IF YOU want to know the size of the gloves that new Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea has to fill, all you need to do is have his predecessor Edwin van der Sar give you a friendly pat on the back.
I was lucky enough to sit down with the recently-retired United goalkeeper last week when he was in Kuala Lumpur as part of the club’s Premier League trophy tour. After getting over just how tall he is, the next thing you would notice is how ginormous his hands are.
During the interview, there was a huge crowd of people waiting anxiously to catch a glimpse of him. “I always tell my friends that when I go to Asia, I feel like Michael Jackson!” he joked.
“I tell them about how many people are there, with the cameras and everything; and my friends say: ‘come on, be real!’,” he said, patting me on the back. (And sorry, I hate to be mean, but yesh, he shounds jusht like Goldmember from Aushtin Powersh…)
I wanted to laugh (at his joke, not the accent) but his little pat literally knocked the wind out of me. When I shook his hand earlier, it was like shaking hands with a vice.
Those, of course, are the same pair of hands that helped Manchester United and Ajax Amsterdam to victory in the biggest competition in club football – the Champions League – in a stellar career that lasted two decades.
His two Champions League medals are the milestones for both ends of his career; the first one propelled him onto the global stage as a top talent, a European champion at 24; and the second secured his legacy as one of the greatest goalkeepers of his generation, overwriting a period of relative underachievement in between.
Reflecting on both milestones and on what he considers to be the best moment in his career, he said: “I came to United at a later stage. I was 34 when I signed for them, so I had a lot of great experiences already – I won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995 as a young boy.
“Then I won it again in 2008, saving the penalty from (Nicolas) Anelka. That’s definitely the most enjoyable moment for me, saving that penalty.”
Though he was surrounded by a mob of fans everywhere he went around KL, Edwin kept his cool as he always had between the sticks, joking around with the media and taking picture after picture, signing autograph after autograph.
But while he does have some regrets having not won any major honours with his national side Holland, vividly recalling the 1998 World Cup and their semi-final defeat to Brazil, Edwin is nevertheless relaxed and philosophical about retirement.
“You always think: ‘I should have moved earlier to that club’, or maybe ‘I should have played longer’ – but that’s not true.
“I could have been (signed earlier for United), but it didn’t happen some way or another. It’s well documented, but I think most people are still happy I signed for United, and it’s been a great time,” he added.
He also reflected fondly on the great players he’s been fortunate enough to play with. When asked who was the best player he’s had as a team mate, he immediately started reeling off the names – Zinedine Zidane, Frank Rijkaard, Ronald de Boer, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Alessandro Del Piero, and giving special mention to Paolo Montero, the Uruguayan defender he played with at Juventus.
“I also played with Scholes, Giggs, Ronaldo, Rooney, Ferdinand, Vidic … There’s too many of them. If I pin-point one player and somebody else reads it, they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m not in your team’ or something,” he said cheekily.
There’s a lifetime of memories for Edwin to look back on, but for now, he’s just looking to take a break from football.
He’s been working on his coaching badges, but he says he hasn’t joined United’s coaching staff, and neither did he have a part in scouting out de Gea as his replacement.
“I spoke to Alex Ferguson about (coaching) and I wanted a little bit of time off, so I think I’m just going to wait another year and see what the future’s going to bring,” he said.
When asked what he would like to do in the meantime, he joked: “I think I’m going to live in Malaysia!
“I’m just going to relax, do some ambassador work for United, start coaching a little bit, play some golf. I’ve played twice so far, so I still need to improve a lot.
“But I have a lot of other interests. I like tennis, I want to learn to ski, maybe get a license to drive a boat, do some charity work for United, so I’ve got loads of things.”
Despite all the distractions he’ll have, there are things about being a player that he will miss. The main thing, he says, is playing football at Old Trafford.
He said: “Walking out of Old Trafford is always a great experience. All the fans there, that’s the thing you’ll miss.”