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Musée United: The Antics Of Fabien Barthez

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Some called him eccentric, some called him looney, others called him an enigma. One thing is for sure Fabien Barthez was certainly one of our most characteristic goalkeepers that Manchester United have had in our long history.

Barthez (who I’ve attempted to draw in the picture below) certainly had just over three interesting seasons at us and is probably remembered more for his mistakes than the top saves that he made for us. Sadly of course that’s often the case with goalkeepers as mistakes will always be looked down upon.

Upon signing for us from Monaco in the summer of 2000 for £7.8million, it was widely anticipated that Sir Alex Ferguson had signed the long-term replacement for Peter Schmeichel who of course left the club after the historic treble-winning season of 1998/99.

Mark Bosnich was surprisingly re-signed by the club in the summer of 1999 from Aston Villa to replace our legendary Danish goalkeeper. Sadly for the Australian, despite some impressive performances, he failed to cement his position in the team due to injuries.

It was no surprise when Sir Alex swooped to bring in Barthez the following summer. After all he was now one of the top keepers in the world and had been linked with a move away from the Principality in his final season.

There was a lot of speculation that Barthez had been signed because of his ‘character’ and that as he was coming into the prime of his career that his organisational skills at the back would add further strength to our already mean defence.

As first seasons go Barthez’s debut season in England went well as despite a small back problem,  he quickly became a crowd favourite at Old Trafford. His form impressed his peers who voted him into the PFA team of the year which his performances deserved as he became a vital component in our team that won the Premier League that year.

The only real mistake he made all season was his failed attempt at trying to psyche out West Ham’s Paulo di Canio as the Italian was racing through on goal in the final stages of an FA Cup fourth round tie at Old Trafford.

Barthez looking in vain for the offside trap stood still with one arm in the air, allowing Di Canio the simple task of firing it past him to score to send Harry Redknapp’s side into the fifth round at United’s expense.

Whenever new signings do well in their first season, it has always been said that it’s the second season that finds players out. Sadly for Barthez his second year at us in 2001/02 was somewhat of a nightmare.

Early on partly due to the uncertainty in our defence, there were more than half a dozen key mistakes made by our Frenchman within the first third of the season. 

Four inexcusable mistakes stand out in particular as in the space of a month Barthez first gifted Deportivo La Coruna two goals in their 3-2 victory at Old Trafford against us, before embarrassingly gifting his national team mate Thiery Henry two goals late on at Highbury as we slumped to a disappointing 3-1 defeat.

It was widely speculated after his performance at Highbury that Barthez would be sold and that we would bring in a goalkeeper during the upcoming transfer window. At the time I really believed that we would be bringing someone else in – at the time I thought it would be Shay Given – without a shadow of a doubt.

Perhaps I thought that we would do that, because of how Liverpool reacted after Sander Westeveld made a mistake in their second game of the season away to Bolton, when the Dutchman allowed a tame Dean Holdsworth shot to creep in under his body that won the game for the Trotters.

Liverpool quickly went and signed Jerzey Dudek and Chris Kirkland and sent their Dutch keeper packing to Real Socidedad in Spain within a couple of months.

Sir Alex though surprisingly at the time decided to keep with Barthez who to his credit enjoyed a fine second-half of the season. Despite doing well the following season (where he made one terrific save against Liverpool that comes to mind to help win us the game after Diego Forlan had scored his two goals) he never really got back to the form of his first season.

His final appearance for United came against Real Madrid at home in the Champions League. After we suffered a 3-1 defeat in Spain, it was vital we started the game well. Sadly that didn’t happen as Ronaldo (Brazilian one) scored early on from a tight angle in which Barthez should have stopped and the tie in effect was virtually over then.

United ended up winning the game 4-3 with Ronaldo grabbing a hatrick famously and for our next league game away to Spurs Roy Carroll was chosen ahead of Barthez and kept tthe position until the end of the season.

In the summer Tim Howard was signed on to our new first-choice goalkeeper and by October Barthez had been loaned back out to his former side Marsielle on loan. The move would later be made permanent in January much to the delight of our former keeper who was clearly enjoying playing regularly again back in his homeland.

Looking back at Barthez’s time at United, it’s fair to say that he was never going to be at us long-term as soon as he made those high-key errors against Deportivo and Arsenal. I do though think that he was slightly unlucky at us as particularly in his second season at us, our defence was all over the place as a result of Jaap Stam’s departure.

Even with that in mind though Barthez was highly fortunate to have remained at the club for the following season as it was a very brave decision by Sir Alex not to go out and sign a new keeper. Then again maybe there was nobody available for us to get. What can be agreed on is that Barthez is certainly a goalkeeper that our fans won’t forget, that’s for sure.

By @ADennehey87


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