Its the only honour to elude David de Gea, 29 who has won everything else.

Solskjaer with this win has achieved what neither of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal nor Jose Mourinho could. Add the double win over Chelsea too and examine the blueprint of academy players progressing through (new contracts to Tahith Chong and Ethan Laird), successful recruitment of senior players, excellent man-management skills and a positivism that is proving to be contagious confirms he is the right one to bring back the swagger of the old United in long run. For now Solskjaer was found a way to win to continue the unbeaten run and last 8 league fixtures against the bottom half provides him an opportunity to fix another lacuna while claiming the fourth spot at the same time. Trophies are the only missing item which might yet be won at the end of this season given the favorable draw in both Cup competitions and defensive wherewithal.

53 years to the debut of Big Al

Alex Stepney made his Manchester United debut today(17 September) in 1966 in goal against Manchester City in a 1-0 win with Denis Law scoring the winner. Overall he made 539 appearances keeping 175 clean sheets. He was born on 18 September, 1942.

A snapshot of his career.
  • Cockney lad who played for Milwall came via Chelsea where Tommy Docherty released him in Aug '66 for a record fee #55,000. Immediately became No 1 choice displacing David Gaskell and Pat Dunne who had shared the goal-keeping duties during the '65 League winning season.
  • Sir Matt Busby credited him for Manchester United winning the First Division league title in '67: "The single most important factor behind our championship success in 1967 was signing Alex Stepney."
  • In a Charity Shield game the traditional curtain raiser for a new season MUFC as league champions faced the FA Cup winners in Tottenham Hotspur on 12-Aug-1967. Their goal keeper Pat Jennings scored a goal from a kick which went past MUFC defenders and bounced off Alex Stepney who had come front.
  • Alex Stepney stood his ground to not only withstand Eusebio's net bursting shot but held it firmly to keep MUFC in the European Cup final of '68 which played a major role in Reds finally realizing the dream of Sir Matt Busby of becoming Champions of Europe. Eusebio immediately applauded the save from Alex Stepney aware perhaps of its consequence. His only cap for England came against Sweden at Wembley only a week earlier than the European Cup final allowing Alex Stepney to get to know the turf better.
  • His fumble cost '70 League Cup semi-final to Manchester City losing 3-4.
  • Broke two fingers while making a save to help MUFC beat West Brom 2-1 and take an important step to avoid relegation in '73. Jimmy Rimmer kept goal in his absence.
  • 89* consecutive appearances between 07-Apr-73 till 01-Feb-75.(* many claim its 92 not 89)
  • Played in all the games of the 1973-74 season when MUFC were relegated and became the 1st MUFC Goalkeeper to play through all games in a season across the League, FA Cup and League Cup. A feat only achieved since by Gary Bailey in 79-80 and Jim Leighton in 88-89 season. The great Dane Peter Schmeichel played through all games of league season only once in 92-93 while Gary Walsh played a game each in League Cup and UEFA Cup that season! Big Al even stepped up to take penalties during the summer and Doc asked him to take the ones in First Division match against Leicester City and Birmingham both of which he duly scored. Was helpless to prevent the back-heel of Denis Law who scored the goal that led to eventual relegation for the Reds.
  • Part of rebuild under Tommy Docherty to lift the Second Division title in '74. Tommy Docherty and Tommy Cavanagh changed the playing style to a simple possession based football with short passes and Alex Stepney was asked to throw the ball to nearest defender to play from the back rather than kicking the ball.
  • Part of two FA Cup finals: losing to an offside goal from Bobby Stokes of Southampton in '76 whose shot had an unfortunate bounce that beat Alex Stepney and winning a year later in '77 to stop Liverpool winning the Treble, which MUFC finally won in '99.
  • His testimonial match was against Benfica in March, 1977.
  • Played his last competitive match for MUFC on 29, April 1978 in a 1-2 loss away at Molineux against Wolverhampton Wonderers. Left MUFC after Gary Bailey was promoted following the aborted transfer of Jimmy Blyth from Coventry due to a failed medical and Paddy Roche could not cement his place. Dave Sexton dropped Alex Stepney in a first significant change to the team of Tommy Docherty in November '77 to arrest the slide favouring Roche but to no avail. For '78 season Sexton started with Roche in goal whose confidence was shattered in 1-5 loss to Birmingham City and Bailey stepped up to face Ipswich in a 2-0 win. 
  • Played in the Manchester United centenary game on 07, August 1978 against Real Madrid in a 4-0 win.
  • His autobiography revealed how Wilf McGuinness once made Sir Bobby Charlton do 20 press-ups in a suit and how Denis Law came to know about the end of his illustrious MUFC career under Tommy Docherty.

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