At Manchester United, down the years we have had our fair mixture of good and bad goalkeepers.
Every goalkeeper that we’ve signed after Peter Schmeichel left the club in 1999, have rightly or wrongly be compared to the Big Dane.
No United fan on the planet would argue that Edwin Van der Sar – our current goalkeeper who is only 2 games away from retirement for the club – isn’t the best goalkeeper we’ve had since Schmeichel.
But a vast majority of fans would probably have to agree that but for 1 devastating mistake made against FC Porto in the Champions League back in 2004, Tim Howard could still be our goalkeeper today.
I am not saying for one second that if T-Ho hadn’t made the mistake which allowed Porto’s Costinha to cruelly score that late equaliser that he might not have made more mistakes, as sadly that’s what exactly what he did.
But what I am very certain of is that mistake in particular and the importance of it so early into Tim’s United career, really did end the American’s chance to be our goalkeeper for the long-term.
It’s fair to say that when we signed Howard in the summer of 2003, many United fans were surprised. After all on the face it, the move did look an odd one.
Why would we as the biggest club in the world be wanting to sign an American goalkeeper who had not played in Europe at all? If Sir Alex wanted a goalkeeper to replace Fabien Barthez as our number 1 at the time, why wouldn’t we try to sign someone like Parma’s Sebastian Frey for instance who was one of the best young keepers back then.
Still though many United fans thought that T-Ho wouldn’t be our first choice goalkeeper in his debut season and that Fabien Barthez would probably start the year with the gloves.
However after a good pre-season which led to a surprising start in the Community Shield against Arsenal in which he saved the decisive penalty in a shootout, Howard started the season as our first choice keeper.
Despite a late mistake early on away to Southampton which allowed James Beattie to head a winner, very quickly Tim became assured in our goal and won over the United fans. By the time the New Year came about, there was no chance of Barthez even getting a look in and the Frenchman decided to leave the club to rejoin Marseille back in France.
Tim’s confidence was soaring and he started 2004 well. I can remember two stunning performances that our then number 14 made away at Bolton in the league and at home to Manchester City in a thrilling FA Cup tie, in which he kept us in games thanks to the quality of saves that he was producing.
All of a sudden though, probably as a result of Rio Ferdinand’s suspension as a result of a missed drug’s test, our defence didn’t quite look as dominant as it had earlier on and we started leaking goals – at a time in the season when we wouldn’t normally.
In the Champions League we were drawn against FC Porto and their still relatively unknown manager Jose Mourinho in the first round in the knockout stages. On paper we were the favourites to go through in the tie and march onwards through the competition.
The away leg in Portugal didn’t go exactly to plan, as despite us taking an early lead through Quinton Fortune’s close range striker, two stunning Benni McCarthy goals turned the game around to seal a 2-1 win for Porto. Matters were made worse late in the game when Roy Keane got harshly sent off.
Still though despite Keano’s sending off we were still favourites to go through at Old Trafford. We played positively and went into half time leading 1-0 thanks to a Paul Scholes goal that put us ahead on away goals.
Scholesey should have actually scored twice in the first half, but a finish from a John O’Shea cross seconds before the half-time whistle was incorrectly ruled out for offside.
After half-time though we struggled to hold onto the ball and with the clock ticking down Porto grew in confidence with us strangely looking nervous, probably due to what was riding on the result. But with the game running towards it’s conclusion, thanks to some last-ditch defending and some good T-Ho saves, we looked to be going through.
Then with only two minutes left into injury time Phil Neville clumsily fouled Porto’s striker Edgaras Jankauskas 25 yards out to give Porto one last chance in the tie. McCartchy struck the freekick over the wall and towards goal.
It looked a comfortable save for Howard, but perhaps because of the occasion nerves got to him and he could only parry the ball out allowing Costinha to bury the ball home much to the shock of everyone inside the stadium.
It was a cruel way for us to go out and Howard never seemed to recover from the mistake. In our next game away to Manchester City the team played poorly losing 4-1 at Eastlands with Howard at blame for a couple of City’s goals.
Despite winning his place back and starting the FA Cup final against Millwall, Howard never looked assured and confident for us after that mistake. Still though his peers had taken note of his form and he was voted into the PFA Premiership team of the year due to his earlier performances for us.
The following season T-Ho started shaky making early mistakes away to Bolton and Lyon in the Champions League which allowed Roy Carroll a run in the side. Carroll though made errors and despite Howard getting back into the side, Sir Alex decided to give Roy the gloves for the FA Cup final against Arsenal which we lost on penalties.
After that of course, for the 2005/2006 season Edwin was brought into the side and Howard frustratingly had to sit on the bench only starting once in the league. Not long after the season ended T-Ho was loaned out to Everton for the following season and early into 2007, the move to Goodison was made permanent.
Tim’s form for Everton has been brilliant and now after making 225 appearances for the Toffees’ has become one of the best goalies in the Premiership. It’s clear now that Sir Alex made the right decision in bringing him to the club when he did, as his potential back then is being fulfilled now.
It’s a shame that his United career ended as for a short amount of time he really did look like being our best goalie since Schmeichel.
Mind you after leaving Old Trafford Tim’s become Everton’s best goalie since Neville Southall and as well as being a key member of David Moyes’ side he has become America’s first choice goalie now for a number of years. He’s one of the few players who can say that there is life after Old Trafford.
By Adam Dennehey – @ADennehey87