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Retiring Van der Sar hoping for final flourish

As he prepares to hang up his gloves at the age of 40, Manchester United FC goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is aiming for one last memorable night to end a glittering career.

Edwin van der Sar poses with the UEFA Champions League ball
Edwin van der Sar poses with the UEFA Champions League ball ©Sportsfile

As he prepares to bring the curtain down on a glittering career spanning more than 20 years, Edwin van der Sar is hoping for one last "great feeling" as Manchester United FC take on FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final.

The game at Wembley will be the last for the 40-year-old Dutchman, ending a six-year spell at Old Trafford which includes four league titles – the most recent this season – and UEFA Champions League finals in 2008 and 2009. Van der Sar, however, has no regrets, telling UEFA.com: "It's a nice moment [to stop], it doesn't come any bigger than this."

His team-mates have tried their best to persuade him otherwise but the goalkeeper remains resolute, adding: "It's always nice when people say those things about you and everybody wants to be appreciated of course. When people say 'Well done and we'll miss you' it's good to hear but at a certain point, you have to think what is good for you also."

His latest league title is his eighth – the other four all came at AFC Ajax – yet a career which has also included 130 caps for the Netherlands, more than any other player, remains indelibly linked with the UEFA Champions League.

A member of the Ajax team that overcame AC Milan in the 1995 showpiece, he lost to Juventus the following year and, following his 2008 and 2009 experiences, is relishing his third final with United. "It's a great feeling of course," he said. "I've experienced four before and to play this one at Wembley is very special, against such a great team as Barcelona.

"You dream about playing for your country and lifting the Champions League. When you [do that], you have the trophy in your hands for about five seconds when you lift it and then you have to pass it to the next player. It's amazing when next day, you have a picture and it's going to be forever there, lifting that trophy."

Of those four finals, it is the memory of the 2008 triumph in Moscow which Van der Sar remembers with most fondness, particularly as it was his save that secured a 6-5 penalty shoot-out success against Chelsea FC. "You always remember the winning ones better than the losing ones, I guess that's quite obvious. What sticks out is the penalty save in 2008 against Anelka. That won the trophy and you never really win the game as a goalkeeper. Normally someone has to score the last penalty so that was a nice feeling and something that would be nice to replicate again."

To do that United must turn the tables on a Barcelona team who inflicted a 2-0 defeat in the final in Rome two years ago, although Van der Sar believes plenty has changed in the intervening period. "We've lost two good players in [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Carlos] Tévez; others came in, we've matured and maybe we changed our way of playing a little bit.

"Barcelona are still playing in the same attractive and positive way and a lot of the same players are there. The key is for us to score the first goal. We lost a goal in Rome and then it was quite difficult to come back so, if we can, change that."

United's squad is a blend of youth and experience albeit with plenty of the latter; Van der Sar is hopeful it will prove a potent cocktail. "It was the first final for a few of the younger players in Moscow and then again in Rome so we have good experience in the team.

"We have some older boys who have been around the block once or twice who played in the final in the 1990s and of course, you help out everywhere in any way you can. We deserved this – the way that we played this season, especially in the second half, shows we are on the right track and hopefully we will learn from our mistakes in the 2009 final to go one better at Wembley."

Van der Sar signed for United from Fulham FC in 2005 and admits his time at Old Trafford has been better than he could have imagined. "When you go to a big team like Manchester United you always win a league and do well in the Champions League but I signed for two years. I would have been quite happy to win the league once and then maybe play another year at Ajax and retire at 36 but luckily it panned out a little bit different and I'm delighted."

Van der Sar attributes his impressive longevity to good luck with injuries, although his description of training as "a pleasure every day" gives an insight into the work ethic that has kept him at the top for so long. Now, however, he is looking forward to the next chapter, explaining: "The main thing is to try and get some space, get away from football a little bit, do some other interests. I like to play golf, make some time with the family, spend some more time with the kids, just do ordinary things. You are always so focused on training, you can't do pretty simple things."

There is also the small matter of his legacy, although he is typically modest when asked how he would like to be remembered. "I'll leave that to others; the only thing was to do my best on the pitch and try to be a good role model for children. Hopefully they appreciated the way I played and have seen the pressure and dedication that you have to have to achieve something in football."

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