Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 22 News List

Schmeichel says farewell

AP , LONDON

Premier League strikers may be happy to see him go. But it will be a sad day for English soccer when goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel plays his last game today.

The 39-year-old Dane will drag his aching body onto the Maine Road pitch for one last time as Manchester City hosts Southampton. After that, he'll wave goodbye to a league he has graced for more than a decade.

"It was the most difficult decision of my life," Schmeichel said. "Playing football for 20 years had been that life and it is hard to accept that at 4.50pm at Maine Road the final whistle will sound on just another game of just another season.

"There is a time to let go."

Signed by Manchester United for just ?600,000 (US$960,000) from Danish club Brondby in 1991, Schmeichel won a Champions Cup, five Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a League Cup with the Reds. He also won the 1992 European Championship with Denmark.

Schmeichel left Old Trafford in '99 after helping the Reds to an unprecedented single-season sweep of the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions Cup trophies.

After brief spells with Sporting Lisbon and Aston Villa, he returned this season to Manchester -- but this time with United's neighbor Man City.

"You have seen the best goalkeeper the Premier League has ever known," City manager Kevin Keegan said. "Peter is 39 but he can still perform with the very best.

"He is packing it in but he is not going because he can't do the business any more. He's retiring because his body's getting tired and he wants to do other things.

"The one certainty is that, like for like, we won't be able to replace him."

Schmeichel said Keegan had asked him to stay on the team for another season.

"The nice thing is that Kevin didn't agree with me," he said. He said, "You've been good to the team. I want you to play for another year.' I'd be 40 at the end of the season so it would be a great compliment."

At 1.93m and with long arms, Schmeichel looked huge when strikers faced him in front of goal and he gained a reputation as a standout shot-stopper.

While cool under pressure, he often screamed at his defenders if they made mistakes or left him exposed.

Schmeichel had a rare attacking ability, too.

He frequently started goal-scoring moves with accurate throws of up to 70m. Whenever his team needed a goal in the final minutes, he would charge upfield to use his height and heading ability inside the other team's penalty area.

Although Schmeichel came close to being fired by United manager Alex Ferguson after a blazing argument at the end of a 3-3 tie with Liverpool, he paid tribute to the 61-year-old Scot.

"Alex Ferguson has had a tremendous influence on my career. He was the one who gave me the chance," he said. "I will always be in debt to him because of that. He's had an influence on every player who has carried out the job he wanted them to do.

"In many ways you become one of his children and he has many children."

Perhaps the biggest indication of Schmeichel's value to Manchester United is how the team struggled to replace him.

Ferguson used Mark Bosnich, Raimond van der Gouw, Massimo Taibi, Andy Goram, Fabien Barthez, Spanish star Ricardo and Northern Ireland's Roy Carroll at various times. None were able to provide the same consistency as Schmeichel gave between the posts.

While Schmeichel bows out, his name will live on in the Premier League. His 17-year-old son, Kasper, also plays for Manchester City and is waiting to make his breakthrough.

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