EDWIN VAN DER SAR is determined not to end his career with a never-ending sense of ‘what if’.
After an emotional farewell at Old Trafford on Sunday, which itself came after what Alex Ferguson described as “a wobble”, the 40-year-old will play his final game tomorrow when Manchester United tackle Barcelona in the Champions League final.
It will be the fifth time he has been involved in such an occasion, a record for a goalkeeper, with his personal statistics standing at two won and two lost.
But the man who lifted the UEFA Cup as a 21-year-old with Ajax is experienced enough to know it is the failures that gnaw at the soul.
And with no way of making amends, it is even more crucial United should emerge victorious.
“You do think more about things you lose than what you win,” said the veteran Dutchman.
“When you have won, your medal goes into the cupboard or the safe in the bank.
“But when you lose, you know something has slipped through your fingers. It makes you more determined.”
Not that Van der Sar is entirely
comfortable discussing what is going to happen after this weekend.
Always one of the more straightforward characters in the United dressing room, the former Juventus star gives the impression of spending the least amount of time possible considering it.
“It is a big day for everyone involved in Manchester United, not just me,” he said.
“It is always nice when you get respect and there have been some jokes from the kit man and the masseur saying this is the last time they are going to do anything for me.
“It was fantastic to be able to say goodbye to the fans at Old Trafford on Sunday too.
“That wouldn’t happen if you got transferred out of nowhere, so it was a good experience.
“But really I am just looking forward to Saturday now.
“This game is what we have been working so hard to prepare for. And really, it doesn’t matter whether it is your first game or your last, you want to win matches like this one.”
In fact, Van der Sar’s instinctive reaction to the thought of defeat is to shudder at the prospect of leaving his house.
For the man whose penalty save from Nicolas Anelka in the Moscow rain three years ago turned him into a lifelong hero of the Stretford End realises the extreme emotions felt by victors and vanquished.
“If we win I won’t want to go home. If I lose I won’t want to leave home,” he said.
“Maybe it sounds strange but I just wouldn’t want to see anyone.”
In a sense, Van der Sar’s European career has been in extra time since he joined United in 2005.
At 34, having just completed four years at Fulham, he hardly imagined spending too much more time at the top. Even at Craven Cottage though, it did cross his mind that he might one day return to the stage he enjoyed so much as a youngster.
“I played a few years at Fulham and remember watching Chelsea’s Champions League matches against Bayern Munich and Barcelona and thinking it would be great to be playing those kind of games again,” he said.
“Thankfully I have managed to do that at United and it is nice that my final match should be on an occasion such as this.”
Van der Sar also knows there is a role to fulfil that goes beyond saving shots.
“You hope to bring your ‘A’ game to a final,” he said.
“For that you need everything, saves, communication skills, experience and motivation skills. It must all go together to make sure you defend well.
“In that sense, preparation is the same as if you were playing Wigan. The difference is in the intensity because nothing beats this game.”
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