Legends: Peter Schmeichel
Peter Schmeichel is widely considered to be one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, but is the Great Dane Manchester United’s greatest ever keeper?
Schmeichel began his career playing for junior team Høje-Gladsaxe, who were based in a suburb of his hometown Copenhagen.
His first match came on August 7 1972, at the age of eight.
Following a two and a half year unbeaten run, Schmeichel was approached by Hero, a team who were a few divisions above Høje-Gladsaxe, and who boasted one of the largest youth football schemes in Denmark.
Hero later merged with Gladsaxe to form Gladsaxe-Hero BK and this is where Peter graduated to senior football.
Meeting his mentor
Schmeichel met his first mentor in Svend Aage Hansen; the first team coach at the club, and Hansen later became his father-in-law.
In 1981, Gladsaxe-Hero found themselves already relegated from the Danish Third Division with three games to play.
Hansen promoted Schmeichel and six others from the youth team for a game against Birkerød.
Gladsaxe-Hero lost 1-0 but Schmeichel received positive reviews in the local press and at the end of the season Hansen explained his plan for the future.
This involved Peter spending two more seasons with Gladsaxe-Hero before moving on to Hvidorve, playing for the Danish national team, and eventually having a successful career abroad.
Svend Aage Hansen’s confidence in Schmeichel could be explained by the goalkeeper’s famous intimidating physique.
Schmeichel is 6ft 4in tall and weighed over 16st during his playing days which meant he had to wear specially made XXXL football shirts.
The next season Gladsaxe-Hero only needed to avoid defeat against Stubbekøbing to prevent relegation from the Danish National League.
Schmeichel played one of the games of his career and Gladsaxe-Hero won the match. During the celebrations, Hansen’s daughter Bente ran onto the pitch and hugged Schmeichel.
The two ended up going out as a couple and they eventually got married.
In 1984, after playing 46 matches for his hometown club, Schmeichel signed for Hvidorve, who had won the Danish Championship just three years earlier.
A move to the Danish First Division was a big step for the young goalkeeper. However, the club were relegated in Schmeichel’s first season.
The club bounced straight back to the Danish First Division the following season and impressive performances earned Schmeichel a move to Brøndby in 1987.
He won the Danish league in his first season with Brøndby and he was called up to Denmark’s Euro 88 squad, eventually becoming their number one goalkeeper at the tournament.
Schmeichel won four championships in five seasons at Brøndby.
In his final season with the club, Brøndby reached the semi-finals of the 1991 Uefa Cup where they were eliminated by a last minute Rudi Voller goal for Roma.
Following the tournament Schmeichel was voted 10th in the World’s Best Goalkeeper poll.
Manchester United bought Schmeichel for £530,000 in the summer of 1991.
This was a fee which Sir Alex Ferguson described in 2000 as “the bargain of century”.
United finished as league runners-up in Schmeichel’s first season and they won the League Cup for the first time in their history.
But it was on the international stage that Schmeichel enjoyed the greatest success that year.
He started Euro 92 - which Denmark went on to win - as first choice goalkeeper. He saved a penalty from Marco van Basten in the semi-final and held a save with one hand in the final.
A string of important saves on the way to national glory earned him the ‘World’s Best Goalkeeper’ award in 1992.
In the 1992-93 season, 22 clean sheets from Schmeichel saw United to their first league title in 26 years.
The Great Dane was again named as the ‘World’s Best Goalkeeper’ again in 1993.
In January 1994, Schmeichel fell out with Ferguson following a game against arch rivals Liverpool where United squandered a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3.
Fergie contemplated selling the goalie after this row but he changed his mind after overhearing Schmeichel apologising to his teammates for losing his temper.
Schmeichel and Manchester United retained their Premier League title at the end of the season.
Ending on a high
His Manchester United career ended on the highest note possible in 1999 as they won the Treble - the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.
In the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, Schmeichel saved a last minute penalty kick by Dennis Bergkamp, sending the match into extra-time
Who could forget Ryan Giggs’ dramatic winner when he unveiled that hairy chest in the celebrations.
In the absence of the suspended Roy Keane, Schmeichel captained United in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
The Germans were leading 1-0 as Beckham prepared to take a corner kick in the dying moments of the match.
‘The big goalie’s coming up’
In one of the best commentating moments of all time, Ron Atkinson informs us that “the big goalie’s coming up”.
Schmeichel caused confusion in the Bayern box and Sheringham equalised for United. Name on the trophy?
The Big Dane stayed back when United won a second corner seconds later and Solskjaer stabbed home the most incredible winner for the Red Devils.
Schmeichel was shown cartwheeling gleefully in his area in one of the most iconic Champions League moments: United had reached the promised land!
Following Schmeichel’s departure, Manchester United experienced difficulty replacing him, going through several high-profile keepers including Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carroll.
Eventually, United purchased Edwin van der Sar who Sir Alex Ferguson considers to be the best goalkeeper to have played for the club since Schmeichel.
At the end of the 1999 season, Schmeichel left the English game in search of a slower pace of football.
The gruelling 60-game season schedule, which came with playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, threatened to undermine his high standards at the age of 36.
He won the Portuguese League with Sporting Lisbon in his first season, the club’s first title in 18 years.
Schmeichel chose to move on again when his contract expired in 2001. He shocked the footballing world by returning to England to sign for Aston Villa.
First keeper to score in the Premier League
He became the first goalkeeper to score in a Premier League game; netting for Villa in a 3-2 defeat at Everton in October 2001.
This is a feat repeated only twice; by Brad Friedel and Paul Robinson.
He failed to complete a whole season with Villa due to a clause in his contract which stipulated he would play every game if he was fit.
Following this disagreement Villa and Schmeichel agreed to terminate his contract allowing him to leave.
Joining the enemy
A bigger shock was still to come as he would sign for United’s city rivals.
The Great Dane played out his final season with Manchester City.
Schmeichel’s record in Manchester derbies is exceptional in that he was never on the losing side.
In the 2002-03 season Kevin Keegan’s City drew at Old Trafford and won the last ever Maine Road Manchester derby 3-1.
Schmeichel won four Danish Championships, one Danish Cup, five Premier Leagues, three FA Cups, one League Cup, one Portuguese Championship, one Champions League and the 1992 European Championship.
Despite turning out for Manchester City, United fans still hold him dear to their hearts after eight years at Old Trafford glittered with success.
Former Man United right back and now Sky TV pundit Gary Neville once famously displayed his fierce loyalty to the Red Devils as he refused to shake the hand of Schmeichel as he turned out for City.
Ahead of his testimonial this year and after a few mellowing years, Neville named Schmeichel as goalkeeper in his top United 11.
He said he chose the Great Dane ahead of the recently retired van der Sar because Schmeichel spent more years at Old Trafford.
Schmeichel should rightly go down as United’s greatest goalkeeper.
Although Van Der Sar reached three Champions League finals in four years with Manchester United, Schmeichel was a massive figure for the Red Devils as they went through a transitional stage in the nineties.
His intimidating size, attacking threat and the manner in which he organised and often shouted at his defence establish him as Manchester United’s greatest ever goalie.
“He is a giant figure in the history of Manchester United” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
By Scott Todd