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Edwin Van der Sar: Ajax man who should be Man United's new king

FOOTBALL By Mirror | May 9th 2021
Edwin Van Der Sar [Courtesy]

Edwin van der Sar ticks all the boxes to become ­ Manchester United ’s next chief executive – including an ability to make the peace with rebel fans.

As the beleaguered Glazer family crank up the search for someone to run their Old ­Trafford empire, following the resignation of vice-chairman Ed Woodward in the aftermath of the European Super League ­debacle and the outbreak of civil war with ­supporters, it is certain that Van der Sar will feature prominently on their wish list.

The Dutchman won four ­Premier League titles as Sir Alex Ferguson’s goalkeeper – and made the penalty shoot-out save that made United ­European champions in 2008.

Since returning to former club Ajax to work in an executive role, the 50-year-old has become one of the best in the business.

But as club owners the Glazers look to ­broker a truce following the ­escalating hostilities aimed at forcing them out of the club, it is Van der Sar’s ability to pacify fans that might become the deal-maker.

It was seven years ago, when the former Juventus and Fulham keeper was learning his new trade as Ajax’s marketing ­director, that he took to the pitch in Rotterdam to face down the club’s most violent hooligan firm when trouble erupted at the Dutch Cup final.

Scores of industrial strength fireworks, flares and smoke bombs were thrown onto the pitch by members of the ­notorious VAK410.

An emotional Van der Sar ­issued a plea for calm in terms the ultras understood.

“Pack it in with all that s**t,” shouted Van der Sar through the De Kuip stadium PA system, his suit stained with blood after his anger had prompted him to bite his lip too forcefully.

Michael Kinsbergen, who ­preceded Van der Sar as Ajax chief executive, recalls: “It was something that came right from his heart and in a way I had never seen before from him or any board member or club director.

“For me that was the moment that Edwin presented himself as the leader of Ajax.”

Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar celebrating during his playing days [Courtesy]

Van der Sar is now a shrewd operator when it comes to ­making friends and influencing people in European football’s corridors of power. Dutch legend Johan Cruyff ­advised him that it was ­important for former players to start running clubs at the top because of their unique ­understanding of the game.

When Van der Sar graduated from Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff University with a Masters degree in Sports Management, the great man attended the ceremony.

He has been instrumental in Ajax’s return to glory.

The Amsterdam giants have just been crowned champions for a second successive year – and were only denied a hat-trick of Eredivisie titles by the coronavirus pandemic last year.

They were beaten by United in the 2017 Europa League final and were denied a place in the ­Champions League final two years later by Lucas Moura’s last-minute goal for Spurs.

Working alongside sporting director Marc Overmars, Van der Sar has put into place one of the most productive youth ­academies in the game.

Ajax have a surplus of £260­million in the bank after ­selling players like Donny van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech, Davinson Sanchez, Davy Klaassen, Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt.

So Van der Sar would certainly provide the kind of football ­expertise that has been beyond Woodward – which could be an issue given United have just made John Murtough their first football director.

Van der Sar also ­refused overtures for Ajax to join the ESL, the ill-fated proposal that sparked the latest outbreak of fan fury aimed at the Glazers and culminating in the postponement of last weekend’s clash with Liverpool.

“The Super League was an ­invention of all the directors and executives who have run their big clubs in a bad way,” said Van der Sar.

“It was supposed to save their mismanagement.

“They were not capable of ­running a club ­properly – and then we saw the power of the fans.”

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