EDWIN VAN DER SAR interview ahead of 2014 World Cup
(May 21, 2014)
Edwin van der Sar is a Laureus Ambassador who played in the World Cup for the Netherlands and also played for Ajax, Juventus and Manchester United
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Laureus Host : As a player what was your best World Cup memory?
Edwin van der Sar: It must be the World Cup in '98. We played the semi-final against Brazil and the weather in Marseille was unbelievable. It was blue sky. The stands were open. So you have the yellow from Brazil; the orange from Holland, and two teams filled with quality players and a tense game. That was the highlight of my World Cup career, but also the biggest disappointment because we lost in extra time in penalties. That was the closest I got to playing a World Cup final.
Question: The Netherlands finished second in 1974, 1978 and 2010, has the national team improved? Can they go one better?
Edwin van der Sar: There's not that many players left from the final in South Africa. I think Louis van Gaal came in and changed a lot. There are still a lot of young players he wants to bring through. He changed the system from 4?3?3 to 5?3?2 or 3?4?3. So it has made a little bit of adjusting. But I think the quality of Louis van Gaal is really working with players in the long term instead of being able for three or four days to do something before a qualification match. He has really now three or four weeks to work on the right system for these players.
Question: As a goalkeeper, which goalkeepers will you be watching in the World Cup?
Edwin van der Sar: It's an interesting situation about Casillas. Initially he was the best out of the team at Real Madrid, only playing the Champions League and the Cup [Copa del Rey] and the other goalkeepers played the league matches. So he won the Cup and is in the Champions League final. So I think his position in the Spanish team is still strong. Buffon, of course, is still there for Italy. And I am looking forward to seeing Courtois. Four years ago, I think he was fifth goalkeeper at a small club in Belgium and because of two injuries he got a chance on the team. An unbelievable rise from a small club in Belgium to Chelsea. That brought him the success that he has at Atlético Madrid now. I will look forward to see him on the Belgian team doing well.
Question: What are your views on Brazil’s Júlio César?
Edwin van der Sar: Of course, he had a great career in Italy and somehow I think it got, what do you call, euthanasia. I was in a similar situation. Only one goalkeeper can play on a team. So he decided to go to the Premier League, Queens Park Rangers. I was surprised he got relegated because it was not a quality that they needed that he brought. At Toronto at least he is playing at the highest level. But I think Brazilians are able to focus on World Cups and important games, so I don't see a problem for him playing at the highest level at the World Cup in his home country.
Question: What about England? Do you think coach Roy Hodgson has done the right thing selecting a lot of young players?
Edwin van der Sar: I work at a club [Ajax] and I emphasise at our academy on bringing young players through. That has been our philosophy for many years and also the national team has that philosophy. It is good to see and hopefully it is going to work for England. It is not always easy for a young player to come through at the club level, because all the clubs are able to buy for 20 million or 30 million and it is hard for young English talent to come through and to get recognition and be able to be part of the squad or start playing.
Question: Can you play a lot of young players together in one team?
Edwin van der Sar: Yes, a coach prepares himself for two years for the qualifiers and he has half a year to think what his best team can be. But it also depends on fitness and ability and maybe also squad rotation. I do not have a great overview of how many players Roy Hodgson will play or what the team is going to be, because of course, I am in Holland. But I presume he left out Ashley Cole because he was not playing at Chelsea a lot and brought in a young player like Luke Shaw, also bringing in Ross Barkley and Sterling. So like once Wayne Rooney was very young, Theo Walcott was very young, now he has three or four young players and we hope that that is going to work for them.
Question: There has been a lot of debate during the year about Joe Hart. Can he be one of the world’s best?
Edwin van der Sar: Yes, I think sometimes it is not bad to have a period that you are making mistakes and maybe you are on the bench for a couple of games. Maybe that helps to bring back your focus and the desire and the will. I think the second part of the season, he really performed at the level that he is capable of. The save that comes in my mind is the one he did against Everton for Manchester City. Those are the saves that you want to make and shows that you are ready for business. Hopefully the pressure of the nation is not going to be too much on him.
Question: Is he top class now or are there improvements he needs to make?
Edwin van der Sar: He is 27. I was 28 when I went to Juventus; I was 30 when I came to Fullham and I was 34 when I went to Manchester United. So, it is a long path that you have to go. Hopefully he has a long career, and normally as a goalkeeper, you keep getting better and better by the games you play. I think the little dip he had at beginning of the season he was not meant to have. Hopefully you get the right captain and the right motivation and right hunger and desire back. Of course I made mistakes also and everybody makes mistakes. You need to learn from them.
Question: A lot of people are saying that it will be very difficult for a European team to win in South America.
Edwin van der Sar: We did a little tour in Brazil in '99 with the national team. We played two games against Brazil. I think Brazil are clear favourites because of the weather, the humidity, the warmth, the expectation from the people. And besides, there are so many good football players that they can put two or three teams in the World Cup. So I think it will be very hard for an outsider, or maybe a European team, to get to the final and try to win it. I think Brazil will win for the sixth time.
