Stekelenburg following in Van der Sar’s footsteps at Fulham
By Gareth McKnight
Fulham have potentially pulled off the coup of the transfer window so far by announcing the signing of Netherlands international goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg. The giant stopper has joined the London club from Roma for an undisclosed fee, in what is an excellent piece of business by the Cottagers. However, the new man has big gloves to fill; the 30-year-old will follow in the footsteps of his illustrious countryman Edwin van der Sar, who spent four years at Craven Cottage in the early 2000’s.
When Van der Sar swapped Juventus for Fulham in 2001, it was quite the surprise, and a transfer success for Mohamed Al-Fayed’s men. The Egyptian businessman at that time was trying to make a splash in the transfer market, but his wealth has been superseded nowadays by the oil tycoons of Russia and the Middle East.
However, despite Stekelenburg’s stock dropping slightly after an ill-fated spell at the Stadio Olimpico, his signing is not dissimilar to that of Van der Sar. Both goalkeepers started their careers at Ajax, both playing at the Amsterdam club for nine seasons. A move to Italy for both lasted two seasons, and although Van der Sar’s stint at Juventus was not as disappointing as the new Fulham goalkeeper’s time in Rome, it certainly wasn’t the pinnacle of his career either. Both men joined Fulham when they were 30 years old.
The excellent remainder of Van der Sar’s career is there for all to see, with a move to Manchester United resulting in four Premier League titles and a Champions League winning medal. He also made 130 appearances for his country, becoming, and remaining to this day, Netherlands’ most-capped player.
Stekelenburg will have his fingers crossed that his time in England can be anywhere near as fruitful as his now-retired compatriot. Despite signing for Fulham and not a title or European contender, the new Cottagers man has reason to believe that he can resurrect his career in London, and play a major role for club and country.
Stekelenburg has recorded 54 caps for his country to date; no mean feat given whose shoes that he is following in. Despite the presence of the likes of Tim Krul, Michel Vorm, and current incumbent Kenneth Vermeer, if Stekelenburg can get a consistent run of games under his belt for Fulham, there is no reason he cannot be the Oranje’s number 1 come the World Cup in Brazil.
Fulham should be very pleased with their first piece of transfer business this summer. They have signed a goalkeeper that has been linked to Manchester United, Arsenal and a host of the biggest clubs in the past, and has showed top quality in the Champions League and on the international stage.
The Fulham fans have become accustomed to a safe pair of hands between the posts over the last five years in the form of Mark Schwarzer, however with the Australian released over the summer, Stekelenburg will walk straight into the Premier League firing line. Similar to when Van der Sar joined, big things will be expected of the new stopper, and how Stekelenburg starts with his new club could have a real bearing on the success of his time in England.
Van der Sar made 127 Premier League appearances over the course of four full seasons at Craven Cottage. Stekelenburg will look at his Dutch predecessor for a blueprint of what will be a successful period at Fulham for him. In his time at the London club Van der Sar remained first-choice goalkeeper for club and more importantly country, and suitably impressed to earn himself a move to Manchester United.
Stekelenburg will hope that a run of consistent games for Fulham, and solid performances, will lead to a starting berth for the Netherlands once more. He will have ambitions of playing Champions League football and competing for honours in the near future, and if he can play his part in Fulham getting back to top-half finishes over the next number of seasons, there is no reason a move to a top club would not follow.
Fulham fans will hope that their latest giant Dutch goalkeeper can be looked at in the same light as Van der Sar in the future, while the new man has quite the challenge ahead of him to replicate the feat of his legendary countryman.