Since his arrival at Old Trafford in 1991 the colossal stature of Peter Schmeichel has grown year by year so that he is now arguably one of the all time great goalkeepers. As evidence one need look no further than his performance on 4 March 1996 at St. James' Park. Facing run-away leaders Newcastle, United needed a victory to fuel an assault on the Geordies' supremacy. Amidst a cauldron of passion and hostility the Great Dane redefined goalkeeping heroics in an unsurpassed first half display. Three times Les Ferdinand breached the United backline and bared down on their last line of defence. Three times Peter Schmeichel denied the England striker with breathtaking saves. Those saves, amongst others, were the platform from which Eric Cantona was able to strike the winning goal and spark the fuse of what was to become United's second double winning season. That match was arguably Schmeichel's finest hours but the 1995/96 season was undoubtedly Schmeichel's greatest season as his saves and clean sheets in the tense and tightly fought run-in were as crucial as Cantona's winning goals.

Not everything has gone according to plan for Schmeichel however, especially in the early days as he struggle to adapt to the aerial bombardments from crosses which are a feature of the English game. But as time went on he overcame that crux to quickly become the complete goalkeeper. His memorable and spectacular saves are too numerous to catalogue, but perhaps his Gordon Banks like one handed save from Rene Wagner's header in Vienna in December 1996 will live longest in the memory.

It is however his unequalled ability in one-on-one situations that have created the legend of Peter Schmeichel. As his giant frame comes racing out of his goals only the most composed of strikers can ever hope of finding a way past him. Spreading his entire body to block the shot, the ball is almost magnetically attracted to his gloves. He has done it so often that he is now nearly always favourite in any one-on-one situation, a unique statement about a goalkeeper that proves the stature of the man.

Apart from keeping goals out he plays no small part in creating them at the other end. His enormous throw has proved a highly effective method of creating counter attacks, especially in the days when Giggs and Kanchelskis stormed down the flanks. And when called for he is not shy at going forward to try and snatch a goal from corners if United are trailing late on. Indeed he became one of the few goalkeepers to score when he headed a dramatic late equaliser in United's 2:2 draw with Volgograd in 1995 which saved United's unbeaten home record in Europe, temporarily at least.

Peter Schmeichel's role in United's success this decade ranks equally alongside anyone elses. Without his saves and often just his sheer inspiring presence it is difficult to imagine United enjoying the success they have had. Only time will tell if United can be the same with the Great Dane.

Patrick Eustace 2000. Last modified on Thurs, 27 Jan, 2000

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