Van der Sar wants to go out on top
Edwin van der Sar will not reconsider his retirement plans even though he was genuinely moved at hearing the Stretford End bellow "one more year'' in recognition of his man-of-the-match performance in Saturday's 2-0 FA Cup win over Arsenal.
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Van der Sar, 40, has already announced this will be his last season and no matter what Manchester United's appreciative fans say, he will not be changing his mind.
"I don't hate the thought of retirement,'' he said. "I am looking forward to it. I am at my peak and it will be nice to finish at my peak. Maybe it is a weight off my shoulders. It is nice to get recognition from the fans and I will miss football and the buzz. It has been 20 years. But I have other good things, including a lovely wife and great kids.''
Van der Sar has never given the impression of being overly emotional about football. Even after a string of fine saves had denied Arsenal in Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final, helping to earn United a mouth-watering clash with Manchester City at Wembley next month, he was his usual phlegmatic self. However, he does accept that after successive defeats to Chelsea and Liverpool, there has been a period of soul searching inside United's dressing room.
"We lost two games last week so it was important for us to get back to winning ways,'' he said. "Everybody doubts themselves. Every writer doubts themselves, every artist doubts himself and every football player does. But that is what certain players thrive on. It is important for the experienced players to stand up and be counted and to show the young players what has to be done.''
Van der Sar's manager Sir Alex Ferguson thrives on proving people wrong. When the teams were announced an hour before kick-off, even the most loyal United fan must have been concerned at a line-up which included seven defenders. But the decision to push Brazilian twins Fabio and Rafael into more advanced positions and asking Wayne Rooney to drop into midfield was inspired, even if Van der Sar and Patrice Evra were among those caught completely by surprise.
"It was a team we had never even trained with, let alone played,'' Van der Sar said. "I was chatting to Patrice in the car going to Old Trafford the day before the game about what the team was going to be. We came up with Fabio on the left. We never guessed Rafael would be on the right wing. They bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the team. We have seen them at the back, but they don't stay there for long because they are always going forward.''
That willingness to take the opposition on was too much for an already shellshocked Arsenal side to withstand. Fabio put the hosts ahead before the break, with Rooney nodding home a second immediately after half-time to set up a second semi-final confrontation with their neighbours in as many seasons after coming out on top in last term's Carling Cup. Two wins now stand between so many of United's players and their first FA Cup triumph, Van der Sar among them. Not that he is getting too worried about that.
"An FA Cup winners' medal would mean a lot despite what I have already won in my career,'' he said. "It is there and on my list but I wouldn't look back in regret if don't win it. In any case, it doesn't do a lot for me to lose a semi-final there. Football is about winning trophies. Although we're at Wembley, we are still one match away from the final.''
Quite aside from defeating their closest rivals, United were also buoyed by the return of Antonio Valencia from a six-month injury lay-off, putting him in line to face Marseille in Tuesday's Champions League last-16 tie.
"It is good to have him back,'' Van der Sar added. "We have already seen the things that he did for us last year. He has been training at Carrington for a little while of course, but Nani's injury at Liverpool last week speeded up the whole thing by maybe a week. Hopefully he can play some more on Tuesday or against Bolton next Saturday, then he will be okay for the last two months of the season.''