Question: Who do you expect to be the best player?
Edwin van der Sar: My friend Cristiano Ronaldo. I played a couple times against him in 2006 and 2008. We always lost and I think it is fair to say that Ronnie could well be top scorer of the tournament.
Question: Why do people still miss you and Peter Schmeichel, in terms of charisma and character, at Manchester United?
Edwin van der Sar: I think we both had very successful periods at the club. It is great that there is a lot of respect in England for players who perform, and in that case, yes, we made a good name for ourselves to go with all the trophies that we won. David de Gea replaced me two or three years ago and obviously it got a lot of criticism. But I remember when I was young, I was also quite slim, tall and maybe not that physical - the physical presence came later. He made giant steps in the second year by performing and winning the league and of course he brought a confidence with him and performs at a high level during the whole season.
Question: Do you think that David Moyes' appointment was a mistake?
Edwin van der Sar: I do not know if it was a mistake. I did not train with him. He always had good squads at Everton. He always performed at a high level. He was like fifth or sixth, and always had young players coming through. I think that is something that they can look for, because you have to look at the academy and be willing to work with younger players. I think that is essential. I grew up with young players around me at Ajax or the national team or at Manchester United and I think that it is good to have a mix of young players and experienced players who can take them by the hands and take them for their first steps in their career.
Question: So are you saying that you think that the appointment of David Moyes was the right thing to do at the time?
Edwin van der Sar: Yes, but with hindsight I don't know. They had a terrible season, so you are not going to say it is a good decision, of course not.
Question: Do you think Louis van Gall is the right choice for Manchester United?
Edwin van der Sar: He is a very hard?working coach and he is a guy who makes players better and sends out the right signals, what kind of football he wants to play to all the players and he has an eye on the young players. He has credentials in Holland, in Spain, in Germany and the national team, so yes, there is a history of winning trophies and bringing players through and working with big players.
Question: What can the Manchester United players expect that's different? What will he bring to the club in that respect?
Edwin van der Sar: I think he's going to be very clear what he wants and what he demands from his players and it's great that Ryan Giggs says he is going to stay on as an assistant coach. So, yes, the input from him is very important. Of course, it's going to be a tricky period for him in the World Cup and then deciding what kind of transfers or signings have to be made. I think it's going to be difficult getting consistent - from seventh to first in one year - but I think Liverpool almost did it this year and I think United have more quality than Liverpool at that point.
Question: Do you think Barcelona will miss Victor Valdés?
Edwin van der Sar: Same as De Gea, he got a lot of criticism, six, seven, eight years ago, the type of play and everything and he was not a typical goalkeeper. I had something else myself, also, but in all the years that he played, all the trophies, of course a lot of the attention went to Messi, Iniesta or Henri or whatever. But I think always in being a safe goalkeeper and being able to have one or two balls you would get in the game, he was really truly concentrated. I've seen many games of Barcelona where he made really important saves. So it's unfortunate for him that he could not say goodbye on the pitch, that's always nice for a goalkeeper, but I'm sure he's going to be a legend forever in Barcelona.
Question: Can you tell us why your work as an Ambassador for the Laureus Foundation in Holland is so important?
Edwin van der Sar: It's not only the work in Holland to be fair. I was also in touch with Laureus before I retired. Sir Bobby Charlton is also an Ambassador. I think it's important for famous people, sports people or actors to play a part in using their celebrity, their PR network, to help underprivileged children, disabled, sick people and that way it's always great to work with an organisation that puts sports at the first place. I had a farewell match in Holland in 2011 and part of the gate receipts and everything went also to the Laureus Foundation. We set up two projects here in Holland. And actually next week, in two weeks' time, I've got a next meeting for the rest of the money, where we are going to allocate that and for which projects we are going to use that. It's great to see the commitment of the children and hopefully, nowadays, the children, also, get a little bit, maybe pampered.
Question: What are you doing with Ajax at the moment?
Edwin van der Sar: From 2012 November, I started working as a marketing director at Ajax, so my main responsibility is on the commercial side, the sponsoring, the business seats, the skybox, the organizing of games, the tournaments, the connection with the Federation and to make sure and emphasise at the academy, bringing young players through, that's something that Holland is famous for, and Ajax particularly, and those are challenges that you have to keep on going, because it's not easy in the modern world of football with all of the money that's thrown around. 50 per cent of our income is sponsorship, and I think only ten per cent is TV money and that's something that we have to fight against and try to make sure we are there when the financial fair play kicks in and we can achieve the success that we had in the 70s and in the 90s.
Question: You don't have a desire to be a coach?
Edwin van der Sar: No, we have a very capable coach in Frank de Boer and of course the assistant Dennis Bergkamp; Marc Overmars is the director of football. So all the players that had a first chance at Ajax came back and tried to help Ajax with bringing the new players through and hopefully creating a golden generation who can challenge the big clubs in the big countries.