Former Club Brugge KV goalkeeper Dany Verlinden will keep a closer eye than usual on the Premier League scores this weekend. When Edwin van der Sar runs out to face Blackburn Rovers FC at Old Trafford on Saturday he will be 89 minutes away from breaking the Belgian's European top-flight record of 1,390 minutes without conceding a goal. Should the Manchester United FC goalkeeper do so, Verlinden will be first to offer his congratulations.
"A record is there to be broken," the man known as 'The Wall' told uefa.com. "It's a huge performance from Van der Sar if he does it in the service of Manchester United. They are a top side playing in one of the strongest leagues in the world, so it's huge not to concede in 14 or 15 matches. The English league is a higher quality than the Belgian, but given United are also the strongest team in England you can compare it a bit [with Club Brugge]. I was never preoccupied with the record. I didn't know about it until a German statistics organisation contacted me and said I had it. If it is broken this weekend I can only say 'congratulations'."
If Verlinden's feat went unsung, the spotlight has been firmly on Van der Sar this last month as English, Premier League and British records have fallen. Wednesday's 3-0 home win against Fulham FC was Van der Sar and United's 14th successive clean sheet in the league, another record. It is 1,302 minutes since United conceded a top-flight goal – Samir Nasri scoring 48 minutes into their 2-1 loss at Arsenal FC on 8 November.
Verlinden, now a goalkeeping coach at Brugge, won five Belgian titles with the Blauw-Zwart in a 16-year spell between 1988 and 2004. For a period he was also the oldest player to have appeared in the UEFA Champions League, before being surpassed by Alessandro Costacurta. His claim to fame, then, remains an incredible sequence of shutouts spanning 16 matches between 3 March and 26 September 1990. The game may have changed since Verlinden made his mark, but the 45-year-old insists the priorities facing Van der Sar are the same as ever.
"As a player, as a goalkeeper, you aren't particularly bothered about records. You start with a clean sheet and try to win the match, and if that happens without conceding then great, but you aren't bothered about records. I didn't feel anything special about the record – in fact, when I finally conceded a goal, I didn't even know about the record." Verlinden's memory is therefore hazy. "I don't remember much about it, except it was over two seasons. We had a side that was always competing for the championship, with physically strong players in defence. In those days two teams dominated, [RSC] Anderlecht and Club, with the odd exception. I don't think any team outside the top three could have gone so long without conceding."
As for Van der Sar, Verlinden said the 38-year-old Dutchman's career speaks for itself. "Van der Sar is obviously very good, otherwise he would not be at United and would not have played so often for the national team. I think he knows himself very well, he knows what he is good at, and he is reaping the rewards. He is very modest, without much showmanship, and that's important for a keeper. Don't do any crazy things." With a smile, he added: "I can't have done too badly if I am second best to a keeper like Van der Sar. I can be proud of that." Second best? Van der Sar has one game to go yet.
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