Obviously at the moment, there is a lot of talk and speculation surrounding our newest goalkeeper at the moment – David De Gea – and whether or not he will be good enough to succeed in England long-term.
Of course much of the speculation surrounding David is just pure nonsense. He’s an incredibly young keeper who is only going to get better and is still probably got some growing (physically and mentally) to do before he reaches his full potential. After all even with his season and a half of experience in La Liga, it will take him time to adapt to the Premier League as all players have to do when they play in England for the first time.
The one advantage our new keeper has is that he has the class and potential to become our keeper for many years to come, which can’t be said for our previous Spanish goalkeeper who we signed who was nothing more than a stop-gap.
With injuries nibbling away at Fabien Barthez at the start of the 2002/03 season and with only Roy Carroll available, Sir Alex paid £1.5million to La Liga side Real Valladolid to bring in Ricardo Lopez to the club as back-up.
There wasn’t much known about Ricardo other than he’d been a steady goalkeeper in Spain’s top-flight and that he had been involved in the Spanish squad in the last 18 months prior to his signing. In fact a couple of days before the deal was announced he had earned his second Spanish cap by coming on for Iker Casillas in a Ferenc Puskas’ testimonial match in Budapest.
Ricardo didn’t have long to wait to make his Manchester United debut as it came against Israeli outfit Maccabi Haifa at home in the Champions League first Group Stage. Sir Alex brought him on for Barthez with around 20 minutes to go.
It was a nice moment for Ricardo who unfortunately couldn’t keep his goal intact conceding a goal four minutes from time, in the game that most United fans remember as the one where Diego Forlan (finally) broke his goal-scoring duck.
Ricardo ended up starting United’s penultimate game of the first Group Stage away in Cyprus against Maccabi in a 3-0 defeat as part of a make-shift United team. Whilst there was little he could have done for the Israeli teams first and second goals, he was at fault for their third when he hauled down a forward though on goal inside the area, which allowed future Portsmouth and Everton forward Yaububu the chance to slot home from the spot.
In his next appearance at home to Bayer Leverkusen in the final group game for both sides, the Spainard gave away another penalty. This time around he failed future-Red Devil Dimitar Berbatov inside the area when the Bulgarian was through on goal inside the first 15 mins of the game.
He was fortunate not to have been sent off and only got booked. Even luckier for United, Czech midfielder Jan Simerk blazed the spot-kick high and handsome over the bar. It was a moment though that must have lingered with Sir Alex and we did not see Ricardo again until early Spring when the Spaniard played in a 2-0 defeat away to Deportivo as a part of a weakened team.
With Barthez fitness being an issues, it was no surprise when in the title-run in of 2003 that Ricardo made his Premier League debut. Coming on against Blackburn Rovers at home for the Frenchman at half-time with United leading 2-1 within 2 minutes the Spainard had gone from Zero to Hero in what must rank as one of the most action-packed introductions ever for a player on debut at Old Trafford.
Amazingly after misjudging a Rio Ferdinand header into his path, Ricardo dithered and clumsily brought down former Old Trafford favourite Andy Cole inside the area. It looked a blatant sending-off but somehow referee Andy D’Urso not only failed to hand out a red-card, he failed to even book Ricardo who brilliantly kept out David Dunne’s resulting penalty much to the relief of the United fans.
It was a big moment in the 2003 title race and had United gone onto lose or even draw the match, it could have indeed handed Arsenal the advantage in the title race and Arsene Wenger’s side would have probably gone to claim a double that season. Thankfully for us Ricardo’s save kept our lead in the game intact and we would go onto add another to win the game 3-1 and keep our momentum going.
In the summer with the arrival of Tim Howard, Ricardo unsurprisingly was sent out on loan back to Spain for the following season. He did well for Racing Satander and returned to Old Trafford the following summer hoping to challenge Howard and Carroll to be our new first choice goalkeeper for the 2004/05 season.
Frustratingly for him, he never got close to being selected all season and was given a free transfer in the summer. He joined Osasuna back in La Liga and has enjoyed being the Pamplona’s club no.1 goalkeeper ever since.
In conclusion, He came, He didn’t conquer. He gave away 3 penalties of which in giving them away he should have been off twice and had 80% of his appearances for the club in the Champions League. Ricardo whilst not being around for long certainly had a short but eventful United career.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87